The following quotations are taken from:

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, pp. 22-83. Yale 1998.

“The vocabulary used to organize nature typically betrays the over-riding interests of its human users. In fact, utilitarian discourse replaces the term ‘nature’ with the term ‘natural resources,’ focusing on those aspects of nature that can be appropriated for human use. A comparable logic extracts from a more generalized natural world those flora or fauna that are of utilitarian value (usually marketable commodities) and, in turn, reclassifies those species that compete with, prey on, or otherwise diminish the yields of the valued species. Thus, plants that are valued become ‘crops,’ the species that compete with them are stigmatized as ‘weeds,’ and the insects that ingest them are stigmatized as ‘pests.’ Thus, trees that are valued become ‘timber,’ while species that compete with them become ‘trash’ trees or ‘under-brush.’ The same logic applies to fauna. Highly valued animals become ‘game’ or ‘livestock,’ while those animals that compete with or prey upon them become ‘predators’ or ‘varmints.’” 13

“The cadastral survey was but one technique in the growing armory of the utilitarian modern state. Where the premodern state was content with a level of intelligence sufficient to allow it to keep order, extract taxes, and raise armies, the modern state increasingly aspired to ‘take in charge’ the physical and human resources of the nation and make them more productive. These more positive ends of statecraft required a much greater knowledge of the society. And an inventory of land, people, incomes, occupations, resources, and deviance was the logical place to begin. ‘The need for the increasingly bureaucratic state to organize itself and control its resources gave an impulse to the collection of vital and other statistics; to forestry and rational agriculture; to surveying and exact cartography; and to public hygiene and climatology.’

            Although the purposes of the state were broadening, what the state wanted to know was still directly related to those purposes. The nineteenth-century Prussian state, for example, was very much interested in the ages and sexes of immigrants and emigrants abut not in their religions or races; what mattered to the state was keeping track of possible draft dodgers and maintaining a supply of men of military age. The state’s increasing concern with productivity, health, sanitation, education, transportation, mineral resources, grain production, and investment was less an abandonment of the older objectives of statecraft than a broadening and deepening of what those objective entailed in the modern world.” 51-52

“The military control of these insurrectionary spaces—spaces that had not yet been well mapped—was integral to Hausmann’s plan. A series of new avenues between the inner boulevards and the customs wall was designed to facilitate movement between the barracks on the outskirts of the city and the subversive districts. As Haussman saw it, his new roads would ensure multiple, direct rail and road links between each district of the city and the military units responsible for order there. Thus, for example, new boulevards in northeastern Paris allowed troops to rush from the Bourbevoie barracks to the Bastille and then to subdue the turbulent Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Many of the new rail lines and stations were located with similar strategic goals in mind. Where possible, insurrectionary quartiers were demolished or broken up by new roads, public spaces, and commercial development. Explaining the need for a loan of 50 million francs to begin the work, Léon Faucher emphasized state security needs: ‘The interests of public order, no less than those of salubrity, demand that a wide swath be cut as soon as possible across the district of barricades.” 61

“The invention of permanent, inherited patronyms was, after the administrative simplification of nature (for example, the forest) and space (for example, land tenure), the last step in establishing the necessary preconditions of modern statecraft. In almost every case it was a state project, designed to allow officials to identify, unambiguously, the majority of its citizens. When successful, it went far to create a legible people. Tax and tithe rolls, property rolls, conscription lists, censuses, and property deeds recognized in law were inconceivable without some means of fixing an individual’s identity and linking him or her to a kin group. Campaigns to assign permanent patronyms have typically taken place, as one might expect, in the context of a state’s exertions to put its fiscal system on a sounder and more lucrative footing. Fearing, with good reason, that an effort to enumerate and register them could be a prelude to some new tax burden or conscription, local officials and the population at large often resisted such campaigns.” 65

“The assigning of patronyms by family was integral to state policy promoting the status of (male) family heads, giving them legal jurisdiction over their wives, children, and juniors and, not incidentally, holding them accountable for the fiscal obligations of the entire family.” 65

“On this account, both the establishment of permanent patronyms and the creation of the patriarchal family itself can be attributed to early state simplification.” 65

“Of all state simplifications, then, the imposition of a single, official language may be the most powerful, and it is the precondition of many other simplifications. This process should probably be viewed, as Eugen Weber suggests in the case of France, as one of domestic colonization in which various foreign provinces (such as Brittany and Occitanie) are linguistically subdued and culturally incorporated. In the first efforts made to insist on the use of French, it is clear that the state’s objective was the legibility of local practice. Officials insisted that every legal document—whether a will, document of sale, loan instrument, contract, annuity, or property deed—be drawn up in French. As long as these documents remained in local vernaculars, they were daunting to an official sent from Paris and virtually impossible to bring into conformity with central schemes of legal and administrative standardization. The campaign of linguistic centralization was assured of some success since it went hand in hand with an expansion of state power. By the late nineteenth century, dealing with the state was unavoidable for all but a small minority of the population. Petitions, court cases, school documents, applications, and correspondence with officials were all of necessity written in French. One can hardly imagine a more effective formula for immediately devaluing local knowledge and privileging all those who had mastered the official linguistic code. It was a gigantic shift in power. Those at the periphery who lacked competence in French were rendered mute and marginal. They were now in need of a local guide to the new state culture, which appeared in the form of lawyers, notaires, schoolteachers, clerks, and soldiers.

