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Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  560 ratings  ·  42 reviews
"A splendid study, surely one of the most important that has appeared on the whole matter of power and resistance."—Natalie Zemon Davis

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 the
Paperback, 269 pages
Published July 29th 1992 by Yale University Press (first published 1990)
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This is a classic - or should be anyway. One of the few books that even in graduate school when I had no time I couldn't help but read slowly, every word, cover-to-cover. It's beautifully written, and better, I think, than Weapons of the Weak - well, this is really taking off above all else from that book's first chapter. He starts off with the question "What does it mean to speak truth to power?" Especially when we all agree now that it's not there is but one truth in the world really. Yet at c ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
This is a superb book: Scott sets out and for the most part successfully outlines the role of what he calls the hidden transcripts of domination in cultural and political life. His basic assumption is that all systems of domination include a means of resistance – the 'backstage talk' of the oppressed and the subaltern – that the dominant suspect might exist but cannot in any way get access to.

My only real concern is that he tends to crudely characterise the Gramscian notion of hegemony as simpl
Hamza Sarfraz
Jun 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great read because it is written by a political scientist who is using anthropological tools to reinterpret history. A lot of James C Scott's research covers what he calls infrapolitics of the subaltern groups and the way they have historically exercised their agency. This book is perhaps the key work in this regard. 

A large portion of this book features a solid analysis of domination, oppression, and agency which is distinct from the other mainstream concepts of power (Marx, Fouc
Donald Linnemeyer
Feb 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
The author's thesis here is pretty much common sense, but it's the sort of common sense you usually need pointed out to you. Basically, he's just saying that relationships between the powerful and the powerless and full of deception. Both groups act a certain way when together, and act completely differently behind-the-scenes. In other words, people under an oppressive regime will talk one way when in the presence of their authorities, and another when they're talking behind the backs of their a ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It does not matter how many times I’ve read it before, I always find something new in this book. It is a classic. One can nuance his argument further, of course, but this is one of the major works for those interested in resistance, hegemony, and social change.
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Domination and the Arts of Resistance

James C Scott in his penetrating examination of domination and it historic precedents in Domination and the Arts of Resistance published in 1990 has captured my attention for these past days. He carefully examines the ways that the abuse of power has been more or less successfully dealt with down through the ages. Even though his work seems to reflect a past era, it appears to me timeless. It also highlights how the overthrow of oppression often ushers in t
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
In some ways, this is a dated text. Examples are unsystematically presented and literary studies is blended with political science, anthropology, and psychology. Both elements create an argument that requires a little bit of patience and some generosity of reading; both elements also make this a lively, fascinating book that, in addition to its excellent theoretical framework, reads like a charmer. Scott's Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed is the ...more
Dio Mavroyannis
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Fun book, though perhaps too much in an interpretive framework. Unlike his other book, "seeing like a state" this book is much less factual since the subject being discussed is not open to facts. That is, you can look at some practice, but you cannot know the cause of the practice, you can only speculate, so ideology quite naturally must come in and play its role. Nevertheless its quite a fun read, it feels like a well written and elaborate conspiracy theory. ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book.
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This is an anthropologist's analysis of what might be a psychological phenomenon. It discusses how in situations where there are dominant and subordinate classes of persons, subordinates have to hide their resentment of the inequality. He talks about safety valves, like anonymous individual acts of resistance, and finally, how someone has to speak truth to power--someone has to declare out loud what is happening.

I do not know how this book fits in with my society right now. Definitely the idea

Spanning the entire globe and covering over 1000 years of human history, James C. Scott's 'Domination and the Arts of Resistance' is an intellectual odyssey into the relatively new field of subaltern studies. It is also an intellectual oasis for historians and general readers of history who have become disillusioned with the traditional historiography of power relations and resistance among dominate groups and subordinate groups. Indeed, Scott's use of folklore, speeches, ballads, literary theo ...more
Shea Mastison
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book divides society into essentially two environments; what Scott refers to as the "public transcript," and the "hidden" or "private" transcripts. In the former, you'll find the bedrock of the status quo in any society: in monarchies, the public transcript usually justifies the subjugation of the masses and the social restraint required of them in public. Conversely, the hidden transcript of the resistant masses would include the criticisms, and perhaps the compound anger associated with t ...more
Surabhi Gupta
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
James Scott makes an excellent analysis of the display of power and resistance in everyday gestures, forms of communication and speech through what he calls as the "public transcripts"-the forms, rituals, and discourses through which the dominant group present themselves and their social orders for public view, and the publicly deferential and respectful ways in which subordinate peoples behave and respond when in the presence of power- and "hidden transcripts"-that refers to what persons say to ...more
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: scholars of resistance to oppression, Roman Empire
Shelves: theory
James C. Scott's argument is that interactions between oppressors and the oppressed can be understood to have 2 (or more) meanings. People say/do different things when they are in the presence of different people. The public transcript is what people say/do when in public, when "they" are watching. It's what the slave says when the master is present. It is the dominant discourse. The hidden transcript is what what people say/do when "they" aren't around. It's what the slaves say when they're in ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Much better than I expected. When I started reading this, my pre-conceived notion, based on hundreds of papers, talks, articles and dissertations about resistance was that this would not be very good. But I was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed it and how much the book helped me. Though the book was about actions and words, the concept of hidden transcripts can be applied to the more material world. I was actually surprised at how little the author talked about spaces, though he freq ...more
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Scott outlines an accessible and lucid theoretical argument about the hidden practices of resistance while making a strong argument against those theorists of hegemony and ideology that misperceive the public performances of domination and subordination as evidence of actual and active consent. However, the applicability of Scott's ideas to the present context of capitalist democracies suffers somewhat from his concentration on forms of relatively extreme forms of domination in human history: sl ...more
Reginald Simms
Jan 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
An easy way to create power is to hide information and the way to resist is to speak truth to power. In a completely dominated relationship there is no hidden transcript but if there is a hidden transcript whether it be hidden or out in public but coded in a way that the powerful cannot discern it it is a challenge to power. People who resist oppressions are creating the space for that potential rebellion. The art of resistance are the many ways subordinates speak the truth of unbalanced relatio ...more
Jan 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Dissident subcultures, silenced politics, the myth of false consciousness--if you like Tom Frank and want a social history of the hidden transcripts that lead to open revolutions, Prof. Scott might be your man.

