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Perfect Order:
Recognizing Complexity in Bali
J. Stephen Lansing

Winner of the 2007 Julian Steward Book Award, Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association

Paperback | 2012 | $27.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691156262
248 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 9 halftones. 21 line illus. 14 tables.
Hardcover | 2006 | $75.00 | £62.95 | ISBN: 9780691027272
240 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 9 halftones. 21 line illus. 14 tables.
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Along rivers in Bali, small groups of farmers meet regularly in water temples to manage their irrigation systems. They have done so for a thousand years. Over the centuries, water temple networks have expanded to manage the ecology of rice terraces at the scale of whole watersheds. Although each group focuses on its own problems, a global solution nonetheless emerges that optimizes irrigation flows for everyone. Did someone have to design Bali's water temple networks, or could they have emerged from a self-organizing process?

Perfect Order--a groundbreaking work at the nexus of conservation, complexity theory, and anthropology--describes a series of fieldwork projects triggered by this question, ranging from the archaeology of the water temples to their ecological functions and their place in Balinese cosmology. Stephen Lansing shows that the temple networks are fragile, vulnerable to the cross-currents produced by competition among male descent groups. But the feminine rites of water temples mirror the farmers' awareness that when they act in unison, small miracles of order occur regularly, as the jewel-like perfection of the rice terraces produces general prosperity. Much of this is barely visible from within the horizons of Western social theory.

The fruit of a decade of multidisciplinary research, this absorbing book shows that even as researchers probe the foundations of cooperation in the water temple networks, the very existence of the traditional farming techniques they represent is threatened by large-scale development projects.


"[A] winning combination of hard science and interpretative ethnography."--Roy Ellen, American Anthropologist

"I would recommend . . . this book . . . as perhaps providing an example of social and ecological self-organization which might be useful in modeling other systems, whether in the social or ecological field or even in other fields in which complex adaptive systems may be studied."--Phillip Guddemi, Cybernetics & Human Knowing


"A master story teller, Stephen Lansing is unique in his ability to explain order in human societies within the framework of complex systems theory. Through the lens of his Balinese study system, hierarchical organization, equality, and self-organization all become clearer. There are lessons in this book for understanding diverse societies, including our own."--Simon A. Levin, Princeton University, author of Fragile Dominion

"The extraordinary complexity of Balinese social life, the grand variousness of its culture, and the clockwork precision of its terraced wet rice agriculture climbing up the sides of towering volcanoes have long astonished scholars, administrators, and tourists alike. In this brilliant synthesis, the anthropologist-cum-ecologist J. Stephen Lansing uncovers the principles which animate them and traces the ways in which they support and govern one another to produce a tremulous and troubled self-organizing, self-repairing whole. The collective management of irrigation, the endemic factionalism of village life, the fears and suspicions of the witches' and demons' spirit world, and the ritualized hierarchy of precedence and power are seen as conducing to a complicated common order precariously maintained. The result is something we have not had before--a comprehensive and circumstantial study of Bali as a whole. A major achievement."--Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Chapter 2: Origins of Subaks and Water Temples 20
Chapter 3: The Emergence of Cooperation on Water Mountains 67
Chapter 4: Tyrants, Sorcerers, and Democrats 88
Chapter 5: Hieroglyphs of Reason 122
Chapter 6: Demigods at the Summit 153
Chapter 7: Achieving Perfect Order 190
Additional Publications from the Subak Research Projects 213
Index 217


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