Journal of Global History


Editorial – Zomia and beyond*

Jean Michauda1

a1 Department of Anthropology, Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada G1K 7P4 E-mail:


This editorial develops two themes. First, it discusses how historical and anthropological approaches can relate to each other, in the field of the highland margins of Asia and beyond. Second, it explores how we might further our understandings of the uplands of Asia by applying different terms such as ‘Haute-Asie’, the ‘Southeast Asian Massif’, the ‘Hindu Kush–Himalayan region’, the ‘Himalayan Massif’, and in particular ‘Zomia’, a neologism gaining popularity with the publication of James C. Scott’s latest book, The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. Through a discussion of the notion of Zomia, I will reconsider certain ‘truths’ regarding highland Asian studies. In the process, I seek to contribute to disembedding minority studies from the national straitjackets that have been imposed by academic research bounded by the historical, ideological, and political limits of the nation-state.

Jean Michaud is professor of Anthropology at Université Laval in Canada. He specializes on modernization among highland minorities in upland Southeast Asia and south-west China. His recent publications include ‘Incidental’ ethnographers: French Catholic missions on the Tonkin–Yunnan frontier, 1880–1930 (2007); The A to Z of the peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif (2009); and, co-edited with Tim Forsyth, Moving mountains: highland livelihoods and ethnicity in China, Vietnam and Laos (2010).


* In addition to the three JGH anonymous readers, whose suggestions have been enlightening, colleagues have been most helpful in offering comments on drafts of this Editorial. These include in particular Sarah Turner, Magnus Fiskesjö, Sara Shneiderman, and Leif Jonsson. James C. Scott is to be thanked for putting me in touch with Magnus. As the Chief Editor of JGH, William Gervase Clarence-Smith has shown indefatigable support for this somewhat unusual venture, and I thank him warmly, as well as his co-editors for their scholarly inputs and collaboration.