If swiddening and dispersal are subsistence strategies that impede appropriation; if social fragmentation and acephaly hinder state incorporation; then, by the same token, the absence of writing and texts provides a freedom of maneuver in history, genealogy, and legibility that frustrates state routines. If swiddening and egalitarian, mobile settlement represent elusive “jellyfish” economic and social forms, orality may be seen as a similarly fugitive jellyfish variant of culture. On this reading, orality may in many cases be a “positionality” vis-à-vis state formation and state power. Just as agriculture and residence practices may oscillate over long periods to reflect a strategic positioning, so may literacy and texts be taken up, then set aside, then taken up again for similar reasons.
James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2010)