Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

Notes on JAMES C. SCOTT (notes - work in progress)

A collection of notes, written at various times, mostly in connection with the Institute for Asia-Pacific Studies (IAPS) at the University of Nottingham.

Andrew Robinson

The relevance of James C. Scott's work on domination and resistance is by no means limited to Asia-Pacific Studies, addressing questions of significance to political and critical theory. Indeed, Scott's work shows the arbitrariness of the boundaries which often prevent the interchange of material between theoretical and practical areas of research. While theoretical debates on resistance, domination and voice often remain at a high level of abstraction, Scott's work provides an analysis of these which is rooted in evidence drawn from particular case-studies.

Scott has introduced or promoted a number of new ways of thinking about power relations. Probably the most important of these are the concepts of hidden and public transcripts, infrapolitics, and moral economy. According to Scott, dominant elites are able to use the threat of violence to enforce public conformity to rituals which celebrate their power, and to extract performances which appear to offer support for the status quo and through which they can extract material and social resources. However, the public conformity of subordinates in such situations does not reflect an inner consent; indeed, the coercive nature of power relations tends to preclude these relations being seen as legitimate by subordinates. Rather, they relate to such performances in terms of inner distance and swallowed bile. This leads to a division between the public transcript, in which both elites and subordinates give required performances, and the hidden transcripts of each group, in which resentments, hostility and alternative conceptions of the world are aired. For subordinates in particular, hidden transcripts are often a site in which elite power is questioned and rejected and resistances are rehearsed or even acted out. When revolts and revolutions occur, and when individuals defy the powerful due (for instance) to anger or drunkenness, the public defiance is usually a realisation of what has been rehearsed in the hidden transcript. The hidden transcript requires sequestered spaces inaccessible to the powerful, including a set of social relations not governed by official rituals. There is, therefore, an entire field of 'infrapolitics' consisting of the attempts of subordinates to construct and defend such spaces and attempts of the elites to close them down, and consisting also of attempts by each side to alter the balance of forces and decontest the public transcript in the direction of its own conceptions. Since elites usually try to justify their rule, the public transcript usually provides a number of principles of justification (such as noblesse oblige and the principle of elite generosity) which subordinates can appropriate and use to promote their hidden transcript in disguised form. In addition, peasants and some other groups frequently rely on hidden 'everyday resistance' such as tax evasion, petty theft, sabotage, gossip, rumour, desertion, working to rule, etc. These resistances are used to enact an ethical system or 'moral economy' specific to subordinates, and can sometimes be very effective in impeding the effectiveness of the flows of power. Thus, economics is not directly determinant of action, but is fused into broader conceptions of the world: 'How else can a mode of production affect the nature of class relations except as it is mediated by human experience and interpretation?' (WW 42).

Scott's work thus provides a general theory of domination and resistance which challenges widespread assumptions. Firstly, Scott's work throws doubt on various models of false consciousness, consent and legitimacy. Secondly, Scott implicitly challenges the emphasis of much writing in political theory and political science alike, by drawing attention away from the public image of how a society operates and towards the concealed struggles going on within and beyond this image. Thirdly, Scott throws doubt on the dominant trends in radical theory, which tend to emphasise either reforms and public discursive articulations (eg. Ernesto Laclau, Stuart Hall, Will Hutton) or a refusal posited as an ex nihilo break (eg. Antonio Negri, Herbert Marcuse, Slavoj Zizek). For Scott, revolts and revolutions are an extension in public of pre-existing hidden transcripts (WW 288). There is thus a potential that Scott's work could open up a productive exchange between Asia-Pacific studies and political and critical theory.

According to Scott, public deference is usually motivated by fear of retaliation rather than internalised compliance; indeed, '[s]ymbolic compliance is maximised precisely in order to minimize compliance at the level of actual behaviour' (WW 26). Examinations of public behaviour often show conformity, but the level of commitment involved in public performances can only be revealed by comparing them with the backstage, or hidden transcript, discourse in contexts which are relatively free from elite power (WW 27). Encounters between elites and subalterns tend to be concealed and inconclusive, partly because of fear of repression on the part of subalterns and because this fear sustains a 'dull compulsion of economic relations' (WW 246, 277, 286); subalterns learn to 'swallow... anger' for economic reasons, and their public performances therefore indicate fear rather than false consciousness (WW 279). The more fear is involved, the more of subalterns' transcript will ordinarily be hidden (WW 286-7). Thus, elites and subalterns have their own conceptions of the world, but in ordinary situations, these are never in direct contact (WW 288). In some cases, this can give the weak an advantage, because they know more about what elites think than elites do about the concealed motives of the poor (WW 289). Scott thinks that the concealed resistances in which peasants engage are well-suited to campaigns of attrition against a more powerful enemy (WW 297-8). It involves an organisational structure of sorts, but of an informal and non-bureaucratic type, expressed in a 'climate of opinion' and through media such as folk-tales (WW 300).

Scott also reveals the presence of 'doubleness' - the interpretive attitude to texts associated mainly with Jacques Derrida and deconstrution but also with Barthes, Bakhtin and others - in the everyday discursive practices of peasants and other subalterns: in a quote drawn from Balzac, that peasants reduce 'private property into something that simultaneously exists and does not exist', for instance (WW opening page). Because ruling ideologies often contradict the practices they express, because social systems often fail to fulfil their hegemonic promises (WW 336-7), and because language is often ambiguous and open to different interpretations, conflicts between dominant and subaltern groups can arise within a hegemonic system, as contestations of dominant concepts, themes and promises. For instance, revelations of elites' failures to keep their promises provide the beginnings of a critique of power; also, what elites intend as gracious offers or pledges may transmute in subaltern consciousness into assertions of rights, or extend into claims of their own (WW 337-8). Furthermore, folk culture often takes an expressly ambiguous form with a strongly anti-essentialist quality: usually oral in transmission, folk tales, songs and the like often have no fixed or definitive version; each repetition is optional and each enactment unique. "[T]here is no orthodoxy or centre to folk culture since there is no primary text to serve as the measure of heresy" (DAR 160-1). Far from being an abstract creation of philosophers, therefore, deconstructive uses of language turn out to be part of the strategic perspective of the dispossessed.

Furthermore, in Scott's account, everyday life ceases to be conceived as a conformist or fully territorialised space; rather, there is a 'constant, grinding battle' to 'nibble' into power edifices through a variety of tactics (theft, gossip, backbiting, nicknames, sabotage, etc.) which stop short of open defiance but which can disrupt state and elite policies (WW xvi-xvii), a 'never-ending attempt to seize each small advantage and press it home, to probe the limits of existing relationships, to see precisely what can be gotten away with at the margin, and to include this margin as part of an accepted, or at least tolerated, territorial claim' (WW 255). Such resistance is often invisible to historians except through a careful search for it, because its structure is built around concealment and invisibility (WW 36). Scott also suggests a capacity to imagine different social systems which is not negated by the dominance of existing elites and which can be kept in reserve until an opportunity presents itself for radical action (WW 38, 44).

On a more general methodological level, Scott has developed an interesting approach to studying everyday life. Although his basic approach stands in a long tradition of ethnographic and phenomenological research, Scott has integrated structuralist and post-structuralist criticisms of such a method in a way which, however, preserves its basic openness, concreteness and social and human relevance. In addition to challenging the assumption of a single public or normative space, Scott introduces an element of suspicion to deal with situations such as the existence of views which are strongly held but are considered too 'obvious' to be stated, the consistency or lack of it of everyday belifes, their logic and economy, the impact on local knowledge of social forces of which locals are unaware, and the possibility of concealed or self-contradictory motives (WW 46). This is a step forward from classical phenomenology, which finds itself in the impasse that it can explain local systems of knowledge but not how they relate to each other (eg. Garfinkel's ethnomethodological study of the police and the various 'labelling' theories of 'crime' are equally phenomenological but tend to contradict each other, whereas an approach such as Scott's could examine both perspectives and also relations between 'criminals' and police). Also, Scott's use of structuralist-based implications does not lead to the closure which is common in structuralism; for instance, he views norms not as a basic structure which is unquestioningly obeyed, but as a 'raw material' which is interpreted and altered by human action (WW 309).

APPENDIX ON SCOTT: Domination and the Arts of Resistance

In this work, which draws on a wide range of historical examples, Scott develops the ideas of hidden and public transcripts to a greater extent than in Weapons of the Weak. A public transcript consists of a set of claims to legitimacy and a series of discursive affirmations staged to demonstrate such claims. Each public transcript has its own 'dirty linen' to hide, a space of possible negotiation and a set of taboo acts which repudiate it (DAR 103). Further, '[e]very publicly given justification for inequality... marks out a kind of symbolic Achilles heel where the elite is especially vulnerable' (DAR 105). The oppressed deal with public transcripts in three ways: they use public hegemonic claims to extract concessions; they create a 'folk culture' of ambiguous forms which straddle the hidden and public transcripts; and they explosively express hidden-transcript ideas in revolts (DAR 19-20). Ironically, 'performances required of subordinates can become... a nearly solid wall making the autonomous life of the powerless opaque to others' (DAR 132). Subaltern strata operate with 'an experimental spirit and a capacity to test and exploit all of the loopholes, ambiguities, silences, and lapses available', 'setting a course at the very perimeter of what the authorities are obliged to permit or unable to prevent' (DAR 138). Neither everyday resistances nor revolts can be understood without reference to the hidden transcript and the 'sequestered social spaces' in which it operates (DAR 20). Peasants and some other groups, including slaves, tend to disguise their resistance and only resort to 'dramatic measures' when disguised resistance fails, subsistence is threatened or perceptions of danger lessen; thus, much resistance is absent from historical and official records unless carefully uncovered (DAR 86); some occurs in contexts where it is infused with double meanings or can easily be disavowed (DAR 166 - eg. 'it's only a song'). This is the case even when it is very effective - for instance, reducing official zakat collections to 15% of their original level (DAR 89), and also when peasants express only those forms of faith in (for instance) the Tsar which serve their own interests (DAR 98). Scott increasingly emphasises the importance of hidden or alternative spaces for developing a hidden transcript (DAR 108, 119). In a hidden transcript, words and acts which seem unavoidable in public are taken back, the portion of dialogue driven from the public stage emerges, and there may even be dress rehearsals for rebellion (DAR 115). Emotions such as anger are channelled into collective forms in the hidden transcript (DAR 119) and the hidden transcript may positively value concealment (DAR 137). Scott provides substantial evidence from a number of cases which shows the existence of hidden and public transcripts; for instance, slaves in North America apparently developed a fully oppositional ideology in their hidden transcript, including elements such as a right to steal to meet basic needs and ideas of revenge against masters (DAR 165). Via the struggles which result from the hidden/public transcript divide, there emerges something Scott terms "infrapolitics" - something which is invisible in official politics but which is its infrastructural level (DAR 184), providing elementary forms of political life (DAR 200). This consists of a constant testing of the limits of power by each side (DAR 192), in which the oppressed constantly test the powerful and are able to exploit any slight weakening in structures of domination (DAR 195) and in which they develop movements without formal structures which are largely immune to surveillance and which provide a 'defence in depth' against domination (DAR 200-1). Thus, 'No victory is won for good' (DAR 197). (NB how this indeterminacy makes attempts to impose a just or good society by force necessarily futile: "deterrence" necessarily becomes a self-reproducing and expansive/escalatory force).

