Domination and the Arts of Resistance

Hidden Transcripts

James C. Scott

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July 29, 1992
269 pages, 6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 9780300056693
Paper

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"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's glasnost campaign—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.

"Drawing on a dazzling array of source material, the book is a wonderful read as well as a provocative discussion of a global phenomenon of great importance. It seems destined to throw out a major challenge to the existing literature on power and domination, and to set in train a new school of research."—Anthony Reid, Australian National University

"An engaging as well as intellectually provocative book, this will be a major theoretical contribution to debates about power."—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

"Likely to become a classic work of theory in the social sciences and history. Its arguments are original, subtle, clear, and accessible to readers without theoretical inclinations."—John D. Rogers, The Journal of Asian Studies

"A penetrating critique of theories of hegemony and false consciousness that see the subordinates as unreflecting consumers of dominant ideologies and that attribute manipulative skills solely to the powerful. . . . A wide-ranging discussion of the possibilities of the 'arts of political disguise'. . . . A very fine and suggestive book that has opened up many new avenues of exploration for all social scientists interested in the deeper complexities of power relationships."—Bob Scribner, American Journal of Sociology

"An amazingly prodigious, sophisticated book."—Robin D. G. Kelley, American Quarterly

"Scott's probing analysis of the roots of 'counterhegemonic discourse' is a major contribution to the study of social and political change."—Choice

"An extremely well-crafted, provocative book that explores both the public and private discourses of the powerful and the powerless. . . . In brilliantly articulating the role of culture and voice in domination and resistance, this book itself becomes a public transcript of sociological issues which have often been ignored or underestimated."—John Gaventa, Contemporary Sociology

"Advanc[es] scholarship and produc[es] interesting, even fascinating, insights and other provocations."—Indochina Chronology

"This book offers a penetrating discussion of both the public roles played by the powerful and powerless and the mocking, vengeful tone they display offstage—what is termed their public and hidden transcripts. Using examples from the literature, history, and politics of cultures around the world, the author examines the many guises this interaction has taken throughout history and the tension and contradictions it reflects. This work will revise our understanding of subordination, resistance, hegemony, folk culture, and the ideas behind revolt."—International Journal of Psychology

"Scott's work, with its index of many of the forms and determinants of disguised discourse is an impressive and practical strategy for replacing the 'humble folk' with a politicized folk, or otherwise investigating the social category of the discipline."—Tracy M. Lord, Journal of American Folklore

"A careful analysis of the symbolic politics of resistance. Scott's central innovation in this work is his distinction between public transcripts . . . and hidden transcripts. . . . Domination and the Arts of Resistance is an important contribution to the study of the politics and lived experience of power. It provides an important new paradigm in terms of which we can conceptualize the experience and agency of domination. It weaves together an imposing body of empirical and historical scholarship. And it makes engaging use of literary sources in developing the central theoretical construct and giving it nuance and shading. The product is a compelling and richly textured argument that will be essential reading for anyone concerned with the politics of domination and subordination."—Daniel Little, Political Theory

"This inspiring book sets forth a general theory of discourse and power relations. . . . A superb example of theory that keeps close to the ground of ethnographic evidence, his own as well as an erudite array of examples eclectically drawn from other ethnographies, slave narratives, historical broadsheets, archives, folklore, popular culture, and literature. . . . A bracing antidote to narrow circumscriptions of the public sphere that are, by and large, bounded by middle-class experience and privilege."—Dwight Conquergood, Quarterly Journal of Speech

"An exciting book for sociologists and political scientists redolent as it is with libertarian philosophical analysis and close observation of people in denigrated and downtrodden circumstances."—Nigel Williams, Self and Society

"Scott argues his thesis uncompromisingly and with relentless power. From his vantage point it is easy to see through many standard illusions of social science. . . . Scott's argument is all the more persuasive for the wealth of cases he brings under his magnifying-glass and for the vibrancy and liveliness of his style. One is tempted to say that his own discourse is a revelation of that transcript normally hidden by the 'official' discourse of sociology and an example of how rich and fascinating such hidden transcripts can be by comparison with the rhetoric of pretence."—Zygmunt Bauman, Times Literary Supplement

"A splendid study, surely one of the most important that has appeared on the whole matter of power and resistance. It is rich in apt evidence and extremely effective and original."—Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University

Received an Honorable Mention for the 1990 Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Award in the History, Government, and Political Science category given by the AAP
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