Tag Archives: book

James C Scott on the value of an anarchist squint

Political scientist James C. Scott, author of a series of ground breaking books that explore some of political and anthropological aspects of resilience has a new book out Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play.

On this blog I’ve frequently mentioned his book “Seeing Like a State“, and also enjoyed his “The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia” with its interesting perspectives on state resistance.  I found it particular interesting due to the connections I could see between his work on fugitive societies from the state, resonated with my own experience working with and researching Maroons in the Americas.

He introduces his new book with a preface which argues for the value of an “anarchist squint,” which I believe has many resonances with resilience research.  In the preface (pdf) he writes:

James C. Scott in his preface to his new book “Two Cheers for Anarchism:”

Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philosophy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism or anarchist philosophy. One thing that heaves into view, I believe, is what Pierre-Joseph Proudhon had in mind when he first used the term “anarchism,” namely, mutuality, or cooperation without hierarchy or state rule. Another is the anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation that accompanies social learning, and confidence in spontaneous cooperation and reciprocity. Here Rosa Luxemburg’s preference, in the long run, for the honest mistakes of the working class over the wisdom of the executive decisions of a handful of vanguard party elites is indicative of this stance.  My claim, then, is fairly modest. These glasses, I think, offer a sharper image and better depth of field than most of the alternatives.

Scott goes on to define what he means by an anarchist squint:

My anarchist squint involves a defense of politics, conflict, and debate, and the perpetual uncertainty and learning they entail. This means that I reject the major stream of utopian scientism that dominated much of anarchist thought around the turn of the twentieth century. In light of the huge strides in industry, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and transportation, it was no wonder that high modernist optimism on the right and the left led to the belief that the problem of scarcity had, in principle, been solved. Scientific progress, many believed, had uncovered the laws of nature, and with them the means to solve the problems of subsistence, social organization, and institutional design on a scientific basis. As men became more rational and knowledgeable, science would tell us how we should live, and politics would no longer be necessary. …. For many anarchists the same  vision of progress pointed the way toward an economy in which the state was beside the point. Not only have we subsequently learned both that material plenty, far from banishing politics, creates new spheres of political struggle but also that statist socialism was less “the administration of ” things than the trade union of the ruling class protecting its privileges.

Unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom.

Nor do I believe that the state is the only institution that endangers freedom. To assert so would be to ignore a long and deep history of pre-state slavery, property in women, warfare, and bondage. It is one thing to disagree utterly with Hobbes about the nature of society before the existence of the state (nasty, brutish, and short) and another to believe that “the state of nature” was an unbroken landscape of communal property, cooperation, and peace.

The last strand of anarchist thought I definitely wish to distance myself from is the sort of libertarianism that tolerates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth, property, and status. Freedom and (small “d”) democracy are, in conditions of rampant inequality, a cruel sham as Bakunin understood. There is no authentic freedom where huge differences make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than legalized plunder.

What is clear to anyone except a market fundamentalist (of the sort who would ethically condone a citizen’s selling himself—voluntarily, of course—as a chattel slave) is that democracy is a cruel hoax without relative equality. This, of course, is the great dilemma for an anarchist. If relative equality is a necessary condition of mutuality and freedom, how can it be guaranteed except through the state? Facing this conundrum, I believe that both theoretically and practically, the abolition of the state is not an option. We are stuck, alas, with Leviathan, though not at all for the reasons Hobbes had supposed, and the challenge is to tame it. That challenge may well be beyond our reach.

For more on Scott, here is a profile in the New York Times and his entry in Wikipedia.  Here are some reviews of “Two cheers” from a diverse set of places: Wall Street Journal, the Coffin Factory, the LA Review of Books, and Fortune Magazine.

Bridge building ecological theory

A new book from my former McGill colleague, Michel Loreau is lying on my desk.  I haven’t read From Populations to Ecosystems: Theoretical Foundations for a New Ecological Synthesis yet, but Tadashi Fukami has, and his review is in Science.  He writes:

… Michel Loreau argues that an effective way forward is to give up building a single unified theory of ecology altogether. Loreau (a theoretical ecologist at McGill University) believes that “a monolithic unified theory of ecology is neither feasible nor desirable.” As an alternative approach, he advocates theoretical merging of closely related, yet separately developed subdisciplines.

The merging (or bridge-laying) Loreau advocates involves translating different “languages” used in the mathematical models developed separately in various subdisciplines into a common language so that the subfields can talk to one another. Although this approach does not yield a truly unified theory, it helps, Loreau argues, to “generate new principles, perspectives, and questions at the interface between different subdisciplines and thereby contribute to the emergence of a new ecological synthesis that transcends traditional boundaries.” Taking this tack, one gets a sense that the problem with specialization in subdisciplines can be solved by theoretical bridging without having to trade specificity for generality.

An elegant example of the author’s approach can be seen in the work conducted by him and his colleagues over the past decade or so that merges two major subdisciplines of ecology, community ecology and ecosystem ecology. Loreau devotes much of the book to recounting this body of research. He starts by summarizing essential elements of the mathematical models developed in the two subdisciplines. He then discusses how the two sets of models, though developed separately and with apparently distinct sets of equations, can be merged by basing the two on a common currency: the mass and energy budgets of individual organisms. Once this translation is accomplished, new models that simultaneously consider the composition of coexisting species (the focus of traditional community ecology) and the flow of materials through functional compartments of ecosystems (the focus of traditional ecosystem ecology) can be built and analyzed. These allow one to study reciprocal influences between species composition and material flows in the ecosystem.