In this work, the reference to 'interests' is weakened substantially; for instance, drawing on social psychology, Scott asserts that structures of domination automatically produce a desire to resist; he emphasises the element of insult or indignity, as opposed to expropriation, in systems of domination (eg. DAR 37, 111-12, 118, 124); and he largely replaces references to prudence with references to terror and fear (eg. DAR 20-1), though there are exceptions (eg. DAR 54; he also - DAR 74-5 - repeats his view that it is realistic to take power as a given, and - 102 - treats 'circumstances' as something purely external, which prevent or offer possibilities). Fear of violence is ever-present in subaltern consciousness, he suggests; furthermore, elite power is maintained by constant displays of strength and by rituals which render power a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' (DAR 49-50). Revolts and expanded resistance are no longer seen as interest-driven; rather, anything which reduces the sense of being trapped and subordinated - even if symbolic or artificially induced (eg. by drink) - leads to greater boldness and to a release of the built-up tension (DAR 48-9); for instance, being part of a crowd reduces personal risk and so removes impediments to resistance (DAR 65-6). Scott now cites evidence from social psychology that forced compliance produces a reaction against the voluntary extension of compliance (in a manner incompatible with 'interests'-based psychology): 'Coercion... can produce compliance, but it virtually inoculates the complier against willing compliance' (DAR 109), and someone coerced into compliance tends to view their compliance as 'merely a manipulative tactic' (DAR 110). The only case in which extensive subordination can seem legitimate, Scott suggests, is in particularly extreme varieties of re-education camps where inmates are atomised, put under constant observation and subjected to extreme psychological pressure; even then it is only temporary and only applies when they are unable (even by surreptitious means) to construct uncontrolled spaces (DAR 84). Further, he introduces a concept of an 'overcontrolled' type of person who can bear anything for long periods but whose repressed anger wells up until a 'minor provocation' can provide the 'last straw' (DAR 214). Scott discusses individual cases where modalities such as rumour show some degree of awareness of the balance of forces and of threats of the extension of elite power (DAR 144-5). However, he also suggests that a system can be made to appear inevitable through rituals which dramatise power relations and induce awe and fear (DAR 66-7).

Scott further expands his theory of the role of public transcripts. He now gives a list of roles or functions they perform, such as sustaining a 'miasma of power' to minimise reliance on force, concealing or preventing public challenges, euphemising official action, stigmatising opponents and creating an appearance of moral unanimity in society and consent among subordinates (DAR 48-55). (It remains unclear why any of these aspects should be desired, since they all require that the public transcript be internalised by subordinates if they are to deliver effects at the level of social action, whereas Scott suggests the level of internalisation is low). He also provides an extremely sophisticated critique of 'safety-valve' theories of carnival (DAR 177-8) which has dramatic implications for radical theory in relation to a number of ambiguous phenomena.

Furthermore, revolts and public defiance regain a place in Scott's analysis, especially in the final chapter; Scott now portrays everyday resistances partly as 'dress rehearsals', and sees alternative conceptions culminating in revolt. Revolutions happen when the 'dam wall' of control is weakened or when the pressure of popular demands increases (DAR 219). Where there is coordination, revolts develop a generalised form; the more successful the repression of coordination, the more vengeful and violent the boomerang becomes (DAR 217). Those who fail to suppress their anger at being dominated hold a position in folklore of admiration and fearful awe, although the most common folk hero is a trickster who escapes unscathed (DAR 40-1). Furthermore, refusals and public defiance have a crucial role in breaking down a 'big lie' which is no longer believed and in concentrating opposition, ending a double life, breaking a silence or stopping the charade of public-transcript performances (DAR 205-12). Such a breach depends on a prior 'power grid' of similar hidden transcripts; if it appeals, it does so by triggering these (DAR 224; contrast the idea of "the Act" in Zizek and other philosophers) - depending on the success of the act, it is either copied or glorified. This account also leads Scott to formulate a novel theory of charisma. He also recognises for the first time that reactionary views, such as anti-Semitism, can have a place in hidden transcripts (DAR 223).

However, some of the problems outlined above remain. Scott's use of the concept of "tactics" is still excessively broad. For instance, his example of tactically-aware rumours includes a spread among Indian peasants of fear about non-existent threats about agriculture being banned and forcible conversion to Christianity (DAR 144-5); this suggests something other than tactical awareness at work, and similar instances, such as pogroms and the Great Fear in the French countryside, suggest that the logic of such rumours is not unproblematically progressive. Also, when he portrays subordinates as seeing superficial obedience as 'the most effective means of successful attack', so they can take pride in the successful suppression of rage (DAR 33-4), he is introducing a concept of 'success' which implies, but does not posit, a goal. If, as Scott implies, the aim is survival within the system, it is unclear why such 'tactical' actions, however understandable, can be seen as resistance; their 'success' is such only based on a limiting conception of one's own role which internalises the system's standards. Certainly, such actions are not a means of 'attack', since their role is a defensive stance; unless they are conceived as enabling effective resistance elsewhere, it is unclear why they should be seen as part of a social struggle at all, as opposed to being individual survival strategies. Also, Scott does not effectively resolve the contradiction between such valuations of concealment and the admiration he attributes to perceptions of charismatic acts. These would seem to be contradictory modes of action, so that Scott's attachment of valuation to both is highly problematic. On a similar note, there seems to be a large difference between activities such as using official stereotypes to fake laziness and minimise one's work rate or using a deferential appearance to create trust which can be used as a basis to cheat, and those such as praising one's master to win better rations (DAR 34-5). The former type are clearly resistances of a sort, but the latter, while understandable, appears to be conformity even if it is rationalised as an extractive activity; it would, after all, allow the powerful to use their control of resources to reward and thereby gerenate actions which reinforce their rule. Furthermore, Scott could find himself in a paradox where diametrically opposed actions (eg. working hard to win a manager's approval and working slowly, or striking, to minimise effort or extract concessions) become examples of resistance.

There are several dangers with seeing suppression of rage as part of resistance. Firstly, it may well be the crucial aspects of a power-edifice which are placed beyond criticism; in this way, public conformity may reinforce crucial social relations which are not threatened by partial, invisible resistances. Secondly, there is a danger that such strategies can lead to the abandonment, or even moral condemnation, of those whose skills at concealment are less or whose rage is stronger. Thirdly, conformists can use discourse about potential risks and survival as an excuse for inactivity, regardless of the actual level of risk. Also, since Scott defines the suppression of urges to reciprocally respond as a characteristic of oppressive systems (DAR 37), a belief-system which enshrines and values such suppression appears to be a product of such systems rather than a resistance to them. If subordinates view such suppression as tactics alone, it may be part of a broader resistance strategy; but if they value it as a good in itself, or as a natural and inevitable necessity, the issue is more complicated. Thus, undermining a system by using its own discourse (DAR 93) is clearly resistance; 'protective ingratiation', a defensive tactic of depriving potential antagonists of any pretext for aggression (DAR 89), may be such if used tactically; 'habitual and formulaic' repetition of official slogans to cash in on 'possible benefits' (DAR 95) does not seem to me to be a form of resistance, though it may be combined with resistances and is, of course, a long way from internalised conformity (let alone consent). There are cases, furthermore, where the negotiatory use of public transcripts is counterproductive or pointless. In a case, such as the Holocaust, where an oppressor is determined to exterminate a particular group, negotiatory and syncretic discourse (such as that of the council and police force of the Warsaw Ghetto) is a barrier to effective resistance. There is also little room for negotiation whenever an imposed 'official' discourse is composed of elements entirely reduced to mythical functions, i.e. which cannot be invoked by the oppressed as rights or protections. It is also worth noting that, in partial contradiction with his critique of naturalisation, Scott suggests that practice can breed a view of itself as a 'common and immutable evil', whereas taking a system on its theoretical word can lead to anger and opposition (DAR 106-7 - though the latter principle again has its limits; how, for instance, can one internally critique Taleban ideology or fascism? And can someone who takes the system at its word generate an alternative, as opposed to a utopian duplication?).

Scott has largely removed the residues of rational-choice psychology, although the assumptions he introduces to replace them are also problematic. For instance, he tends to treat reciprocity - including reciprocity in insults and violence - as a primary state which all people desire and which is frustrated by domination (DAR 37-8, 40). He draws a useful distinction between repression (which he now identifies with Nietzschean ressentiment and sees as producing an internalisation of subordination, but which he believes only arises when emotions have literally no outlet) and suppression (in which an emotion is consciously inhibited, with less psychological effect) (DAR 38), although his discussion of this issue is brief and it remains unclear regarding the point at which suppression becomes repression. Scott also does not discuss whether psychological reactions to oppression sometimes produce displaced aggression against other groups peripheral or irrelevant to the oppressive relation, and he also does not discuss whether aspects of such reactions tend to reproduce domination even when a new regime is constructed. This is significant since such issues are central to the theories of Freire, Marcuse, Reich and others, who give far more room than Scott does for the possibility of the internalisation of subordination.

Scott's work is informative about the groups he discusses, but it is unclear where the type of relation he deals with passes over into something different. In particular, Scott is dealing mainly with cases where official elite discourse is in contradiction with the lived structures of elite rule, and where this difference reappears in hidden transcripts. In using Scott's work for broader analytical or political purposes, one would need to examine when official discourse undermines itself in this way and when it is more effective. Although Scott sometimes portrays his work as providing a case against the naturalisation of dominant relations, it often seems as if he deals only with issues where such naturalisation has not occurred or is weak. Again, the issues of racism and patriarchy arise. His exceptionalism about the subordination of children is also reaffirmed, since he refers to it as a 'biological given' (DAR 82).

