Perspectives on Zomia: Social and Cultural Relationality in the Asian Uplands

Guido Sprenger, University of Heidelberg, Germany

In his book „The Art of not being governed“, James Scott argues for the relationality of social and cultural representations of the societies in the uplands between Southeast Asia, China and India. However, the state- non-state distinction at the base of his analysis is much too simplistic to account for the cultural diversity in this region. This paper attempts to view upland societies as defined by their connections to several socialities, including neighboring uplanders, lowland polities and non-human (cosmological) actors and forces. However, as the connectivities vary in different areas of the region, local social structures vary accordingly. Thus, uplanders interacting with Southeast Asian galactic polities develop different modes of exosociality than, for example, those interacting with the Chinese empire. These exosocial relationships influence internal models of sociality, just as if the mirror image of a society emerging at its boundaries turns into its actual practiced identity. Thus, identity formation and exosociality become comprehensible as features of social structure.