Much of the work of political science revolves around institutions—the structures through which politics happens. Leaders enter the frame, of course, but often as institutions in human form: presidents, premiers, populists, and mobilizers who serve to channel and direct who does what and what they do, much like an agency or law. We might trace this pseudo-structural, largely mechanical reading of human agency to political scientists of an earlier era: the behavioralists of the 1950s and 1960s. James C. Scott began his career as just such a scholar. For his dissertation-turned-book, Political Ideology in Malaysia: Reality and the Beliefs of an Elite, Scott surveyed a gaggle of Malaysian bureaucrats to examine, effectively, the extent to which their values and assumptions supported or subverted the new democracy they served. Although itself fairly prosaic, that work foreshadows the political grime and games that soon pulled Scott in more promising directions theoretically, whether scrutinizing Southeast Asia or global patterns: disentangling structure from norms, finding agency around the margins of class and state, and rethinking how power looks and functions.

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