Scott's account of the motive behind elites' insistence on superficial conformity within a public transcript remains problematic. Several of the reasons he lists depend on some degree of effectiveness for their value (see above), unless Scott is claiming that elites only think that public transcripts are useful. His main suggestion in "Domination and the Arts of Resistance" is that the public transcript is a form of 'self-hypnosis' by elites (DAR 67-8). If this were the case, however, revolts and acts of defiance would not be foreseen and would not be a basis for repression; they would be a disturbing revelation which ruptured elites' confidence in their right to rule. Furthermore, this account contradicts Scott's claim that elites have their own hidden transcript which is distinct from the relations they enforce in public; if they mesmerise themselves, it is surely in their hidden world that they do it. Also, in Sedaka, the local elite seemed uncommitted to its own 'public' claims, since the elite was prepared to subvert the values behind the claims in the name of market principles; however, the elite still felt compelled to keep up appearances.

Scott's claim that public transcripts entirely fail to convince subordinates, and that this can be shown by their production of resistance (DAR 68), is overstated. Scott demonstrates effectively how, for instance, peasants subject to Catholicism develop a 'folk Catholicism' that is a 'provocation' to revolt (DAR 68; he elsewhere suggests - eg. DAR 74, 77 - that acceptance of the public transcript may actually provoke conflict). However, it remains the case that they are Catholic (a perspective of their lords' choosing), rather than (for instance) pagan, atheist, anarchist or Marxist. It is crucial in this respect that Catholicism does not remain a superficial alignment but seeps, however syncretically, into the hidden transcript also. To establish that public transcripts do not increase conformity, it would be necessary to establish that prohibited alternatives would not have any effect such as increasing the frequency or severity of revolts, increasing the effectiveness or coordination of everyday resistances, and/or increasing the tactical efficiency of either type of resistance. People use the language they have available as best they can; this can enable some activity while preventing its development beyond a certain level. One can carry out trigonometry in Roman numerals, but one is substantially impeded compared to someone who uses Arabic numerals; the same can be said for ideas such as the tsar-deliverer myth, which contains pro-system implications which make autonomous subaltern activity limited and place boundaries of it (eg. those connected to the desire for a master and the libidinal economy of revenge). The difficulty is that, to the extent that members of subaltern strata actually believe in official ideologies, even in modified form, their ability to oppose the existing system is restricted; some official beliefs will be reinforced by subaltern majorities against dissidents in their own ranks, and the 'break' Scott posits at the level of identity cannot be as sharp as he assumes. Peasants who use the lords' ideas against them may well accept lordship even if they reject the present lords. And to the extent that the use of dominant ideas occurs within the hidden as well as the public transcript, it suggests a degree of cooption into the elite's life-world. Peasants' discursive reference-points are limited by their restricted life-world and often also by their illiteracy; in this context, they make the best of what duscursive resources they have. "[T]o put it crudely, schizophrenics use the Bible when they haven't got anything better to use. They may not have come across the writings of R.D. Laing" (Pateman, Language, Truth and Politics p. 34). Although this suggests the resourcefulness and agency of subaltern groups, it is not a basis for glorifying the use of official discourse.

Scott's case against ideas of hegemony, naturalisation and false consciousness is still inadequate to demolish such ideas. His case basically runs as follows:
1. Official ideologies often provide some degree of space for resistance and even potentially revolutionary action;
2. social conflict is in fact greater than theories of hegemony would predict;
3. the oppressed are able to imagine alternatives - for instance, in millenarian movements.
His alternative is to explain the absence of resistance in some circumstances by a combination of geographical division, cultural division, fear of reprisals, conditions of subsistence (including surveillance), and cynicism due to past failures (DAR 79-86). These alternatives are inadequate, because: past failures are no indication of necessary future failures, and could as easily lead to a 'tradition' of resistance where failures lead to tactical advancement; divisions can be overcome through organising activity; fear of reprisals can be reduced by sabotaging apparatuses of reprisal or utilising secrecy; and conditions of subsistence are dependent on division and fear as their guarantors. Scott's critique undermines the stronger varieties of 'false consciousness' which posit that elite control of symbolic production mechanically generates consent or passivity, but it does not disprove the possibility of partial acceptance of official ideologies coexisting with partial rejection or adaptation of these (because they are inconsistent, do not fit one's own experience, seem intuitively implausible or whatever). The presence of mystifications and oppressive discourse in official ideology does not necessarily preclude its being used in negotiatory ways, especially where these change the basic form of ideological statements (for instance, turning noblesse oblige into a conditional set of obligations to the poor rather than a hurrah-word used to ritually praise the elite's benevolence). Furthermore, Scott admits that revolts usually require 'some countervailing influence', which may be ideational, eg. amulets (DAR 79); this suggests a usual state of partial acceptance which has to be counterbalanced to produce extensive resistance.

Scott's claim that excessively optimistic peasant rebellions based on interpreting 'rumours and ambiguous news as heralding their immanent liberation' is a variety of 'optimism of the will' (DAR 82) is a misunderstanding of this Gramscian concept. Such an interpretation, based on the belief that 'circumstances' are ripe for liberation, is a good example of an optimism of the intellect, i.e. in the first instance such revolts involve a falsely optimistic claim about the world rather than an attempt to transform it. Such a situation - waiting for and then responding to revolutionary 'circumstances' - is quite compatible with a situation in which peasants submit to a system equally perceived as naturally present in 'circumstances'. Thus, the oscillation between revolt and submission is too extreme; revolts are neither built for nor built on, except on an ideational level; as a result, the transformative potential of revolts is limited by ideational factors linked to conceptions of inevitability and a tendency to naturalise social relations (a tendency as present in revolt as in submission). As Scott suggests, the potential of groups such as peasants to nibble away at power-relations can be highly effective if sustained over time. However, this potential may not be fully actualised in many cases due to some degree of naturalisation of the system.

Another absence in Scott's account regards the role of groups and relations outside the simple binary or dominator and subordinate (although he briefly - on DAR pp. 82-3 - discusses how subordination can be made to seem legitimate if it permits later actings-out against other subordinates). The existence of hybrid and/or bystander groups, and/or the existence of divisions between different categories of subordinates and/or dominators, may solve the paradox of the reason for maintaining a public transcript: the display may not fool subordinates within a particular group, but it has more chance of fooling someone outside the immediate relation of oppression (whether a local trader or a government inspector); or it may convince a rival landlord of the loyalty of one's serfs in case of war; or it may divide subordinates - for instance, indigenous and immigrant labourers could be kept in the dark about their mutual complaints, even though neither group believes its own public-transcript performance. This is clearly not the case in the example Scott gives of a march in Laos (DAR 59), though it may be relevant in other cases. To take a contemporary example, displays of conformity in prison probably fool neither prisoners nor guards; but they are important in convincing liberals that the prison regime does not rest on brutality and terror, and in convincing the general population that 'prison works' and that prisons are 'soft'.

Alternatively, public transcripts may arise from psychological drives internal to dominant elites themselves; they may have identified subordinates with a repressed part of their own personality or with a mythical source of threat, and therefore require a public display of conformity conceived as necessary to maintain repression or allay fear; they may be acting out a phantasmatic scene for an imagined gaze; and so on. (As suggested above, the psychological mechanism would have to be more complicated than self-hypnosis, since it would have to legitimate half-hearted displays by elites themselves). If this is the case, an issue arises of whether the powerful concentrate their resources on the actual weak points of their regime or whether, as Scott seems to assume, they can be fooled by superficial displays of subordination into ignoring actual struggles for power on a hidden level.

Works Cited:
Domination and the Arts of Resistance (DAR)
Weapons of the Weak (WW)
Moral Economy of the Peasant


Human action and social structures develop in accordance with conceptions of the world. Action is motivated by a particular conception of the world, which motivates the direction of action; for instance, an instrumentalist conception of nature leads to attempts at control and extraction from nature. A conception of the world contains an inherent logic which tends to reproduce itself by expanding its field. For instance, if a process of commodification is imposed in one area, it is likely to suggest itself in other areas. As a result, each conception of the world carries a social logic and a mode of thinking and acting. (This logic will tend to realise itself through its linguistic importance and its role in territorialising the world, even if all its implications have not been drawn out by its adherents; for instance, it is the logic of the crackdown culture to produce deviance amplification, even though its conscious aim is to eliminate deviance). Social logics are always expansive, i.e. they tend to restructure the entire social and territorial space in accordance with their own logic; this is the case regardless of whether a particular logic is oppressive or not. In practice, this tendency is often frustrated by the operation of alternative social logics, as well as by contradictions internal to particular social logics. On the one hand, the actual expansion of a particular territorial system into new physical, social or ideological spaces is likely to meet competition from other conceptions established in or seeking entry into the same space; on the other, many people hold a contradictory conception of the world which contains elements of a number of social logics. (Gramsci describes common sense as 'confused and contradictory' and 'irreducible to coherence even in an individual consciousness').

Oppression emerges when areas of social space are territorialised by holders of a social logic which rests on a conception of the world which contains oppressive discourse, i.e. when oppressive forms of discourse (eg. impositional, invalidatory, mythical, substitutionist, essentialist, etc.) are articulated into a system of discourse able to establish itself socially and territorially. Systems of oppression always involve some group being denied a voice within social discourse and held down in a position of voicelessness, subordination and indignity. When a system of discourse is oppressive, its expansivity, which would otherwise occur through free action and persuasion, expresses itself through a logic of gleichschaltung. This term, which was used by the Nazi regime to describe their 'coordination' of German society, draws an apt analogy with electronics: it involves an attempt to force a flow of power through a substance which resists it. The logic of gleichschaltung poses inherent dangers to all uncontrolled spaces and, if left unchecked, is likely to threaten the survival of groups it constructs as oppressed as well as their freedom and wellbeing.

Capitalism is an oppressive system since it includes oppressive forms of discourse (eg. commodity fetishism, which is structured around a forced subordination of workers to a logic of self-alterity). However, capitalism is not the only possible oppressive system; it is also possible to speak of oppression by and resistance to Stalinism, feudalism, slavery, bureaucracy, etc. Any action or tendency which holds back, slows down, pushes back, challenges or neutralises gleichschaltung is a de facto resistance to oppression. (The objection that it is not necessarily conceived as such is not valid, because it necessarily embodies a social logic and a conception of the world which refuses to accept the 'coordination' of a particular space, even if this refusal is not formulated in anti-system terms). There is no simplistic division between oppressors and resisters: resistance to a presently dominant or expansive social logic may be carried out by adherents of a different conception of the world which is nevertheless potentially oppressive in its own right. It is not inconsistent, for instance, to speak of capitalists resisting feudalism or Stalinism; or to refer to Stalinists resisting capitalism. Resistances are nearly always progressive because they block the spread of a dominant oppressive system and thereby blunt its impact and open space for its removal. However, there are a few cases where one should be very careful, because a group which resists has a conception of the world which is more oppressive than that held by the present elite and its resistance is structured around the simultaneous imposition of this oppressive alternative (eg. fascists resisting "democratic" states). Usually, however, resistances are progressive even when their motivation is 'confused and contradictory', expresses a variant of the dominant conception of the world, or contains elements which do not entirely reject all oppressions. In some contexts, the defence of existing arrangements, rights, or customs is a deterritorialising force of resistance because it prevents the total imposition of a dominant system of control.

