Theory from the hills

  • Bengt G Karlsson Stockholm University


Highlander suggests that geography, and especially, altitude matters. And indeed things look different depending on where you stand. Climb a mountain and the perspective changes as does the landscape itself; the flora, fauna, smells, the air and much more change. High altitude gives a sense of clarity, you can see further out in the distance, things otherwise hidden reveal itself and patterns, traces, paths emerge. It is perhaps no surprise that mountains are places of introspection and spiritual quests. Yet again how altitude matters in a more precise manner in the workings of society is harder to tell. James C. Scott famously argues that hills are difficult to govern and therefore allow for more egalitarian, democratic and non-state types of polities to flourish (2009). His take on “Zomia”, originally proposed by Willem van Schendel, has encouraged scholars to think regions, and geography more generally, outside the dominant framework of nation-states. For Scott, the hills carry a political vision of an anarchist or acephalous society. Indeed, we need to be reminded that another world is possible. Zomia is a powerful image for this.


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