Domination and the Arts of Resistance

Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts

James C. Scott
Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 269
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  • Book Info
    Domination and the Arts of Resistance
    Book Description:

    "Play fool, to catch wise."-proverb of Jamaican slaves

    Confrontations between the powerless and powerful are laden with deception-the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, laborers, and prisoners are not free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant. At the same time, the powerful also develop a private dialogue about practices and goals of their rule that cannot be openly avowed. In this book, renowned social scientist James C. Scott offers a penetrating discussion both of the public roles played by the powerful and powerless and the mocking, vengeful tone they display off stage-what he terms their public and hidden transcripts. Using examples from the literature, history, and politics of cultures around the world, Scott examines the many guises this interaction has taken throughout history and the tensions and contradictions it reflects.

    Scott describes the ideological resistance of subordinate groups-their gossip, folktales, songs, jokes, and theater-their use of anonymity and ambiguity. He also analyzes how ruling elites attempt to convey an impression of hegemony through such devices as parades, state ceremony, and rituals of subordination and apology. Finally, he identifies-with quotations that range from the recollections of American slaves to those of Russian citizens during the beginnings of Gorbachev'sglasnostcampaign-the political electricity generated among oppressed groups when, for the first time, the hidden transcript is spoken directly and publicly in the face of power. His landmark work will revise our understanding of subordination, resistance, hegemony, folk culture, and the ideas behind revolt.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15356-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Behind the Official Story
    (pp. 1-16)

    If the expression “Speak truth to power” still has a utopian ring to it, even in modern democracies, this is surely because it is so rarely practiced. The dissembling of the weak in the face of power is hardly an occasion for surprise. It is ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in fact, that it makes an appearance in many situations in which the sort of power being exercised stretches the ordinary meaning ofpoweralmost beyond recognition. Much of what passes as normal social intercourse requires that we routinely exchange pleasantries and smile at others about whom we may harbor an estimate...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Domination, Acting, and Fantasy
    (pp. 17-44)

    My broad purpose is to suggest how we might more successfully read, interpret, and understand the often fugitive political conduct of subordinate groups. The immodesty of this goal all but ensures that it will not be achieved except in a fragmentary and schematic form. This ambition grew from a prolonged effort to understand the politics of resistance by poor Malay peasants to changes in rice production that systematically worked to their disadvantage.¹ Given the power of landowning elites and officials, the struggle waged by the poor was necessarily circumspect. Rather than openly rebel or publicly protest, they adopted the safer...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Public Transcript as a Respectable Performance
    (pp. 45-69)

    Relations of domination are, at the same time, relations of resistance. Once established, domination does not persist of its own momentum. Inasmuch as it involves the use of power to extract work, production, services, taxes against the will of the dominated, it generates considerable friction and can be sustained only by continuous efforts at reinforcement, maintenance, and adjustment. A good part of the maintenance work consists of the symbolization of domination by demonstrations and enactments of power. Every visible, outward use of power—each command, each act of deference, each list and ranking, each ceremonial order, each public punishment, each...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR False Consciousness or Laying It on Thick?
    (pp. 70-107)

    The powerful, as we have seen, have a vital interest in keeping up the appearances appropriate to their form of domination. Subordinates, for their part, ordinarily have good reasons to help sustain those appearances or, at least, not openly to contradict them. Taken together, these two social facts have, I believe, important consequences for the analysis of power relations. In what follows, I examine how the concepts of the public and hidden transcript can help us to a more critical view of the various debates swirling around the troubled terms,false consciousnessandhegemony. A combination of adaptive strategic behavior...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Making Social Space for a Dissident Subculture
    (pp. 108-135)

    In the course of this chapter I want to sketch out the dynamics of the link between the hidden transcript and the experience of domination. This entails showing how more or less compelled performances engender a reaction and the basic form that reaction takes. This work of negation, as I call it, can take quite simple or quite elaborate forms. An example of an elaborate negation is the reworking by slaves of Christian doctrine to answer their own experiences and desires.

    The balance of the discussion explores the process by which particular social sites and particular actors come to represent...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Voice under Domination: The Arts of Political Disguise
    (pp. 136-182)

    Most of the political life of subordinate groups is to be found neither in overt collective defiance of powerholders nor in complete hegemonic compliance, but in the vast territory between these two polar opposites. The map of this territory between the two poles thus far provided risks giving the impression that it consists solely of convincing (but perhaps sham) performances onstage on the one hand and relatively uninhibited hidden discourse offstage. That impression would be a serious mistake. My aim in this chapter is to direct attention to the manifold strategies by which subordinate groups manage to insinuate their resistance,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Infrapolitics of Subordinate Groups
    (pp. 183-201)

    In a social science already rife—some might say crawling—with neologisms, one hesitates to contribute another. The terminfrapolitics, however, seems an appropriate shorthand to convey the idea that we are dealing with an unobtrusive realm of political struggle. For a social science attuned to the relatively open politics of liberal democracies and to loud, headline-grabbing protests, demonstrations, and rebellions, the circumspect struggle waged daily by subordinate groups is, like infrared rays, beyond the visible end of the spectrum. That it should be invisible, as we have seen, is in large part by design—a tactical choice born of...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT A Saturnalia of Power: The First Public Declaration of the Hidden Transcript
    (pp. 202-228)

    In this final chapter we take up what happens when the frontier between the hidden and the public transcripts is decisively breached. What concerns us particularly is the charged political impact of the first public declaration of the hidden transcript. It would be unfortunate if the analysis of these exceptional moments were to preempt our earlier discussion. The main thrust of my argument thus far has been to demonstrate how an appreciation of the public and backstage transcripts of the dominant and the weak can illuminate power relations in a novel way. As we now turn to rarer occasions of...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-251)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)