To understand the geography of padi state political influence, Scott proposes imagining the glow of a light bulb (borrowing from Benedict Anderson) (59). In particular, consider two attributes of its light: first, that the light dims and fuzzes as it travels farther from its source; and second, that there are no clear edge to the light but a continuous gradient that fades to black.These attributes illuminate the architecture of state space, which Scott describes according to friction (43-50). Scott explains state space by positing that the ideal terrain for padi state politics is a frictionless flat plane, either land easily traversed by oxcart, or better yet, fast waterways, where the light of influence can spread without interruption. Physical obstacles, like sharp changes in elevation or the difficult terrain of swamps and thick vegetation, then act as a fetter to the political control by slowing down or even blocking sovereign influence. The state space of padi states should therefore be described according to how quickly its distance is spanned (“three rice-cookings,” or “two cigarette-smokings”), rather than by its geometric measurement (ten feet, or ten miles) (48).
It seems that most padi states thrive in low-friction environments and avoid high-friction, either temporarily (as in the seasonal friction that comes with monsoon season) or permanently (as in leaving hill people undisturbed, even if they harbor escaped slaves). In fact, while Scott mentions that defeating distance may be the key for maintaining the flow of goods through trade, friction plays an even more important role by driving an alternating cycle of conquest and friction that is the norm of padi state sovereignty. In Burma, for instance, military campaigns were fought from November to February, only for the kingdom to shrink to a quarter or an eight of its size as roads became impassable in May through October (61). Trying to work against this alternating cycle, colonial states often fight protracted wars with distance-demolishing technologies, but still see their gains washed away during the wet season (62).