However, particular directions within resistance should especially be encouraged to open up possibilities of overcoming (rather than blunting or replacing) oppressions. All resistances tend to deterritorialise existing social spaces. However, many tend to do this in defence or pursuit of alternative territorial systems which may themselves also be oppressive. People interested in permanent emancipation should aim to encourage tendencies towards a deterritorialisation which does not reterritorialise, or at least which does not reterritorialise in the form of hierarchically-ordered or centralised spaces. Resistances which do not turn into new oppressions should avoid strong reorganisations of space and should instead aim for what Deleuze and Guattari term "smooth space", in which territorialisation is partial, temporary and situation-specific and in which it follows from, rather than structuring, the development of desire. Also, attempts should be made to elaborate situation-specific rejections of particular oppressions into systematic rejections of oppressive forms of discourse in general.

The Scott-Popkin debate reconsidered.

The debate between James Scott and Samuel Popkin regarding the character of peasant protest and peasant society in Southeast Asia and in general can be viewed from a number of angles. Viewed from certain of these angles, the debate appears as a temporally specific conflict over particular, specifiable theses such as the relationship between subsistence crises and peasant protest or the relative importance of capitalist and pre-capitalist forms in peasant life. However, certain aspects of the debate are more deep-rooted. Scott and Popkin employ radically different assumptions, methods and models of peasant action or behaviour, and to a considerable extent, writers on peasant politics are still forced to choose between or provide an alternative to these problematics. In this essay, I shall examine the impact of underlying beliefs on the arguments presented by Scott and Popkin and assess their assumptions in the light of the conclusions they reach and the evidence provided by themselves or others which supports or undermines their arguments, with specific reference to peasant protest and political movements.

To a great extent, the underlying differences over methods and assumptions disappear in the immediate forms of the debate. Scott's work is written, on the whole, prior to Popkin's and its polemical target, to the extent that it has one, is older literature utilising concepts such as peasant 'madness' and 'false class consciousness'. Popkin explicitly engages with Scott's work, but he does so in such a way as to emphasise specific differences on questions such as the role of subsistence in peasant economies. While it is clear that Popkin rules out Scott's basic method, he does not do so explicitly, and he provides no argument as such for doing so. It is, however, on this level that the fundamental difference between Scott's approach and Popkin's occurs.

Popkin's method is modelled in many ways on the externalistic methods used by certain disciplines such as economics. He identifies himself with 'political economy' and indirectly with models of rationality drawn from economics. Rather than beginning from sources and 'facts' as in most historical accounts, Popkin's basic scheme is laid out prior to his study. This scheme, furthermore, has an explicitly declared purpose - producing 'effective programs for improving peasant welfare' (1979:ix). Popkin in a sense puts the conclusions prior to the research itself, attacking others' viwes for what they 'lead to' (1979:29). His general claims nearly always precede the specific discussions of peasants. For instance, Mancur Olson's general theory of collective action occurs very early in Popkin's account and is assumed to apply unproblemetically (1979:29), even though it was not written with peasants in mind. He also makes a claim to be merely expressing the conclusions of a method, or of data which 'argue' for themselves (1979:249-50), rather than generating ideas himself. His method is therefore assumption-laden, and Popkin to some extent explicitly imposes an analytical framework onto peasants.

Popkin's attitude to evidence is intensive rather than extensive in that he wishes to infer relatively wide implications from a small number of demonstrative 'facts' (eg. 1979:246). Most of these 'facts', to the extent that they appear explicitly at all, are quantitative in character and often take the form of correlations, as with the inferences from the increase in communist supporters between 1900 and 1930 (1979:248). Popkin also uses evidence from interviews, but these are rarely cited directly in the text. Often, one piece of evidence is assumed to entirely debunk an argument: 'If success [of Catholicism] had been due directly to French policy, then Catholicism would have been strongest in Cochinchina, where the French rule was most direct', whereas it was in practice weak there (1979:190). In this case, Popkin is probably right, but his mode of argument is indicative. He simply ignores the possibility that a particular case may be an exception to a general rule.

Popkin furthermore tends to put others' arguments into his own theoretical terms. He admits doing this: 'In order to compare the two approaches, I have recast the historical and inductive richness of moral economy thought into a deductive framework of my own construction' (1979:5). This approach, he admits, brushes over the many 'qualifications and hedges' used by moral economists (1979:8). Opponents would have good reason for seeing this as creating straw-men of one's rivals, although Popkin would probably defend it as an analytically useful simplification. His justification for his method mainly takes the form of a claim to be drawing attention to elements in peasant life which the moral economy approach misses, since his 'assumptions lead precisely to those data often overlooked by moral economists' (1979:28).

Scott's approach is more difficult to label than Popkin's, in part because Scott avoids adopting a single over-arching framework. To the extent that he identifies as anything, it is as a phenomenologist (1977:219), although his method also suggests the influence of Marxist and empiricist approaches. His aim is to produce an 'experienced history' of peasant life (1977:241). Therefore, whereas Popkin aims for a streamlined framework, Scott's approach is more heterogeneous, eclectic and, so to speak, 'cluttered'. This may, however, be a strength rather than a weakness, bringing Scott closer to the complexity of lived social processes. Scott's approach deals at once with a variety of aspects of peasant activity, including economics, politics, cultural and religious practices, ideas, and morality. His approach is relational, stressing the roots of conflict in social structures (1976:156). His attitude to evidence is more expansive than Popkin's, since he uses unsystematic sources such as cultural products, and also sources from outside Southeast Asia, more readily. In theory, Scott distrusts statistical sources (1976:140), although in practice much of his evidence is of this type. Similarly, he relies on colonial administrative sources more frequently than his goals would seem to imply. Scott's approach gains its overall structure from the integration of these diverse sources into a general framework.

Which of these approaches is more appropriate for studying peasant protest? To a great extent, this question will have to await empirical examination. However, there are some general methodological issues which also occur. Firstly, there are occasions where Popkin does seem to be arguing against a straw-man by oversimplifying and quantitativising certain of Scott's claims. In particular, he assumes that the term 'moral economy' implies that pre-capitalist arrangements were morally right in an abstract, ethical sense (1979:2). Scott's use of the term is more sociological, suggesting the existence of a distinct peasant morality regardless of one's own opinion of it (although he does seem to admire certain aspects of the 'little tradition'). Popkin also wrongly assumes that the moral economy approach is 'based on assumptions about peasant goals and behaviour' (1979:4), whereas Scott in fact emphasises motivations and action, and infers most assumptions from evidence rather than using them from the start. Popkin also claims that Scott posited a 'direct relation' between subsistence crises and revolt (1979:247-8), when Scott's model is much more complex than this. And Popkin's belief, presumably drawn from his own assumption of a straight choice between states and markets, that Scott advocates a bureaucratic approach to development (1979:28) is directly contradicted by Scott's discussions of (for instance) the Maoist regime in China (cited Colburn 1995:91). The 'little tradition' as a distinct force disappears in Popkin's reading of Scott, and this substantially weakens the validity of his critique.

Secondly, Scott's approach is considerably more open to absorbing new insights than Popkin's. Popkin's approach comes into severe difficulties should his underlying assumptions about peasants' economic rationality prove ill-founded. In contrast, the idea of a 'moral economy' can be substantially amended, even where Scott's own beliefs prove problematic. For instance, it would be possible to incorporate whatever valid claims Popkin makes into a moral economy approach by suggesting that peasants' distinct morality includes a partial orientation to market-based economics. Similarly, Scott's approach is decidedly more flexible in its assumptions. It is not possible to have a pure empiricist method which infers beliefs solely from evidence, since the ordering of evidence itself implies prior beliefs. But it is nevertheless possible to adopt a method which leaves one's beliefs open to amendment on the basis of evidence. Scott, I believe, comes far closer to such an approach than Popkin, since the former's assumptions are introduced late in his argument rather than prior to his evidence. Popkin's approach may have certain benefits over Scott's on a purely technical level, in that the simplicity of his model enables him to generate clear causal and predictive claims. But the resultant claims, while attractive to someone seeking fixed certainties, may well not do justice to the complexity and plurality of actual peasant beliefs and motivations, and as a result probably lack a comprehensively explanatory or predictive character. It is, I feel, far better to adopt complex and somewhat vague approaches which nevertheless allow some access to peasants' life-worlds and motivations, rather than to try to fit evidence into a narrow framework offering only illusory satisfactoriness.

Scott and Popkin also differ on the nature of peasant beliefs and motivations, and even on their fundamental nature as human beings. Scott's concern is primarily with the specificity of the peasant as distinct from other social groups. Popkin's account is, in a sense, not about the actually-existing peasant at all. Rather, his desire is to discuss general issues of human behaviour in a peasant context. Popkin wants to subsume peasant issues into universal human dilemmas (1979:x). He abstracts from the peasant located in real social relations to the abstractly-conceived 'individual' (1979:18), and also from existing needs, wants and desires to 'interests'. Individuals are assumed to exist prior to the frameworks which shape identity and action, and to apply choice in the selection and rejection of norms and affiliations (1979:18). This model assumes a metaphysical conception of the self which has little to do with immediate peasant issues. Since people have definite interests, they are essentially malleable, and economics becomes the driving force behind all social relations, including the family, in Popkin's account (1979:19). Popkin's model suggests that people are primordially asocial in nature and that collectivity is a subsequent addition. For instance, he maintains that 'competence' in collective action is something which is learnt (1979:208), rather than atomisation being a socio-historical creation.

Popkin's 'rational peasant' is essentially goal-rational in the same manner as capitalist economic actors. That Popkin assumes such a similarity is clear from his repeated use of the jargon of mainstream economics: 'incentive to innovate', 'bargaining power', 'costs and benefits', 'tradeoffs', 'group and individual interests', 'gambles' and 'insurance' (1979:8, 27, 24, 22, 30, 244), and, crucially, 'political entrepreneurs'. Popkin's peasants are pragmatic and calculating, taking existing relations as given rather than indignantly condemning them. This predisposes Popkin to treat whatever relations do exist as genuine expressions of a collective good, and he therefore tends towards a consensus model of society, a tendency reinforced by a reliance on functionalistic concepts such as leadership, collective action, and socialisation (1979:25-6). Their motives are exclusively rationalistic; there cannot be ambition without incentives on Popkin's model, and people are therefore presumed to be egoistic, calculating, and mutually disinterested. Rational self-interested calculation is simply assumed in Popkin (1979:31), as is 'a sense both of his own interests and of the need to bargain with others to achieve mutually acceptable outcomes' (1979:ix). Crucially, the use of the term 'sense' suggests that Popkin believes in an external, non-human basis for such beliefs, and a moral orientation towards them. Peasant protest and organisation, where it occurs, is attributed to such calculations, which can be either defensive or positive (1979:244). Popkin also assumes a certain degree of homogeneity; a single logic is assumed to underlie markets, villages, mass-elite relations and 'collective action' (1979:244).

