How real is Zomia?
Hmong girls meet possible suitors in Laos
From The Chronicle Review:
The region of Zomia had not been mapped for very long when people started quarreling over it. Political scientists, historians, geographers, anthropologists, and especially Southeast Asianists. Even a few anarchists weighed in.
Much of the most recent debate has been spurred by the Yale University professor of political science and anthropology James C. Scott, who describes the region in his latest book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009). In the preface, he anticipates the criticism that will come “bearing down” on him for his unorthodox take on the practices of the region’s hill peoples: “I’m the only one to blame for this book,” he writes. “I did it.”
Two years later, the book’s already considerable reach is being extended with new foreign editions. “I’m delighted with the attention it’s gotten,” says Scott. As for the criticism that keeps coming, in journals and at conferences, “I’ve got a thick skin.”
Zomia does not appear on any official map, for it is merely metaphorical. Scott identifies it as “the largest remaining region of the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation-states.” Though the scholars who have imagined Zomia differ over its precise boundaries, Scott includes all the lands at altitudes above 300 meters stretching from the Central Highlands of Vietnam to northeastern India. That encompasses parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Burma, as well as four provinces of China. Zomia’s 100 million residents are minority peoples “of truly bewildering ethnic and linguistic variety,” he writes. Among them are the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Mien, and Wa.