As Loreau acknowledges, his is not the first book to advocate this type of theoretical merging. In particular, the approach he presents resembles that laid out in an influential 1992 book by Donald DeAngelis (3). What makes Loreau’s contribution novel and creative is his successful application of the merging approach to understanding the functional consequences of biodiversity loss, the topic that has received perhaps greater attention than any other ecological issue over the past two decades because of its broad social implications.

Institutional Dynamics and Emergent Patterns in Global Governance

Can environmental regimes really be viewed as complex dynamic systems? Oran Young makes a nice effort in his latest book “Institutional Dynamics – Emergent Patterns in International Environmental Governance” (MIT Press, 2010). While the study of environmental and resource regimes certainly has a strong track record in political science and international relations, Young makes a novel and detailed analysis of what he calls “emergent patterns” – patterns of institutional change that arise over time from the dynamics of complex systems (pp. 8). Young observes, and unpacks five patterns:

Progressive development: this patterns starts with a framework convention followed shortly by one or more substantive protocols that are amended and extended to accommodate new information. Example: stratospheric ozone, and the Montreal Protocol.

Punctuated equilibrium: this pattern occur in cases where regimes encounter periodic stresses which trigger episodes of regime building and change. Example: The Antarctic Treaty System.

Arrested development: here, regimes get off to a promising start but then run into barriers or obstacles that block further development. Example: climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Diversion: this pattern includes regimes that are created for one purpose, but later are redirected in a manner that runs counter to the original purpose. Example: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Collapse: this pattern includes cases where regimes have been in operation for some time, but then encounters external or internal stresses and transforms into a “dead letter”. Example: North Pacific Sealing Convention.

Young recently published an article [PDF] for Global Environmental Change on this topic. You can also listen to an interview with him here.

New book on Adaptive Co-management

A new book on adaptive co-management has just been published by UBC press: Adaptive Co-Management: Collaboration, Learning, and Multi-Level Governance. A fair number of people who have been involved with resilience research have contributed to the book. I just received my copy in the mail and it looks great.

The book is a result of a project that has been coordinated by Canadian scientists Derek Armitage, Fikret Berkes, and Nancy Doubleday. They describe the book:

In Canada and around the world, governments are shifting away from regulatory models for governing natural and cultural resources. New concerns with adaptive processes, feedback learning, and flexible partnerships are reshaping environmental governance. Meanwhile, ideas about collaboration and learning are converging around the idea of adaptive co-management.

This book provides a comprehensive synthesis of the core concepts, strategies, and tools in this emerging field, informed by a diverse group of researchers and practitioners with over two decades of experience. It also offers a diverse set of case studies that reveal the challenges and implications of adaptive co- management thinking and synthesizes lessons for natural and cultural resource governance in a wide range of contexts.

Adaptive Co-Management is not only a timely book but also a useful concept for resource governance in a world marked by rapid socio-ecological change. It will be of interest to researchers, environmental practitioners, policy-makers, and students in fields across the political and environmental spectrum.

Table of Contents
1 Introduction: Moving beyond Co-Management / Derek Armitage, Fikret Berkes and Nancy Doubleday

Part 1: Theory

2 Adaptive Co-Management and Complexity: Exploring the Many Faces of Co- Management / Fikret Berkes

3 Connecting Adaptive Co-Management, Social Learning, and Social Capital through Theory and Practice / Ryan Plummer and John FitzGibbon

4 Building Resilient Livelihoods through Adaptive Co-Management: The Role of Adaptive Capacity / Derek Armitage

5 Adaptive Co-Management for Resilient Resource Systems: Some Ingredients and the Implications of Their Absence / Anthony Charles

Part 2: Case Studies
6 Challenges Facing Coastal Resource Co-Management in the Caribbean / Patrick McConney, Robin Mahon, and Robert Pomeroy

7 Adaptive Fisheries Co-Management in the Western Canadian Arctic / Burton G. Ayles, Robert Bell, and Andrea Hoyt

8 Integrating Holism and Segmentalism: Overcoming Barriers to Adaptive Co- Management between Management Agencies and Multi-Sector Bodies / Evelyn Pinkerton

9 Conditions for Successful Fisheries and Coastal Resources Co-Management: Lessons Learned in Asia, Africa, and the Wider Caribbean / Robert Pomeroy

Part 3: Challenges

10 Communities of Interdependence for Adaptive Co-Management / John Kearney and Fikret Berkes

11 Adaptive Co-Management and the Gospel of Resilience / Paul Nadasdy

12 Culturing Adaptive Co-Management: Finding “Keys” to Resilience in Asymmetries of Power / Nancy Doubleday

Part 4: Tools
13 Novel Problems Require Novel Solutions: Innovation as an Outcome of Adaptive Co-Management / Gary P. Kofinas, Susan J. Herman, and Chanda Meek

14 The Role of Vision in Framing Adaptive Co-Management Processes: Lessons from Kristianstads Vattenrike, Southern Sweden / Per Olsson

15 Using Scenario Planning to Enable an Adaptive Co-Management Process in the Northern Highlands Lake District of Wisconsin / Garry Peterson

16 Synthesis: Adapting, Innovating, Evolving / Fikret Berkes, Derek Armitage and Nancy Doubleday