There are a number of problems which tend to undermine this perspective. Goal-rationality of Popkin's type implies a goal, and the implication in Popkin's account is that peasants pursue maximum profits. However, this raises the problem of the statistical evidence Scott provides that peasants prefer high-cost but low-risk arrangements. While Popkin disputes this claim, he does so without presenting substantial counter-evidence. In particular, he lacks even a single case of a significant protest movement motivated primarily by positive, non-defensive demands. Furthermore, Popkin's evidence that peasants supported markets is largely evidence merely that peasants in some circumstances used markets. He provides no evidence that this use was seen as valuable rather than merely as a coping strategy. He also admits, without examining the implications, that peasant markets were localised (1979:224).

There is also a certain amount of self-contradiction in Popkin's account, especially between his streamlined general method and his more complex approach when faced with actual evidence. Thus, Popkin argues that non-economic factors such as 'legal, linguistic, or sociopolitical skills' prevented peasants from responding in particular economically rational ways to attacks on their living conditions (1979:196). He also admits that peasants' competence in the market was sometimes impeded effectively (1979:208), and also argues that peasants' intellectual development may have been artificially held back (1979:19, 27). But this contradicts his general approach. If economic rationality is decisively affected by non-economic factors, it cannot be the primary explanation for peasant behaviour. If (as Popkin wrongly assumes) political action obeys the same laws as economic action, then peasant political incompetence implies general incompetence or irrationality. It is unclear how one can be economically rational without an understanding of legal conditions of ownership or the structures of market relationships. Furthermore, if market behaviour can be impeded, this implies that it is not humanly universal or inevitable, as Popkin's model implies. One cannot deduce the behaviour of 'impeded' peasants from forms of practice from which they are excluded.

There are other ways in which Popkin's framework is somewhat implausible. Firstly, if Popkin's model is accurate, one would expect peasant beliefs to be egoist, positive-sum and prone to adaptation. But evidence on peasant beliefs reveals a number of elements, including millenarian utopias, supernatural practices and forms of symbolic negation, which occur as naturalised, inflexible, zero-sum, and/or collectivist demands. Secondly, Popkin's idea of people choosing norms prior to cultural frameworks seems unlikely, since one would require some normative standard to choose the norms in the first instance, and since peasant norms and values would anyway be inculcated from birth. Furthermore, peasant political action frequently involves actions which are extreme in terms of their risks and consequences. It seems unlikely that someone who takes part in (for instance) burning down a landlord's house or even killing a hated tax collector would carefully calculate the risks involved or the benefits to be gained. Certainly, one needs substantially more evidence about actual peasant beliefs than Popkin provides to validly reach such a conclusion.

Scott also has a model of peasant action, although it is more multi-faceted than Popkin's. Scott does not assume that peasants are irrational; rather, he seems to assume what Weber calls 'value-rationality', i.e. a tendency to behave consistently with a set of beliefs. For Scott, peasant issues, although generalisable between different groups of peasants, express dynamics specific to the peasantry and not general human issues. For instance, phenomena such as custom and the role of tradition are specific to peasants and do not apply to workers. For Scott, the only generality is that ideas moving between social groups always undergo change (1977:5). Even shared political affiliations do not indicate consensus between groups (1977:6). Scott's peasants are not abstract individuals, but rather live 'in a world of diffuse whole-person relationships' where people are not reducible to class or other stereotypical roles (1977:219). Scott's model is also relational, since the peasant's culture and beliefs are shaped by dynamic interaction and negotiation with other social groups.

Unlike Popkin, Scott views peasants primarily as collective agents. The peasantry has for Scott an automatic, first-instance tendency to shared beliefs and practices due to peasants' shared 'existential basis' (1977:9). Scott's peasants also have morals, including 'conceptions of social justice, of rights and obligations, of reciprocity' (1976:vii), a 'notion of economic justice' and a 'working definiion of exploitation' (1976:53). The specifics of peasant ethics, Scott maintains, revolve around the question of subsistence rights; other ideas, such as a right to land and sympathy or hostility towards landlords, follow from this question (1976:51, 56). Peasant ethics were pro-order, and consumer- rather than (1976:10). Peasants also have an 'alternative symbolic universe' (1977:31) in which dominant beliefs may be rejected, and can assimilate only syncretically. These beliefs occur prior to political organisation (rather than, as in Popkin, afterwards). 'At the level of belief and practice, opposition to the dominant religion does not await the arrival of "outside agitators"; it is already symbolically in place' (1977:33). Peasants also have incipient political beliefs as a result of their distinct 'little tradition'.

As moral and political agents, peasants in Scott gain a distinct basis for action. For instance, 'unwillingness to grant... legitimacy' becomes a motivational factor (1977:217), and peasants enforce their ethics through social pressure on the better-off, greater and lesser levels of cooperation, and punishment of violations (1977:41-2, 217). Peasants' attitude to economics was one of obligation rather than impersonal bargaining (1976:45). When economic relations were experienced as exploitative, this produced dissident cultural forms promising the dignity, respect and economic comfort which were missing in the real world (1977:224). In practice, according to Scott, the 'little tradition' expresses itself primarily (though not exclusively) at the level of the village. The village is a 'local system of action', a 'sphere of perception and information' and a 'unit of moral obligation' (1977:213). Peasant demands for land rights and subsistence were usually internal to a village, and villagers would act to prevent the dispossession of fellow villagers by outsiders (1977:214-15). The village community was highly exclusionary of outsiders, and one consequence of this is that there is room for peasant self-interest in Scott. In relations with outsiders, including relations of political cooperation, peasant action is self-interested and directed towards short-term material benefits (1977:223).

Scott does not therefore claim, as Popkin suggests he does, that peasants are always anti-market or that commercialism always harms peasants (1979:5, 7). He does, however, reject the idea of market-predisposed peasants, and his analysis often suggests that particular market arrangements react badly with the 'little tradition'. Scott's model is entirely consistent with limited peasant support for and activity in markets in particular conditions and on certain terms. 'Commercialisation and the creation of the nation state have been the assailants of the little tradition everywhere' (1977:217), because they impose external laws, demands for payment and property arrangements. In particular, property law and commerce, 'which have historically undermined the historical and social basis of the little community', tend to be rejected (1977:229). Where such phenomena assail the 'little tradition', petty resistance occurs in defence of existing customs and arrangements (1977:217), and this provides the basis for uprisings and large-scale resistance.

How valid is Scott's account? Certainly, political movements which gain peasant support tend to be collectivist, anti-capitalist and oriented to localised utopias (particularly millenarian movements). And in cases where political groups have confronted each other on the basis of models of winning support based on Scott's and Popkin's models, the former have usually won. The Vietminh's success is particularly noteworthy, since it channelled existing peasant demands whereas American-backed governments tended to prefer incentives/deterrence models.

There are, however, problems with Scott's account. Scott is not entirely consistent, since he falls back on ideas such as deterrence to explain some instances of peasant passivity (eg. 1976:228-9). It is unclear where the boundary between peasants and other groups occurs in Scott's model, and therefore how far his approach is supposed to apply to 'open' villages, landless labourers, 'coolies' or itinerant bandits. If not, alternative models are also needed to account for the role of these groups; if so, it is unclear how these groups could gain an orientation to the village. Furthermore, it is unclear why Scott assumes a general basis for solidarity for all peasants due to a shared existential basis is compatible with a peasantry divided into mutually exclusive and deeply exclusionary villages. It is also not entirely the case that peasant movements always express the kind of demands Scott lists. For instance, the P.K.I. was expressly 'modernist', while some Filipino peasants rejected the demand of 'land for the landless' during the Hukbalahap rising. However, most of these problems can be resolved within the general framework of a moral economy approach, by adding different traditions for different groups and by altering the account of the precise configuration of peasant values.

In addition to differing over method and the nature of peasants as economic and social agents, Scott and Popkin also have highly divergent implicit ethical orientations. Scott is generally in favour of peasant rebellions, describing some peasants as having an 'impressive reputation' for rebelling (1976:197), describing the demobilisation of peasants as a 'tragedy' (1976:219), and using terminology which is neutral verging on supportive, such as 'insurrection' and 'resistance'. He says 'alas' regarding resources lost to peasants (1976:115), refers to the 'cold logic' of the state and to state 'coercion', 'threats and violence' (1976:122, 123). Notables are accused of a 'land grab', while head taxes are attacked as 'regressive' (1976:132). Scott effectively admits an ethical element to his project when he identifies with what he terms a 'human perspective' against the 'murderous' policies of states which put their own fiscal convenience ahead of peasants' ability to pay (1976:134). Scott sees in the peasantry 'a human potential which is rarely tapped' (1977:241). Furthermore, he also leans on his own ethical assumptions, particularly the belief that egalitarian impulses are universal (1976:17).

Popkin on the other hand uses negatively loaded terms such as 'violence', 'tumult', 'conflict' and 'madness' to refer to peasant action. He criticises peasants' treatment of children and outsiders (1979:27), celebrates 'open villages' (1979:236), terms progressive taxation 'confiscatory' (1979:228) and relies on a free-rider theory which legitimates extensive social obligations as necessary. Thus, in addition to whatever ideological beliefs can be inferred from Popkin's belief that capitalist forms of action are universal, rational, and natural, he has a clear bias against the beliefs and practices and peasants.

Moral assumptions of this kind are almost impossible to assess except on an equally subjective basis. However, a few points can be made. Firstly, Scott tends to downplay the more unsavoury aspects of the 'little tradition', such as its exclusionism, racism, tendency to kill or severely mistreat its perceived enemies, and also its unfounded certainty. All of these elements tend to undermine Scott's capacity to generate a 'human perspective' by supporting the 'little tradition'. Scott seems blissfully unaware of the possible links between 'little tradition' impulses and the inhumane practices of many 'communist' and fundamentalist regimes. Secondly, peasant movements are frequently inegalitarian not only across villages but also within them. Scott admits this reaffirmation of hierarchy (1977:244) but fails to examine it effectively. As a result, his belief in peasant egalitarianism is no better founded than Popkin's assumption of peasant egoism (although it is probably less central to his approach). However, Popkin's hostility to certain peasant demands seems equally ideological and unfounded. Clearly peasants advocating wealth redistribution were not consciously 'confiscatory', and 'open villages' were often in practice those which had been dominated, weakened and atomised by landlords, not the havens of economic freedom Popkin praises. Furthermore, the incompatibility of free-rider discourse with Popkin's declared goal of improving peasant welfare is clearly shown in its use to support subsistence-threatening taxes (Scott 1976:122). I believes, therefore, that both Scott and Popkin take their ethical claims too far. One should not reject peasant beliefs out-of-hand, but nor should one uncritically endorse them. Whatever one's own ethics, a careful examination of peasant beliefs should be a prerequisite for judgement of them, rather than judgements shaping examination.

