Highland Asia as a field of anthropological study

  • Jelle J P Wouters Royal University of Bhutan


Zomia, in the sense exulted by James C. Scott (2009) as an abode of purposeful political anarchy and anti-stateism, is not an emic conceptualization, not a particular place or an incantation of a collective identity referred to or professed by particular populations of humans. As a spatial and social reality, or as a word-concept, Zomia, then appears an exercise in scholarly magical realism (evidence is ‘thin’, ‘limited’, and ‘ambiguous’, as Victor Lieberman (2010: 339) puts it more discreetly). It is a form of geographical and historical imagination that nevertheless has begun to ‘escape’ the narrow corridors of the academy and into public discourse where it now lives a life of its own. It is an original imagination no doubt – an optic that stimulates fresh scholarship – but one simultaneously cannot escape that Zomia-disciples are letting their imagination run away with them.


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