            A cultural project, as one might suspect, lurked behind the linguistic centralization. Fench was seen as the bearer of a national civilization; the purpose of imposing it was not merely to have provincials digest the Code Napoleon but also to bring them Voltaire, Racine, Parisian newspapers, and a national education. As Weber provocatively puts it, ‘There can be no clearer expression of imperialist sentiment, a white man’s burden of Francophony, whose first conquests were to be right at home.’ Where the command of Latin had once defined participation in a wider culture for a small elite, the command of standard French now defined full participation in French culture. The implicit logic of the move was to define a hierarchy of cultures, relegating local languages and their regional cultures to, at best, a quaint provincialism. At the apex of this implicit pyramid was Paris and its institutions: ministries, schools, academies (including the guardian of the language, l’Académie Française). The relative success of this cultural project hinged on both coercion and inducements. ‘It was centralization,’ says Alexandre Sanguinetti, ‘which permitted the making of France despite the French, or in the midst of their indifference… France is a deliberate political construction for whose creation the central power has never ceased to fight.’ Standard (Parisian) French and Paris were not only focal points of power; they were also magnets. The growth of markets, physical mobility, new careers, political patronage, public service, and a national educational system all meant advancement and material success. It was a state simplification that promised to reward those who complied with its logic and to penalize those who ignored it.

            The linguistic centralization impelled by the imposition of Parisian French as the official standard was replicated in a centralization of traffic. Just as the new dispensation in language made Paris the hub of communication, so the new road and rail systems increasingly favored movement to and from Paris over interregional or local traffic. State policy resembled, in computer parlance, a ‘hardwiring’ pattern that made the provinces far more accessible, far more legible, to central authorities than even the absolutist kings had imagined.” 72-73

“These typifications are indispensable to statecraft. State simplifications such as maps, censuses, cadastral lists, and standard units of measurement represent techniques for grasping a large and complex reality; in order for officials to be able to comprehend aspects of the ensemble, that complex reality must be reduced to schematic categories. The only way to accomplish this is to reduce an infinite array of detail to a set of categories that will facilitate summary descriptions, comparisons, and aggregation. The invention, elaboration, and deployment of these abstractions represent, as Charles Tilly has shown, an enormous leap in state capacity—a move from tribute and indirect rule to taxation and direct rule. Indirect rule required only a minimal state apparatus but rested on local elites and communities who had an interest in withholding resources and knowledge from the center. Direct rule sparked widespread resistance and necessitated negotiations that often limited the center’s power, but for the first time, it allowed state officials direct knowledge of and access to a previously opaque society.” 77

“State simplifications have at least five characteristics that deserve emphasis. Most obviously, state simplifications are observations of only those aspects of social life that are of official interest. They are interested, utilitarian facts. Second, they are also nearly always written (verbal or numerical) documentary facts. Third, they are typically static facts. Fourth, most stylized state facts are also aggregate facts. Aggregate facts may be impersonal (the density of transportation networks) or simply a collection of facts about individuals (employment rates, literacy rates, residence patterns). Finally, for most purposes, state officials need to group citizens in ways that permit them to make a collective assessment. Facts that can be aggregated and presented as averages or distributions must therefore be standardized facts. However unique the actual circumstances of the various individuals who make up the aggregate, it is their sameness or, more precisely, their differences along a standardized scale or continuum that are of interest.

            The process by which standardized facts susceptible to aggregation are manufactured seems to require at least three steps. The first, indispensable step is the creation of common units of measurement or coding. Size classes of trees, freehold tenure, the metric system for measuring landed property or the volume of grain, uniform naming practices, sections of prairie land, and urban lots of standard sizes are among the units created for this purpose. In the next step, each item or instance falling within a category is counted and classified according to the new unit of assessment. A particular tree reappears as an instance of a certain size class of tree; a particular plot of agricultural land reappears as coordinates in a cadastral map; a particular job reappears as an instance of a category of employment; a particular person reappears bearing a name according to the new formula. Each fact must be recuperated and brought back on stage, as it were, dressed in a new uniform of official weave—as part of ‘a series in a total classificatory grid.’ Only in such garb can these facts play a role in the culmination of the process: the creation of wholly new facts by aggregation, following the logic of the new units. One arrives, finally, at synoptic facts that are useful to officials: so many thousands of trees in a given size class, so many thousands of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, so many farms in a given size class, so many students whose surnames begin with the letter A, so many people with tuberculosis. Combining several metrics of aggregation, one arrives at quite subtle, complex, heretofore unknown truths, including, for example, the distribution of tubercular patients by income and urban location.” 80-81

“State officials can often make their categories stick and impose their simplifications, because the state, of all institutions, is best equipped to insist on treating people according to its schemata. Thus categories that may have begun as the artificial inventions of cadastral surveyors, census takers, judges, or police officers can end by becoming categories that organize people’s daily experience precisely because they are embedded in state-created institutions that structure that experience.’ The economic plan, survey map, record of ownership, forest management plan, classification of ethnicity, passbook, arrest record, and map of political boundaries acquire their force from the fact that these synoptic data are the points of departure for reality as state officials apprehend and shape it. In dictatorial settings where there is no effective way to assert another reality, fictitious facts-on-paper can often be made eventually to prevail on the ground, because it is on behalf of such pieces of paper that police and army are deployed.

            These paper records are the operative facts in a court of law, in an administrative dossier, and before most functionaries. In this sense, there are virtually no other facts for the state than those that are contained in documents standardized for that purpose. An error in such a document can have far more power—and for far longer—than can an unreported truth. If, for example, you want to defend your claim to real property, you are normally obliged to defend it with a document called a property deed, and to do so in the courts and tribunals created for that purpose. If you wish to have any standing in law, you must have a document that officials accept as evidence of citizenship, be that document a birth certificate, passport, or identity card. The categories used by state agents are not merely means to make their environment legible; they are an authoritative tune to which most of the population must dance.” 82-83