So how do the authors' assumptions influence their models of peasant protest? Popkin's model, following his method, is linear and relatively simple. Peasants, as rational economic actors, are trapped in a dilemma owing to the 'free rider problem', since, while all peasants would benefit from certain collective goods, none have the incentive to act as they would benefit just as much if others acted and they did not. The 'free rider' problem is solved by 'political entrepreneurs', leaders within organisations which offer to provide collective goods in return for contributions. Thus, peasants are seen as supporting organisations as diverse as the Catholic Church, the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects and the Communist Party because of direct, material benefits these organisations offer. Peasant political action arises from participation in these organisations in pursuit of the collective goods they could deliver (1979:Chapter 6). In his actual discussion of particular instances of peasant activity, however, it should be noted that Popkin does not stick rigidly to this account, although his recognition of the role of non-'rational' factors is not expanded into his theoretical discussion.

Several problems can be raised with Popkin's account. Firstly, the free-rider problematic is valid only to the extent that people are simply and straightforwardly calculating and egoistic. A person with a general egoist disposition probably would not be immobilised by the possibility of free-riding since they would not necessarily calculate the precise impact of their own contribution, and someone lacking an egoist outlook would not be affected at all. Even a complete ideal-type calculating egoist would not necessarily be paralysed, since they would calculate that, since others would be deactivated by the free-rider phenomenon, their own contribution would be essential. Their calculations would become a kind of vicious circle: If we all will benefit from this, I need not act but can free-ride; yet this would lead to nobody acting; therefore, in a context of general inactivity, I must act to gain the benefits; but this calculation will similarly be shared by others, making it possible for me to free-ride; and so on infinitely. If this produced paralysation, it would do so less because of clear, rational calculations than because of insoluble uncertainty about how one's interests are best served.

The premise for Popkin's deductions is thus flawed. But even were it true, the conclusion that it makes necessary the role of 'political entrepreneurs' is problematic. It is simply not possible for an individual, either in politics or economics, to conjure more wealth from thin air, so that 'everyone benefits' (1979:202), at least regarding positive-sum benefits of the kind which interest Popkin. Additional resources have to be coming from somewhere for a movement to benefit its followers. But this leads to the question as to why other people, who presumably also are rational egoists, would part with their own resources to increase the wellbeing of others. Furthermore, it is unclear why political entrepreneurs are able to perform the role they perform. Presumably they are also rational egoists, since this is for Popkin universal in human nature. But in order to assign themselves roles coordinating others to pursue their interests more effectively, these people would have to have a 'special' motivation to take action, otherwise they could not break free of the 'free-rider' problem, especially given the enormous risks involved in the initial stages of forming a new movement. Popkin offers no explanation of how the priest, cult leader, or party activist becomes such in the first place, and he is either contradicting himself (by stating that everyone is constrained by free-rider problems and yet that people can break free of these) or suggesting that the people who become political entrepreneurs are somehow exceptional and special, and not bound by the scientific laws which affect ordinary mortals. Popkin tends towards the latter view, citing 'a high degree of personal heroism and bravery' (1979:214) in political entrepreneurs, and their possession of 'a sophisticated understanding of national and international politics' (1979:185) and 'moral and social discipline' (1979:191). However, this suggests that people are not after all bound by the laws of egoist rationality, which undermines his entire approach. It also suggests that activists were more unusual than they probably were. At the very least, Popkin should recognise the importance of non-goal-rational elements in his own account.

Popkin's model also suggests that the commitment of individuals to organisations was purely self-interested and calculating, and that organisations explicitly 'sold' themselves on this basis. However, this sharply contradicts with the identities and aims of the organisations he studies. This is not to deny that some peasants joined (for instance) the Catholic Church as a means to acquire land or other material benefits, as Popkin claimed (1979:190-1). But the church did not aim to be merely a cooperative landholding exercise. Those peasants who joined solely on this basis would have only a minimum of commitment, probably the very minimum commitment necessary to gain and keep the land or other benefits. This is not the kind of commitment which the church, let alone the Cao Dai or the Communists, were aiming for. Clearly they wished for a deeper sense of loyalty, and in some cases they were able to get it. Often, such relationships would still involve material benefits. Yet, if neither leaders nor followers saw themselves as acting as egoistically, it is unclear how it is useful to classify their motives in this way. Popkin's argument for the primacy of material benefits in church recruitment rests solely on the fact that church membership declined amid anti-clericalism (1979:189), a correlation which could be accounted for in a number of other ways. Furthermore, Popkin ignores the possibility of peasants joining a movement for limited, self-interested reasons, while maintaining separate beliefs and motivations which appeared at moments of crisis and struggle. Contrary to Popkin's apparent assumption, adherence to a 'great tradition' organisation does not necessarily involve absorption in the 'great tradition' itself.

Furthermore, it is not always clear whether political entrepreneurs were actually offering the uncontentious benefits which would justify support on Popkin's model. As we shall see below, the early stage in thr growth of organisations was often highly risky for participants. Indeed, Popkin admits that organisations like the Communists needed 'considerable credibility and power' (1979:229) before they could provide any economic incentives for support. Even in the later stages, and discounting the considerable risks involved in association with any anti-system organisation, it is unclear whether the benefits provided by organisations such as the Hoa Hao and the Communists 'rationally' outweighed the substantial financial costs of supporting them. For instance, Popkin attributes increases in productivity in Communist-controlled areas to 'economic incentives' (1979:229). But it is unclear what these incentives were, since the Communist land-reform programme and taxation systems were redistributive rather than incentive-based. Indeed, Popkin elsewhere attacks these policies as 'confiscatory'. Similarly, the Hoa Hao levied high taxes and spent them mostly on paramilitary activities of little direct benefit to peasants (1979:211). It is also unclear why peasants saw the Hoa Hao as a viable risk in the long term (1979:212), since this largely presupposes its strength, strength which would need in practice to result from support. Popkin thus misrepresents what particular organisations actually offered to peasants. He also tends to submerge their own analyses within his own. For instance, he uses Communist Party discourse condemning peasant inactivity as support for his own model of the party as consciously solving a free-rider problem (1979:223-4). But Communists are highly unlikely to utilise such an expressly 'bourgeois' mode of thought, and their own reasons for criticising inactivity are probably very different to Popkin's (eg. a cult of activism borrowed from Mao). Popkin's assumptions about the actual projects of political entrepreneurs are therefore highly problematic.

In practice, furthermore, Popkin is forced to admit a role for non-goal-rational motives in peasant political action. 'The Viet Minh mobilisation is a clear case of the importance of contributions, some of which were not stimulated by any expectation of future selective payoff. It emphasises how important internalized feelings of duty or ethic can be. It also indicates how important it can be for an organisation to manipulate information to convince persons that their contributions can be efficacious' (1979:223). This passage would be more in its place in Scott's model than Popkin's, since the central importance of ethics, duty, altruistic contributions, and propaganda hardly reinforces the idea of goal-rational calculations as fundamental. Elsewhere, Popkin similarly stresses non-goal-rational factors such as apparent knowledge of effective action and a desire to help one's country (1979:220-1). And, while he does not directly discuss the symbolic appeals of religious movements, his discussion of some of the beliefs of the Hoa Hao - distancing one's gods from one's worldly rulers, opposing waste, ritual, superstition, gambling, alcohol, opium, and urban decadence, and criticising the rich, for instance (1979:205-7) - suggests impulses other than goal-rational calculation at work. On the other hand, the Hoa Hao, lacking an organised structure above the village and province levels (1979:203), and imposing extensive taxes on its followers, hardly had the capacity to offer extensive economic benefits. It is equally unclear how organisations such as the Communists and the Hoa Hao 'helped the peasants to tame markets and enter them on their own' (1979:187). Thus, Popkin's own evidence contradicts his general model.

Where Popkin has evidence for his account, this evidence is often of such a kind as to support several possible readings. For instance, the importance of elite recruitment for political and religious groups (1979:224) does not necessarily support a political entrepreneurship model, but may equally be used to support an analysis stressing the importance of 'organic intellectuals' or the difficulty of overcoming existing elite-mass relations in villages. Material competition between Catholics and local secret societies in Cochinchina (1979:192-3) may support Popkin's model, or it may equally be an epiphenomenon of a deeper spiritual or ideological conflict, with material benefits used to prove the effectiveness and benevolence of the religions. On the other hand, Popkin admits he cannot explain why Cochinchinese peasants did not turn to the church when cheated out of their land in the way peasants in Annam and Tonkin did (1979:193). Certain claims, such as that Hoa Hao leader So was effective where other cult leaders were not due to his 'mass-merchandising' techniques (1979:210), are provided with no empirical support and in a context where the reader is given little reason for taking Popkin's word for it.

Popkin raises several issues which he appears to believe undermine Scott's account. However, in many cases this is based on a misreading of Scott. The presence of revolt in areas other than the poorest does not affect Scott's reading since such revolts may nevertheless have been defensive. That dissident organisations 'were successful because they were not only anticolonial but antifeudal as well' (1979:184) is entirely consistent with Scott's view that 'feudalism' was a negotiated compromise rather than a peasant ideal. Conflict between the Viet Minh and peasants over consumption (1979:241) is similarly compatible with Scott's model of peasants as operating within a village sphere and unwilling to commit to large organisations except on their own terms. The presence of substantial unrest in Cochinchina, where traditional relations were missing (1979:231), is also compatible with Scott's model since it would be precisely those peasants who lacked strong existing communities who felt the need for new social arrangements to preserve their subsistence. Popkin's alternative, that such unrest resulted from alternative financial structures and administrative breakdown, is unsubstantiated and problematic, since administrative institutions were largely irrelevant to peasant life and alternative sources of finance would if anything make unrest less likely (by providing alternative means of evasion). If Popkin's model is at all superior to Scott's on such matters, it is only in its simplicity. There are certain other issues where Popkin's model has advantages over Scott's, as for instance in his treatment of non-peasant groups. Most probably, itinerant orphans and the like did not have a village-oriented moral economy. However, even in cases such as this, Popkin's model is deeply problematic, since it is unclear that such people would be economically goal-rational either.

