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Against the grain : a deep history of the…
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Against the grain : a deep history of the earliest states (2017 original; edició 2017)

de James C. Scott

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An account of all the new and surprising evidence now available that contradicts the standard narrative for the beginnings of the earliest civilizations Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal grains, and governed by precursors of today's states? Most people believe that plant and animal domestication allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, and states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, and a presumably secure way of living. But archaeological and historical evidence challenges this narrative. The first agrarian states, says James C. Scott, were born of accumulations of domestications: first fire, then plants, livestock, subjects of the state, captives, and finally women in the patriarchal family--all of which can be viewed as a way of gaining control over reproduction. Scott explores why we avoided sedentism and plow agriculture, the advantages of mobile subsistence, the unforeseeable disease epidemics arising from crowding plants, animals, and grain, and why all early states are based on millets and cereal grains and unfree labor. He also discusses the "barbarians" who long evaded state control, as a way of understanding continuing tension between states and nonsubject peoples.… (més)
Membre:prateek913
Títol:Against the grain : a deep history of the earliest states
Autors:James C. Scott
Informació:New Haven : Yale University Press, [2017]
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
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Etiquetes:to-read

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Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States de James C. Scott (2017)

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An interesting view of our narrative of early history - and thus really all of history. The traditional view is that the stage of hunter/gatherer preceded the sedentary agricultural state - and that only the sedentary state of grain cultivation could be seen as progressive, producing state structures. Scott challenges this view by pointing out that 1. hunter/gatherer lived for a long time side by side with grain producing societies, 2. were healthier because of a more diverse diet, 3. were essentially refuge when the state-like systems that we consider progressive collapsed (which they did on a regular basis), and 4. are more egalitarian societies and thus can be seen as more progressive than any state that is founded on the oppression of large groups of people just so that it could produce an elite that has the leisure time to create writing for record keeping (to oppress) and monuments that are solid enough to be found by today's archeologists. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
An interesting Big History approach to the perennial question of civilization versus barbarian. Scott attempts to unwind common misconceptions, showing the civilizing processes as complex and nuanced. There is no steady stream of progress from hunter gatherer to city, rather back and forth exchanges. Sedentary farming and hunting was a mixed thing for a very long time because it worked. The early city states were deadly due to disease, dictators, slavery. On the margin barbarians were a creation of civilized regions. One can not be understood without the other, there was not a clean dividing line. I agree with everything and have come to similar conclusions from my own readings - for many reasons primitive city states could be more deadly than living in the wilds (deserts, mountains), people tended to move in and out of the cities for various reasons such as times of famine or warfare, but it was often safer to be away. Manhattan emptied because of Covid. Some things never change. Now, more than half the world live in cities for the first time. ( )
1 vota Stbalbach | Dec 15, 2020 |
A book full of interesting ideas, but ultimately too slight and too full of unsubstantiated assertions and "we don't know but must assume"-type statements to be a true classic.

"Against the Grain" is really two books in one. The first is a retelling of the origins of the earliest cities, especially in Mesopotamia, that challenges the conventional narrative of a march of progress from hunter-gatherers to farmers to states. Sort of a "1491"-lite, it popularizes fascinating recent anthropological and archaeological research (the author himself is a scholar of political science, not a field archaeologist), such as that suggesting humans domesticated fire hundreds of thousands of years before previously thought, that fire may have been a spur behind the evolution of larger homo sapiens brains, and that humans settled down in sedentary communities long before they became farmers, rather than at the same time. The several chapters on this were quite interesting and I would have loved for them to be expanded and extended, with more thorough sourcing and examples.

The second book contained within this 250-page volume is more focused on political science than archaeology; in it, Scott hones in on his true interest, the question of early states rather than early people. This draws on the growing consensus that (contrary to many popular assumptions) being an early farmer was much worse than being an early hunter-gatherer. So why would anyone do this? Scott argues that these early farmers were largely compelled to do so by force by early states, and that the logic of a "state" was to focus enough manpower to control the land and (especially) population in good farming areas. At the end of the work, he closes by making provocative argument about "barbarians," who he argues (briefly, but convincingly) were not so much ravagers of "civilizations" but living in a sort of mutualistic relationship with them through raids but also extensive trading. (This section dovetailed very nicely with the more specific case study of the Comanche in [b:The Comanche Empire|3304956|The Comanche Empire|Pekka Hämäläinen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1328826282s/3304956.jpg|3341882], which I finished just the day before.) He also argues that the ancient boundary between "barbarian" and "civilization" was much more porous than we think, and that early peasants would frequently run away from their fields to become hunter-gatherers or pastoralists when things got personally or civilizationally rough. This interesting argument (based in part on ancient law codes that were full of provisions trying to stop this from happening) is weakened by Scott trying to make a broader argument stretching beyond the Bronze Age through Greece, Rome, and all the way through the Ottoman Empire about the relationship between barbarians and states, one that appears borrowed and condensed from a fuller treatment in another of his books.

