This is my bread and butter

I am now reviewing Against the Grain by James C. Scott. The first thing I wish to note, relative to this review (but which won't actually make it into the review itself): some twerp named William Buckner decided to slander Scott on the website Quillette, where he wrote.

"It’s not often that you see a 50-year-old paper repeatedly referenced in mainstream publications, but you can find mentions of Lee’s work pretty much everywhere today. In the Guardian, the New York Times, the London Review of Books, the Financial Times, and Salon, among others. Much of this attention has to do with two recently published books, Against the Grain by James C. Scott and Affluence without Abundance by James Suzman, both of which are informed by Lee and Sahlins’s conception of hunter-gatherer affluence."

OK, the first significant thing here is that Buckner cites a bunch of reviews of Scott and Suzman that happen to cite Lee and Sahlin, but he never actually cites Scott or Suzman. He simply asserts that their books are "informed by" Lee and Sahlin.

Well, OK, if those are two influential papers in this area, what would we make of any book that wasn't "informed" by them, even if it was "informed" by them in order to reject their theses? But the implication is that these prominent books simply rely on "50-year-old" research, and that Buckner himself, more up-to-date, knows far better than these shallow scholars.

I don't intend to comment on Suzman's book, since, unlike Buckner, I decline to comment on books I haven't read. But I encountered his review before I received my copy of Scott's book, and I was taken aback by his (apparent) claim: I had read two of Scott's books previously, and knew him to be a careful and serious scholar. Could it really be that he had based an entire book on being "informed" by a 50-year-old paper?

So when I received my review copy, I was both relieved and disgusted to find that Buckner was talking out of his nether regions. Scott cites 49(!) researchers whose work had deeply influenced his book, and neither Lee nor Sahlin appear on that list. Turning to the index, I found that each of Buckner's villains appear exactly once in Scott's index. So he was, indeed, "informed" by their work, to just the extent that one would expect a careful scholar to be "informed" by old but influential papers.

In fact, Scott goes on to say, Against the Grain is the result of his spending five solid years immersed in the last couple of decades of research in archaeology, ancient history, and anthropology, research which overturned many of his earlier assumptions. So the smear vaguely put forth by Buckner, that Scott has only relied on 50-year-old research, is diametrically opposite of the truth: Scott, has, in fact, revised his previous opinion, based upon immersing himself in the latest research.


  1. I look forward to your review but I really don't see anything in Buckner's post that comes close to "slandering" or "smearing" Scott.

    He only mentions Scott twice:

    The first time is his is statement that Scott is 'informed by Lee and Sahlins’s conception of hunter-gatherer affluence" This is surely true since he cites him in the index.

    The second time is when he asks:
    'So, are Lee and Sahlins, and Scott and Suzman, and Lanchester correct? Is the hunter-gatherer lifestyle a more optimal way to live, and have the benefits of civilization been drastically overstated?'

    Scott appears to believe this was true at least of early "civilization" so Buckner is guilty at worse of an overstatement but he is not (unless I'm missing something) slandering or smearing anyone. There is for sure nothing close to any claim that Scott 'had based an entire book on being "informed" by a 50-year-old paper'!

    1. Rob, it is pretty much a 100% guarantee that you are "missing something." And I'm starting to think it is the sense God gave a jackass.

    2. "The first time is his is statement that Scott is 'informed by Lee and Sahlins’s conception of hunter-gatherer affluence" This is surely true since he cites him in the index."

      Rob, you pea-brained nitwit, when someone says a book is "informed by X," it means that X had some substantial influence on the book, not that X was cited once in the index. And, *in fact*, Scott's single citation of Lee is NOT about hunter-gatherer affluence, but about the fertility of agricultural populations. So Buckner's claim is *surely* false, not "surely true"!

    3. One's theory can be informed by an older scholar's theory even if one has not read or referenced that scholar. Many comments on this blog for instance have been informed by Darwin's theory of evolution, including my own, and yet I have not read Darwin. I know few physicists who have read Newton's Principia.

      The claim is that his theory is informed by “Lee and Stahlin's conception of hunter gatherer affluence.” That is not the same as being based on their articles, and like with me and Darwin could be true even if he had not read or cited them.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Central Planning Works!