Seeing Like A State, and metis

[I]t has happened that so many of the twentieth century’s political tragedies have flown the banner of progress, emancipation, and reform… If I were asked to condense the reasons behind these failures into a single sentence, I would say that the progenitors of such plans regarded themselves as far smarter and farseeing than they really were and, at the same time, regarded their subjects as far more stupid and incompetent than they really were.

– James C. Scott, in his conclusion to Seeing Like A State (pdf)

A nice summary of Scott’s overall argument is given here by Brettany Shannon.

I like the word metis, meaning knowledge that comes only through practical experience and/or local understanding, that Scott uses. Handy for capturing the importance of, for example, users in public service design and delivery.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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