article

From Planning to Prototypes: New Ways of Seeing Like a State

Fleur Johns

Abstract

All states have pursued what James C. Scott characterised as modernist projects of legibility and simplification: maps, censuses, national economic plans and related legislative programs. Many, including Scott, have pointed out blindspots embedded in these tools. As such criticism persists, however, the synoptic style of law and development has changed. Governments, NGOs and international agencies now aspire to draw upon immense repositories of digital data. Modes of analysis too have changed. No longer is legibility a precondition for action. Law‐ and policy‐making are being informed by business development methods that prefer prototypes over plans. States and international institutions continue to plan, but also seek insight from the release of minimally viable policy mock‐ups. Familiar critiques of law and development work, and arguments for its reform, have limited purchase on these practices, Scott’s included. Effective critical intervention in this field today requires careful attention to be paid to these emergent patterns of practice.

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Published September 2019
Frequency Bi-Monthly
Volume 82
Issue 5
Print ISSN 0026-7961
Online ISSN 1468-2230