Controversially, Scott argues that many "collapses" of civilizations should be seen as good things for the people involved, not tragedies just because those people stop writing literature and building monuments. He argues that many ancient civilizational collapses involved not the population dying, but dispersing and decentralizing to become better-fed, freer "barbarians." His point that we should pay attention to the experience of individuals rather than the production of monuments that endure to modern-day archaeologists is well-taken. But in trying to make a maximal argument here Scott doesn't deal with considerable evidence that civilizational collapses can be devastating for the people involved, too, not merely a tiny ruling elite. For example, in [b:The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization|68540|The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization|Bryan Ward-Perkins|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348569313s/68540.jpg|66415], Bryan Ward-Perkins marshals considerable archaeological evidence that suggests that the collapse of the Roman Empire was associated with a collapse in trade, a fall in standards of living and, apparently nutritional standards. Against the Grain is not the kind of book that is going to engage fully with the complex, contradictory evidence from dozens of different state collapses throughout history. (Maybe state collapses in certain times or certain situations are good and others are bad? Maybe the evidence Ward-Perkins argues with is weak — and my understanding is that the question of Rome's "fall" is hotly disputed in academia.) Scott needed to flesh this out here or not raise arguments he can't defend.

All that nitpicking shouldn't detract from the fact that I really did enjoy this book, and will likely be citing a number of things I learned from it in regular conversation. But the fact that it was full of interesting facts doesn't mean that it rose to the level of 4- or 5-star books, which present a thorough, well-supported argument. On the other hand, this is a fast read, so is well worth taking a gander on — if you like it but don't love it, as I did, you won't waste much time, and you'll come away from that time with old ideas challenged and new ideas suggested. ( )
  dhmontgomery | Dec 13, 2020 |
Recent research has nearly completely overturned the traditional view of humanity's progress from save (hunting and gathering) to barbarian (pastoralism) to civilization (settled agricultural states. Scott points out that many communities were sedentary before developing agriculture and some switched from one form of subsistence to another depending on weather, population and other factors. The rise of states required grain agriculture which facilitated taxation and control of the workers, whether free peasants or slaves. We have been taught that civilization was a great advance, but evidence now shows that early agriculturalists were less well nourished and often fled to neighboring areas to avoid taxation and conscription, epidemics and other problems of city life. As the Firesign Theater used to say -- "Everything you know is wrong." ( )
  ritaer | Sep 12, 2019 |
Surveys the current scholarship on the first states, which Scott suggests were mostly worse places to live than non-states because of the imposition of taxes and the lesser availability of food. Argues that the state developed centralized agriculture to control people rather than developing because of centralized agricutlure, and that this worked much more easily with grain than with other staple crops because grain needs to be harvested at a specific time and can’t just be left in the ground like tubers can, which allows the taxman to take a big share. ( )
1 vota rivkat | Aug 13, 2019 |
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An account of all the new and surprising evidence now available that contradicts the standard narrative for the beginnings of the earliest civilizations Why did humans abandon hunting and gathering for sedentary communities dependent on livestock and cereal grains, and governed by precursors of today's states? Most people believe that plant and animal domestication allowed humans, finally, to settle down and form agricultural villages, towns, and states, which made possible civilization, law, public order, and a presumably secure way of living. But archaeological and historical evidence challenges this narrative. The first agrarian states, says James C. Scott, were born of accumulations of domestications: first fire, then plants, livestock, subjects of the state, captives, and finally women in the patriarchal family--all of which can be viewed as a way of gaining control over reproduction. Scott explores why we avoided sedentism and plow agriculture, the advantages of mobile subsistence, the unforeseeable disease epidemics arising from crowding plants, animals, and grain, and why all early states are based on millets and cereal grains and unfree labor. He also discusses the "barbarians" who long evaded state control, as a way of understanding continuing tension between states and nonsubject peoples.

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