To a great extent, furthermore, evidence from Southeast Asia does not support Popkin's account. Where Popkin provides evidence of economic motives, these are often subsistence-based, and therefore support Scott's contention that subsistence was the primary economic goal of peasants. Subsistence provision amid famine was, Scott admits, crucial to the Viet Minh's appeal (1979:220), with both tax reforms and attacks to acquire resources being concentrated on subsistence (1979:227, 237). Their campaigning rested on the attempt to break out of poverty (1979:240), not to gain higher profits. The Cao Dai similarly based itself on crisis aid (1979:199). Popkin fails to supply a single instance of an organisation involved in peasant protest orienting primarily or exclusively to an economic demand (such as market freedom) not connected closely with the issue of subsistence.

Popkin's model of political entrepreneurs relies on the assumption that peasants were involved in a committed way with specific organisations, and that their capacity for political action rested primarily on these organisations (since otherwise, they would be paralysed by the free rider problem). This claim is not demonstrated by the mere presence of leaders in peasant struggles, since peasants could also have an ideal or symbolic orientation to some model of leadership. It holds only if all struggles were actually coordinated by the beliefs and actions of specifiable leaders. In practice, however, peasant action often had a dynamic of its own. The influence of Gandhi as experienced by peasants was substantially different from his preferred profile (Amin 1984). In Cochinchina, peasants seized land despite their official leadership, the communists, threatening to punish them for this (Popkin 1979:235). Peasants also tended to oppose the existence of taxes (Scott 1976:154), a tendency inexplicable on Popkin's model, since taxes are also a form of collective action overcoming free-rider problems. Popkin's model also implies that peasants took part in routinised actions controlled by political entrepreneurs. But, as Katodirdjo rightly argues, peasant protest is 'partly spontaneous and wholly unbureaucratized', 'enigmatic and difficult to control on a routinised basis' (cited Scott 1977:240). Also, organisational demands were not merely absorbed by peasants, but were re-interpreted in the light of their own beliefs and demands. For instance, under Viet Minh land redistributions which the party saw as temporary, 'Despite what the party says, the peasants feel that the land is permanently theirs' (Chan, cited Race 1972:129). Popkin himself admits that peasants believed they had a right to land (1979:232), but his own framework provides little reason for why this should be the case, since this was not an explicit communist position. Furthermore, social relations established by the Communists were patronage-based (1979:226-7), and therefore were less economic-rational than residually 'feudal'.

Popkin also fails to account for the initial growth of organisations. Benefits in terms of collective goods resulting from collective action or redistribution were possible only on the basis of an already-existing sizeable organisation. However, virtually all of the organisations under consideration in Popkin grew from a tiny number of people to a large following in a relatively short period. Furthermore, while some organisations, such as the communists and the Hoa Hao, grew quickly, other, similar organisations, such as the VNQDD and numerous tiny sects, failed to grow at all. And, while Popkin's description of (for instance) literacy classes suggests they led to mutual support (1979:239), it is not entirely clear why people did not attempt to free-ride in relation to such institutions.

While Popkin can account for the role of political entrepreneurs in general, he cannot account for why some such entrepreneurs succeeded where others failed. In particular, it seems absurd on Popkin's model that peasants should opt for riskier organisations instead of less risky ones. Nevertheless, however, (and entirely in line with Scott's model of peasants having a countercultural identity), the organisations which grew - Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Communist Party alike - were all highly risky for their members and supporters. All of these organisations had paramilitary forces and anti-system ideologies, and therefore were likely to provoke reprisals from landlords and the state. Moderate reformist organisations and single-issue mutual aid societies would seem a better gamble in relation to Popkin's problematic, yet these largely failed to emerge. Furthermore, even between the larger organisations, there appears to be little risk-based logic to peasants' selections. For instance, many peasants continued to opt for the Hoa Hao even after the Communists became the dominant opposition force (Popkin 1979:234).

Furthermore, in line with Popkin's model, peasants would be expected to avoid exceptionally risky actions, opting for the safest possible role where equal benefits are available. This is not, however, what happened. Many peasants committed themselves to the Viet Minh with a 'moral fervour' (1979:242) which is inexplicable on goal-rational terms. (Indeed, fervour would seem to impede the capacity for goal-rational calculation). Many peasants joined the Viet Minh or the Communist Party when they could as easily have benefited as a passive supporter. When the party called for a 'general mobilisation' in July 1964, only a third agreed to carry weapons, while a further third agreed to perform ancillary tasks (Race 1972:136). Popkin's model explains the behaviour of the latter group, but is unable to account for the former, who could as easily have opted for the less risky role. The case is even stronger in relation to the Saya San uprising. Clearly participants in this revolt took huge risks, tattooing themselves so that they could be identified as insurgents forever (Scott 1976:154) and engaging in 'desperate resistance against overwhelming odds' (1976:155), including assaulting far more heavily armed opponents protected only by tattoos and amulets. It is unclear why rational actors of Popkin's type should take such drastic measures, especially since they were not imminently threatened with actual death. The likelihood of death was so high, and that of success so slim, that the risk overwhelmingly outweighs the chance of profit. And it seems just as irrational from a goal-rational perspective to burn one's bridges by identifying one's self with a risky rebellion for life. Popkin's model could only absorb cases like the Saya San rebellion by fundamentally changing its underlying beliefs, either by seeing peasants as irrational or by changing its definition of rationality. In either case, Popkin's core claims would be irretrievable.

Popkin also cannot explain why particular movements tended to recur. The Communists, for instance, were able to rebuild their organisation several times following mass killings or imprisonment (eg. 1979:215). In millenarian movements, also, the defeat and even massacre of one set of insurgents seemed to leave seeds for future movements, rather than deterring them (Scott 1977:236). Clearly the defeat of prior movements of the same or a similar type would be a deterrent to any actor following Popkin's model of rationality, suggesting the fallacy of this model with regard to peasant insurgents. The element of continuity suggests rather that peasants relied strongly on their traditions, and that memories of struggle became a powerful mythical force aiding future struggles. At times, Popkin comes close to recognising a central role for peasant culture, as when he claims that Ho Chi Minh's reorientation from criticising to glorifying this culture was central to the growth of Viet Minh support (1979:216). But assigning a central role to culture seems to contradict Popkin's core claims.

The role of symbolic appeals also disappears in Popkin's analysis, despite substantial evidence of its existence. Thus, when Race's sources discuss what the Viet Minh offered the peasants, he discusses material security, but also spiritual wellbeing and 'importance' (1972:130). While Popkin mentions the destruction of tax and land records (1979:230), he does not discuss its ethical or symbolic importance. Most millenarian movements offer supernatural rather than material assistance to their followers (Adas 1979:187). Guha, Amin, and Scott all provide similar evidence. And even on Popkin's evidence, Cao Dai is shown to be directed against 'spiritual humiliations' and to involve symbolic levelling (1979:195, 198). Furthermore, he admits that landlords joined, not for economic benefits (since they lost out in this respect), but to gain 'incontestable moral authority' (1979:200). Popkin's evidence also suggests, incidentally, that the Cao Dai were anti-state and egalitarian (1979:201-2, 198-9), providing evidence against his own claims and for Scott's. In general, however, evidence of this kind - particularly that associated with the Nghe-An and Ha-Tinh 'Xo-Viets' - disappears in Popkin's account. The 'xo-Viets' are mentioned only briefly, in passing, without any substantial discussion of their significance - a clear omission, given their importance in Scott's accounts and Popkin's claim to be surpassing Scott.

There is some evidence which supports Popkin's account and undermines Scott's. In particular, Popkin provides some evidence of the existence of a consumer economy among peasants (1979:241). This can, however, be explained on Scott's model also if the definition of peasant orientations is amended slightly to include the pursuit of consumer goods as a secondary orientation once subsistence needs are met. On the whole, the available evidence tends to undermine rather than support Popkin's model of peasant political action.

What about Scott's model of peasant protest? Again, this reflects Scott's general method, categories and concerns. It is more difficult than Popkin's to reduce to a few core points, since it is multi-layered and responsive to empirical subtleties. Scott's explanatory sphere focuses on the role of the 'little tradition' in peasant protest. To a great extent, therefore, Scott wants to incorporate peasants from numerous locations into his analysis, and also to integrate his analysis of peasant protest with an understanding of petty resistance and coping strategies. Scott's method involves surveying a 'wide terrain', which 'necessarily entails a loss of variation and detail'. His hope is that if the 'broad lines... make sense, the details will enrich' his account rather than undermine it (1977:12). To some extent, furthermore, Scott's model, unlike Popkin's, presupposes conflict in its suppositions. If a great and little tradition are in constant competition and the peasants' morality is resistant to external demands, the analytically 'normal' state is conflict between these traditions and the problem is more to explain why conflict sometimes does not happen. For instance, 'What is striking... is not that the colonial state let 20 per cent of its subjects slip through the net but that it managed to collect from the other 80 percent' (1976:124).

Contrary to Popkin's version of Scott's account, Scott does not claim that cohesive villages themselves generate peasant revolt. Rather, cohesive villages are more prone to having a 'little tradition' (1977:9), so that the character of revolt varies depending on village cohesiveness. The presence of a 'little tradition'does not itself generate revolt; indeed, in some cases the opposite may be the case (1977:34). The 'little tradition' is a 'cradle' of dissent, providing an ideological enablement of peasant protest and shaping peasant action where it occurs (1977:212). Thus, Scott explains peasant politics not as a consequence of the 'little tradition' but through this tradition. Within a little tradition, the balance between subordination and conflict in peasant beliefs rests on 'material relations between peasants and the elite' (1977:12). This is because the arguments legitimating the elite rest on 'moral principles of performance' whereby elites are held responsible for social and natural phenomena (1977:14). 'The subordination of the peasantry is a negotiated subordination with definite moral limits', and 'Custom and the subsistence needs of villagers... establish moral ceilings on the economic claims which the great tradition may impose on subordinate classes. A breach of these ceilings has historically threatened the relationship of subordination itself' (1977:16). Another case where resistance will occur is when great traditions try to impose their definition of reality on peasants in a non-syncretic manner (1977:21). Thus, for Scott, the little tradition always shapes the form and methods of peasant protest, but the explanations for the presence of peasant action in some cases but not others is attributable not to the tradition itself but to specific beliefs within it and dynamic relations between the little and great traditions.

