Looking at SDC-SEDIA partnerships, father-son relations through Scott’s Seeing Like a State revealed deep and valuable understanding about state land and natural resource governance. Scott begins with a ride through eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German forestry. In Germany, “scientific” forestry led to the planting and harvesting of large monocrop forests of Norway spruce and Scotch pine. And for the first century or so the pockets of forest-owners bulged as more and more valuable trees were harvested from the increasingly-ordered and managed forests.Seeing Like a State

But the foresters did not understand the ecological web that they were trying to manage: Clearing of underbrush to make it easier for lumberjacks to move about in the forest “greatly reduced the diversity of insect, mammal, and bird populations” (p. 20); the absence of animals and the absence of rotting wood on the forest floor greatly reduced the replenishment of the soil with nutrients. In places where all the trees are mature, of the same age and of the same species, storms can wreak catastrophe as trees knock each other over like bowling pins. Pests and parasites that attack a particular species find a bonanza and grow to epidemic proportions when they find a monocrop forest. The result was what Germans call Waldsterben–the death of the forest, as it becomes both a pale shadow of its previous ecological richness and an inefficient source of timber for human use.

Why does Scott begin with such a tale of pseudo-scientific hubris in Germany before 1900? After all, he could have looked across the North Sea at England a century or so before, where the systematic experimentation and analysis of the agricultural revolution had led to a quite sophisticated understanding of what patterns of crop rotation, nutrient addition, and farm diversity could produce maximum sustainable and maximum economic yield. Why not tell a story about how human communities successfully managed a sustainable agriculture, rather than one about how human communities unsuccessfully created an unsustainable forestry?

Scott opens with his tale of German foresters because he argues that this type of interaction–people in rooms lined with green silk lay out complicated plans, which are then approved by the politically powerful, implemented with no regard for local conditions or local knowledge, and wind up as disasters–is typical of how states have dealt with problems and people in the twentieth century. When states–bureaucrats in offices in the capital–try to assess what is going on, they use maps: maps of territory, often with the demarcations between plots or regions made to be straight lines that meet at right angles, whether or not such lines of demarcation make any sense for those who live on the ground; maps of people–the lists of names and relationships that allow the state to track those from whom it will claim “obligations”–maps of laws, that fit human relationships of gift, exchange, and indebtedness that have both economic and emotional facets into a few well-defined categories of right and wrong.

But the map is never the territory. Scott reports that the first railroad from Paris to Strasbourg ran straight east from Paris across the plateau of Brie, far from the populated Marne, because the bureaucrat Victor Legrand drew the line so. The consequence was that the railroad was ruinously expensive because Victor Legrand forgot that to be useful a railroad has to carry goods and passengers from where they are to where they or their owners want them to go–not look like a pretty straight line on a map back in Paris (p. 76). By page 87 the reader is well-prepared to agree with Scott that the map is never the territory, and that what the state “sees” is only a very small slice of reality.

The Critique of “High Modernism” However, these discussions of forests and maps are just the warm-up. Scott’s main argument begins on page 87 as he lets twentieth-century states have it with both barrels. Scott then mounts a vicious, powerful, and effective fangs-bared critique of what he calls “high modernism”: the belief that the bureaucratic planner with a map–whether Le Corbusier designing a city, Vladimir Lenin designing a planned economy after what he thought he knew of the German war economy, or Julius Nyerere “villagizing” the people of Tanzania–knows best, and can move humans and their lives around the territory as if on a chessboard, and so create utopia. Scott sees the “idea of a root-and-branch, rational engineering of entire social orders in creating realizable utopias” as a twentieth-century idea that has gone far to making this century a dystopia.

Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) and Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA) can be discussed within the context of four domain of thoughts outlined by Professor Ulung Negara Datuk Dr. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin as well as through Scott’s “Thin Simplification” and “High Modernity”

Sabah Development Corridor (IDS Sabah, 2007:82) outlines state strategic development plan to enhance the quality of life of the people by accelerating the growth of Sabah’s economy, promoting regional balance and bridging the rural-urban divide while ensuring sustainable management of the state’s resources. SDC provides blueprint for the development of Sabah for period of 18 years (2008-2025). Sets of principles guide SDC development strategies such as: a) to capture higher value economic activities; b) to promote balanced economic growth with distribution; and c) to ensure sustainable development via environmental conservation. Resulting from these planning, state aspired to become one of the most liveable places and a leading economic region in Asia with its strategic location, natural resources, diverse cultural offerings, heritage, quality of life and clean environment. Subsequently, in order to implement SDC strategic plan throughout Sabah, state established a self planning, self development, self financing, self monitoring and self regulated (as stated in the SEDIA Enactment, 2009) body called Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (SEDIA).

One of the main objectives of SEDIA is to provide one-stop service centre for all development projects in State of Sabah outlined under SDC. In short, SEDIA will appoint agents, contractors, companies and developers. SEDIA will approve, implement and monitor all development projects and will not dependent on any other state regulatory bodies in the course of implementing all projects outlined under SCD blueprint. This was made possible through endorsement of the Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority Enactment by the Sabah State Legislative Assembly in 2009. In short, SDC and SEDIA was created to enable the current administration to plan, to finance, to implement and to monitor projects through a well-connected network of state actors and development agents. Scott’s described such development approach as ‘thin simplification’ (Scott, 1998:309-431), where development agent distance themselves from local communities with too-generalised approach that ignore specific local circumstances, local knowledge and Native customary practices. Development agents follow direction from state actors of whom have vested interests on such projects. Indirectly signaling that Native communities are subject to state interest and management strategies.

According to the 2010 SUHAKAM Annual Report, development projects and issuance Communal Land Title through ‘Fast Track Land Alienation’ under SCD Blueprint (SUHAKAM, 2011:38-39, 111 and 118) involve an areas claimed under Native Customary Rights where Native customary practices has been in existence since time immemorial.

James C. Scott is the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University and current president of the Association of Asian Studies. He is the author of Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, and The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, all published by Yale University Press.