He covers a lot of the usual sociological suspects (Habermas, Bourdieu, Foucault, Bakhtin, E.P. Thompson), but he has a light touch for an academic and draws in all sorts of literary flair (Sophocles, George Eliot, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Balzac, Genet, Kundera, Gombrowicz).

It's nic
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Another excellent work by Scott wherein he really threshes out the issues in defining and researching "resistance". Critical thoughts on whether resistance comes from the individual or the group. Its relation to violence. Brechtian theatre and carnival.

Should be read with his other work on resistance.
Oct 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
For anyone trying to understand how resistance works when confronted with powerlessness, this is a must read. I have read every book James Scott has written. Though written later in his career, this gives a good insight into his methodological approach to Weapons of the Weak and the Moral Economy of the Peasant.
Sep 20, 2012 added it
This is a unique book where the author captures a unique trait of human beings. After having read this book, one cannot get away by saying that he / she is innocent or was not aware of this fact. It definitely challenges you about the question of trusting human beings, as one does tend to look at human relationships in terms of whether they are dominant or oppressed in nature....
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Scott is erudite but not overblown and he freely admits that part of his thesis is nothing new or amazing. Regardless, he argues his point well with examples from both history and art. I recommend this book to anyone trying to understand the relations between the powerful and the underclass.
Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Scott explores the relationship public and hidden transcripts that negotiate relationships of dominance. By identifying and unearthing these alternative narratives, he argues for the possibility of reseeding subordinate groups with narrative agency.
Mark Melendez
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
For those looking to learn about the subtleties between peoples/groups, this book is invaluable. This book focuses on the power dynamics between classes and how they interpret with and within their perspective groups.
Mar 30, 2009 marked it as to-read
Oh god, this is going to be so dry. This is the kind of academic writing that makes me wish academicians had beta readers. But it's an interesting topic! ...more
Mar 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Rating this retroactively. One of the few books I remember liking from my graduate career. I think I still have it and may reread it.
Jonathan Schoeck
Aug 25, 2010 rated it liked it
It is a worthwhile read, but often a bit dry. It's a lot like reading for a philosophy class. The ideas are inspiring, but are presented in a redundant manner. ...more
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
5 stars for Chapters 2, 6, and 8; 4 for the rest!
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, history
I read this book in college and still think about it constantly. It changed the way I think about a variety of topics.
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James Scott, Ph.D., Yale University, 1967, is the Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and is co-Director of the Agrarian Studies Program and a mediocre farmer. His research concerns political economy, comparative agrarian societies, theories of hegemony and resistance, peasant politics, revolution, Southeast Asia, theories of class relations and anarchism.

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“Gossip is perhaps the most familiar and elementary form of disguised popular aggression. Though its use is hardly confined to attacks by subordinates on their superiors, it represents a relatively safe social sanction. Gossip, almost by definition has no identifiable author, but scores of eager retailers who can claim they are just passing on the news. Should the gossip—and here I have in mind malicious gossip—be challenged, everyone can disavow responsibility for having originated it. The Malay term for gossip and rumor, khabar angin (news on the wind), captures the diffuse quality of responsibility that makes such aggression possible.
The character of gossip that distinguishes it from rumor is that gossip consists typically of stories that are designated to ruin the reputation of some identifiable person or persons. If the perpetrators remain anonymous, the victim is clearly specified. There is, arguably, something of a disguised democratic voice about gossip in the sense that it is propagated only to the extent that others find it in their interest to retell the story.13 If they don’t, it disappears. Above all, most gossip is a discourse about social rules that have been violated. A person’s reputation can be damaged by stories about his tightfistedness, his insulting words, his cheating, or his clothing only if the public among whom such tales circulate have shared standards of generosity, polite speech, honesty, and appropriate dress. Without an accepted normative standard from which degrees of deviation may be estimated, the notion of gossip would make no sense whatever. Gossip, in turn, reinforces these normative standards by invoking them and by teaching anyone who gossips precisely what kinds of conduct are likely to be mocked or despised.

13. The power to gossip is more democratically distributed than power, property, and income, and, certainly, than the freedom to speak openly. I do not mean to imply that gossip cannot and is not used by superiors to control subordinates, only that resources on this particular field of struggle are relatively more favorable to subordinates. Some people’s gossip is weightier than that of others, and, providing we do not confuse status with mere public deference, one would expect that those with high personal status would be the most effective gossipers.”
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