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.
|Publisher:||Yale University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University.
Table of Contents
Introduction. A Narrative in Tatters: What I Didn't Know 1
1 The Domestication of Fire, Plants, Animals, and … Us 37
2 Landscaping the World: The Domus Complex 68
3 Zoonoses: A Perfect Epidemiological Storm 93
4 Agro-ecology of the Early State 116
5 Population Control: Bondage and War 150
6 Fragility of the Early State: Collapse as Disassembly 183
7 The Golden Age of the Barbarians 219
Why did you select Mesopotamia eight thousand years ago as your focal point for Against the Grain?
That our cumulative activities as a species now threaten all life on the planet is obvious enough. Only a deep history of the very earliest states in Mesopotamia can illuminate how we got here. I wanted to understand how Homo sapiens—now nearly eight billion strong—became the world’s most successful invasive species. My aim is to show how the novel ecological module known as “agrarian society” came to dominate the world until the Industrial Revolution.
Why are grains and farming so important to the civilization story?
Because they are the basis of state formation. Only grain farming on permanent fields can pack enough people and food into a small enough space to allow a state to tax and control them. No cereal grains, no states! Wheat, barley, rice, maize, and millet, the starches that still dominate the world’s diet, were indispensable to state making. I show why other potential staples such as potatoes, cassava, and lentils have never become the basis of state making.
What is the significance of domestication in this story?
Civilization and state making can be seen as the result of a series of “domestications,” all of which require control over reproduction. The domestication of plants and animals, the control over the reproduction of women and slaves, and, one might say, control over the labor and reproduction of the subject population.
The early states had a population problem. It was caused by the infectious diseases of crowding, crop failure, flight from taxes and toil, raids from outside peoples, and environmental damage. States tried to make good these losses by wars of capture, slavery, and control over women’s reproduction.