The Apiarian State


In pre-modern times the gathering of honey was a difficult affair. Even if bees were housed in straw hives, harvesting the honey usually meant driving off the bees and often destroying the colony. The arrangement of brood chambers and honey cells followed complex patterns that varied from hive to hive―patterns that did not allow for neat extractions. The modern beehive, in contrast, is designed to solve the beekeeper’s problem. With a device called a ‘queen excluder’, it separates the brood chambers below from the honey supplies above, preventing the queen from laying eggs above a certain level. Furthermore, the wax calls are arranged neatly in vertical frames, nine or ten to a box, which enable the easy extraction of honey, wax, and propolis. Extraction is made possible by observing ‘bee space’―the precise distance between the frames that the bees will leave open as passages rather than bridging the frames by building intervening honeycomb. From the beekeeper’s point of view, the modern hive is an orderly, ‘legible’ hive allowing the beekeeper to inspect the condition of the colony and queen, judge its honey production (by weight), enlarge or contract the size of the hive by standard units, move it to a new location, and, above all, extract just enough honey (in temperate climates) to ensure that the colony will overwinter successfully.

I do not want to push the analogy further than it will go, but much of early modern European statecraft seemed similarly devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format. The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also greatly enhanced state capacity. They made possible quite discriminating interventions of every kind, such as public-health measures, political surveillance, and relief for the poor. […]

[Such state attempts at simplification as t]he Great Leap Forward in China, collectivization in Russia, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are among the great tragedies of the twentieth century, in terms of both lives lost and lives irreparably disrupted. At a less dramatic but far more common level, the history of Third World development is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasília or Chandigarh) that have failed their residents.

~Scott, J. (1998). Seeing Like a State. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 2-3

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About Graham Joncas

We are a way for capital to know itself.

Posted on November 1, 2011, in Politics, Quotation, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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