Summary: Scott looks at how the State interprets the world, and why that matters. The abstraction and rationalization that occurs through things like standard weights and measurements, property rights, scientific forest management, mapping, etc. leads inevitably to action which is abstracted from reality. For example, the conception of land as equal sized plots, abstracts from the reality of the land itself and the non-commercial/non-utilitarian value in the land – the State simply cannot see these things. This relationship is not one-way – for society can shape and fight back against the categorizations imposed by the State, in a sense these definitions are dialectical. Chapter two expands on his insight, demonstrating how the State has influenced cities, people and language through imperatives whose success depends on the successful categorization of elements in the social world. The internal logic of the state is to simplify the population, state and nature into closed systems that offer no surprises and can be best observed and controlled. (82)
Important Insight: Crucially, although the abstractions of the officials produce a knowledge that is far narrower than reality, it is systematic and synoptic, allowing them to see and understand things that cannot be seen or understood from any other perspective. What is key is to remember and appreciate that this gain due to abstraction is accompanied by a loss of other knowledge.
Critique: Scott points to the importance of other spheres of influence in defining categories and simplifications (the resistance of society, for example), but does not elaborate. As is evidenced by the other readings this week, the state is not the only interested source of power, and an analysis which includes other states, society, civil society and transnational actors would be fruitful.