James C. Scott honored for cross-disciplinary contributions

James C. Scott
James C. Scott

Yale political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott is the recipient of the 2020 Albert O. Hirschman Prize, the Social Science Research Council’s highest honor, in recognition of his wide-ranging and influential scholarship.

The biennial prize is awarded to scholars who have made outstanding contributions to international, interdisciplinary social science research, theory, and public communication. It is named in honor of the late economist Albert O. Hirschman, who is noted for work that blended economics, politics, and culture. 

The prize’s three-member nominating committee called Scott “the epitome of a broad-ranging scholar with influence across a multitude of disciplines.” It noted that a “gentle, humanistic approach toward policy runs through Scott’s enormously influential oeuvre, making him a fitting candidate for this prize.”

Scott,  Sterling Professor of Political Science and professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), co-directs Yale’s Agrarian Studies Program. His research concerns political economy, comparative agrarian societies, theories of hegemony and resistance, peasant politics, revolution, Southeast Asia, theories of class relations, and anarchism. 

James Scott has taught us to see how art can fuel resistance, how social planning can undermine social justice, how anarchic principles inform everyday acts of resistance, and how agriculture led to the rise of state control,” said FAS Dean Tamar Szabó Gendler. “His virtuosic work crosses disciplines, shaping political science, anthropology, and history. I’m thrilled that he has been honored with the Hirschman Prize; it is a well-deserved recognition for such a transformative thinker and inspiring scholar.”

Scott’s books, including “Domination and the Arts of Resistance” (1985) and “Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance” (1980), explore political thought, movements, and resistance in Southeast Asia and beyond. “Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts” (1992) mined folktales, popular songs, oral interviews, and other sources from around the world to get at the “secret discourse” that subordinate groups used to critique dominant elites. 

Jim Scott's work is both profoundly illustrative and destructive, challenging prevailing ideological orthodoxies and assumptions about disciplinary boundaries,” said Gregory Huber, chair of Yale’s Department of Political Science. “This award recognizes a scholar whose taste in questions and cogent answers attract researchers from across the social sciences.”

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998), pulled examples from across the globe and history to show that top-down planning has done more harm than good to the populations it was supposed to help. He followed up the political implications of that book in 2012 with “Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play.” More recently, Scott examined ancient history in “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the First Agrarian States (2017), in which he considers the costs of the agrarian revolution on people.  

Like Albert O. Hirschman, James Scott is a scholar of extraordinary breadth who has made a career of ‘creative trespassing’ across disciplines,” said Naomi Lamoreaux, the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History at Yale and chair of the prize’s nominating committee. “His research has been primarily concerned with the effects of economic development and social planning on ordinary people.

‘Seeing Like a State’ exemplifies the gentle, humanistic approach toward economic development that runs through all of his work, as well as through Hirschman’s,” Lamoreaux added. “Indeed, the book concludes by quoting Hirschman’s call for a development policy grounded in ‘a little more “reverence for life,” a little less strait-jacketing of the future, a little more allowance for the unexpected — and a little less wishful thinking.’”

Scott will give the Albert O. Hirschman Lecture at an award ceremony in New York City on December 4, 2020.

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Bess Connolly: elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu, 203-432-1324