Seeing Like a State

How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale Agrarian Studies)

Hardcover, 446 pages

English language

Published March 29, 1998 by Yale University Press.


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4 stars (5 reviews)

Examines how (sometimes quasi-) authoritarian high-modernist planning fails to deliver the goods, be they increased resources for the state or a better life for the people.

7 editions

legibility, high modernism, metis

4 stars

I enjoyed this greatly and I am dyingggg to know about criticisms of big tech and surveillance capitalism that utilize the concepts in this book—particularly around legibility and the mechanization of people/minds. If you see this and you know of any, plz share! Such a good read for those of us in the interstitial spaces between the provably known and the experientially felt, and for those thinking about the pain and problems of objectivity.

Review of 'Seeing Like a State' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

I read this because it was heavily cited in a few different blog posts/essays that I found thought-provoking. This took me a really long time to get through, but has similarly been really thought-provoking, and has influenced how I think about a lot of different things.

In a very small nutshell (maybe a pistachio?): abstraction can be very useful but it's very easy to overlook the value of all the concrete details along the way; blind faith in it combined with a way to impose the abstraction on others can be pretty dangerous.

For what it's worth, I think you can basically read the introduction and then read Part IV: The Missing Link. At the beginning of that part he summarizes the salient points of Parts II and III. If you find any of those stories particularly interesting, there's nothing stopping you from going back and actually reading them. I …

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4 stars


  • Central planning -- Social aspects
  • Social engineering
  • Authoritarianism