Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nomadism and Illegibility

The purpose of this post is to point at an essay by Venkatesh Rao entitled On Being an Illegible Person.  Rao is not the originator of the idea of Illegible Person but elaborates on the concept here.  I would probably call the concept of illegible person, invisible person, but I won't quibble over terminology.  The idea behind legibility is that the state wants to force a person into a mode that easily lets the state keep track of that person.  It's similar to the idea behind the military uniform. You can tell the rank of a person at a glance.  In the US military it's on your hat and on your sleeve. There's also markers for years of service, campaigns participated in and special rewards.  Basically, anyone in the military can read anyone else in the military and they are therefore legible.
The illegibility that Rao talks about is illegibility to the state and to other people.  The idea is that other people can't figure out how you make a living and the state doesn't have enough information on you to keep you under control. He works nomadism into the discussion because nomads are traditionally illegible to the state and therefore subject to efforts by the state to make them legible, that is to stop them from being nomads and turning them into settlers .
Read the article.  It's a good one.


  1. Hi Wolfgang - I was searching for info on fishing from kayaks ... and all of a sudden I was on your other blog! A hop, skip and a jump later and I'm on this one.

    Good stuff and very interesting. Nomadic culture fascinates me as it seems the people end up belonging to the landscape and not the other way round. I shall read all of your posts. Amazing boats/kayaks too, BTW.


    1. Thanks, Jason. Love your blog as well. I intend to use this blog mostly as a way of working out ideas while I'm writing. Re the fishing from kayaks, mostly over for this year. The Pacific is generating lots of storms this time of year and big swell from the storms makes it hard to get off the beach. Think I'll do another write-up on what I've learned about kayak fishing so far.