The role of the village and of pro-feudalism are relatively unimportant to Scott's account, in contrast to Popkin's claims. Feudalism is a 'negotiated subordination within definite moral limits' (1977:211), not a golden age. Images of a prior golden age are crucial to many peasant movements, but, while these can hark back to pre-capitalist forms, they are as often mythical as real (1977:224), an element of ideology or symbolism rather than an actual orientation. Scott does at times suggest that all peasants, including those in more 'open' frontier areas, have a collectivist village culture, and he provides some evidence for this view (1977:213). However, during crises, the village itself tends to unravel into separate elite and peasant groups (1976:143).

Scott wishes to de-emphasise the role of what Popkin terms 'political entrepreneurs' and stress the concerns, motivations and actions of peasants themselves. For instance, Scott downplays the role of the Communists in the Nghe-An/Ha-Tinh uprisings (eg. 1976:147). These, Scott maintains, were 'initiated by, but never entirely under the control of, party cadres', and when the cadres were arrested, the revolt continued, becoming if anything more extensive (1977:3). Scott maintains that there are clear distinctions between the bearers of great traditions and their little tradition adherents, including divisions along class, urban-rural, written-oral, and legal-customary lines (1977:4). The little tradition version is more than merely a parochial version of the great tradition. Rather, it involves a 'shadow society', in 'structural, stylistic and normative opposition to the politico-religious tradition of ruling elites', including radical elites (1977:4). In contrast to Popkin's entrepreneurs who create their own role, for Scott, local political leaders do not create but rather fill roles. In times of crisis, peasants attached themselves to 'almost any figure who promised deliverance from oppression according to the old formulas' (1977:238-9), including some figures, such as Samin, who had no desire to take on such a role. Where peasants take part in political action initiated by others, they do so in line with their own concerns, imposing their own 'elaborate and discriminating sense of equity and rights' (1976:126-7). The little tradition limits the impact of outside propaganda. 'If the message and its bearer are accepted at all, they are assimilated into an existing set of meanings, symbols and practices which frequently do great violence to the message as understood by its high priests' (1977:1). Political leaders are also treated instrumentally by the peasantry, being viewed as a buffer to defend their autonomy through negotiation and dissimulation (1977:214).

So how do peasants move from grudging accommodation to actual resistance? In Scott, the precise immediate causes vary between cases, but always 'involve large-scale crises which actually or apparently endanger both the material and cultural wellbeing of the peasantry' (1977:232). Causes usually involve socio-economic factors and the destruction of existing systems of meaning (1977:237, 232). Peasant protest is provoked not by mere 'want-get ratios' but by the presence or absence of substantial indignation. 'The effective question is... not so much whether the state's claim is seen as legitimate but rather the degree of resentment and rage it provokes' (1976:156). Subsistence-threatening measures, all else being equal, are likely to generate rebellion since they are experienced as exploitative and menacing (1976:156). Scott provides an extensive list of non-sufficient, non-necessary causes of revolt in his final chapter, including the suddenness and scope of change, its impact on subsistence, the variability of the local ecology, the instability of one's market position, vulnerability to sectoral crises, the non-availability of 'safety valves', and the weakness of the state, as well as the strength of the little tradition, the degree of differentiation within the village, and the role of dissident intellectuals (1976:Chapter 7). Scott implies that these factors build up almost hydraulically to produce an explosion (eg. 1976:136). The transition from passive resistance to revolt occurs in Scott as a kind of slippage or progression. For instance, where subsistence-threatening taxes are imposed, peasants first attempt to evade them; where this is met with coercion, they fall back on 'prepolitical self-help outside the law'; where this is suppressed, 'stiff resistance' ensues, including in particular 'social banditry'; and where this fails, protests will occur, moving from 'Confucianism' to 'anarchism', i.e. from formally protesting to local leaders to attacks on the symbols of authority (1976:124-5).

When he comes to explaining specific movements, Scott uses the factors he lists. Protest occurred during the depression because of a combination of inflexible taxes and rents with the sudden decline in rice prices and the disappearance of safety-valves such as credit and non-agricultural employment (1976:114). The Nghe-An/Ha-Tinh uprisings occurred because of the lack of fit between local conditions and the state's demands (1976:141). Causes included reduced crop prices, industrial unemployment, famine, local ecological unpredictability, and increases in the head tax which led to a 60% increase in head tax revenues amid falling peasant incomes (1976:136-42), a situation which made the state the main target (1976:144). Similarly in Burma, the Saya San uprising resulted from increased tax and debt burdens, growing economic insecurity and the elimination of safety-valves such as urban employment (1976:150-1). Scott's precise argument is thus flexible from case to case; in Annam, starvation is a direct motive, whereas in Burma, famine did not occur and a more general sense of possible subsistence dangers was more important. The element of continuity is the idea of increased or inflexible burdens amid economic decline, in a context where adaptation through 'safety-valves' is virtually impossible. Peasant protest, where it occurs, also has for Scott a symbolic rather than a purely politico-economic significance. For instance, tax rolls were destroyed in a rejection of law and a celebration of custom (1977:230-1).

There are numerous problems with Scott's analysis. For one thing, while Scott does not explicitly impose his assumptions on his evidence in the manner Popkin does, there are nevertheless cases where he appears to be doing so implicitly, since the transition from evidence to conclusion is unclear. For instance, it is unclear why the defence of collective rights against corrosion necessarily implies a subsistence orientation, as Scott claims (1976:136). It is equally unclear why a desire to persuade or force the wealthy to shoulder costs necessarily involves 'redistributive norms' (1976:143) rather than straightforward self-interest. There is a further problem in that much of Scott's evidence is of a type he rejects. Scott is deeply critical of reliance on statistical evidence (1977:5), but this is the main type of evidence he uses in The Moral Economy of the Peasant.

There is also a certain inconsistency in Scott with regard to the nature of peasant motives. In most of his account, Scott maintains that cultural and moral concerns rather than goal-rationality shape peasant action. But occasionally, he falls back on concepts which imply the latter and analyses which would better fit Popkin's evidence. For instance, Scott maintains that large gatherings did not occur due to their riskiness (1976:143), that peasant life was shaped by 'social sanctions' (1977:9), that in some cases peasants 'had little choice but to knuckle under' (1977:15), and that 'much peasant behaviour may be largely coerced and thus not representative of the peasantry's normative culture' (1977:8). This raises a number of problems. Firstly, if peasants act on indignation rather than cost-benefit analyses, costs and benefits would not be effective in amending peasant action. Secondly, it is difficult to maintain that peasants are subject to laws of deterrence if poorly-armed Saya San rebels were prepared to throw themselves against lines of rifle-wielding soldiers. Clearly, the issue is raised of why deterrence operates in some cases but not others. Thirdly, the statement that peasants sometimes have no choice but to obey implies a need to explain why there is sometimes a choice of resistance and sometimes not (which Popkin discusses but Scott does not). These problems may be soluble by replacing the concept of deterrence with (for instance) a theory that fatalism is a central part of peasant belief-systems and that only in peculiar circumstances does the possibility of change occur to peasants. Nevertheless, they represent severe difficulties for Scott's account as it stands.

Furthermore, Scott's account is clearer on why a particular type of peasant protested in particular ways during particular movements than on accounting for movements involving peasants in their totality. Through an exclusive emphasis on peasants, Scott evades the interaction of peasant action with the quite different actions and motivations of other social groups in actual political movements. His chosen examples are selective in the sense of being almost exclusively peasant, and his model is more problematic when applied to (for instance) the later success of the Viet Minh or the growth of the P.K.I. in Indonesia. There is a limit to how far purely peasat motives can explain broader-based movements, and in this sense, Popkin's examination of workers, landlords, the landless poor, intellectuals, and ethnic minorities is an improvement on Scott's exclusively peasant model (although Popkin's treatment of these groups is cursory and falls down on his assumption that they are all economically rational). Even within the category of peasants, Scott comes into difficulties owing to the overlap between the peasantry as a class and other class labels such as workers and petty-bourgeoisie. Scott does not explain why or at what point peasant values are replaced with those of (say) proletarians or landlords. In contrast to his claims in the final chapter, in his specific analyses Scott recognises that it was returning 'coolies' and landless peasants who were central to the movements he studies (1976:136, 131). But it is unclear why these groups should have a peasant ethos, since they are only peripherally attached to the collectivist traditions of integrated villages. Scott's model would thus require to be adequate a more careful consideration of the problem of boundaries between peasant beliefs and other modes of belief and of the role of non-peasant groups in predominantly peasant movements. This is especially so since Scott admits that peasant resistance is too localised and fragmented to be effective alone (1977:218) and the views of others, such as Adas, who maintain that peasant movements also oriented to forms of identity beyond the village and to imported ideas (1979:187).

Scott also tends to underemphasise certain elements in the little tradition which seem deserving of greater analysis. For instance, Scott does admit the existence of various forms of hostility towards outsiders (1976:149), including racism (1976:154) and inter-village theft (1977:213), but he does not explore the significance of such phenomena or how they were overcome or utilised in broader movements. Furthermore, while Scott has more room for pro-market orientations, such as opposition to salt monopolies, forestry regulations, and market fees and the use of small-scale marketing as 'a vital sideline' (1976:135) than Popkin has for anti-market beliefs, the role of the market in peasant life and protest remains somewhat obscure in Scott and could be dealt with more comprehensively. So too could the evidence that some peasants joined movements 'in the hope of getting something out of joining', a motive which cannot simply be dismissed as vague, as Scott dismisses it (1976:145). Scott would also benefit from saying a little more about, and incorporating more effectively, the phenomenon of regionally specific traditions of rebellion in particular hotbeds (1976:152) and the formation of communes by millenarians (1977:234-5) and corresponding 'red bases' by Communist Parties.

There are, however, numerous substantial strengths to Scott's account which may well override such difficulties. Scott claims (in my opinion rightly) that a concept such as the 'little tradition' is needed to make sense of the substantial similarities between peasant movements in different places and at different times, which were not linked by any organisation or tradition (1977:241; 1976:125). Although it is not always evident in The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Scott accounts for the symbolic character of peasant resistance more effectively than Popkin. Furthermore, while the role of 'political entrepreneurs' is more extensively conceptualised in Popkin than in Scott, Scott is probably better at explaining the success of particular leaders and the failure of others (i.e. by their 'fit' with the little tradition and with peasants' own tendency towards rebellion at a particular time). For instance, Scott produces a careful argument as to why Saya San succeeded where other would-be prophets failed (1976:150). Thus, there are many analytical advantages to Scott's account which offset the various difficulties and inadequacies, many of which can be resolved by cosmetic adaptations of the general approach.

There is also substantial evidence to support many of Scott's contentions. Scott sometimes provides little evidence for particular inferences of a subsistence ethic, and Chapter 6, where he discusses this issue, rests mainly on analysis and examples from outside the Southeast Asian context. He does, however, provide some evidence for his contention that a conscious subsistence ethic was at work. For instance, the Nghe-An soviets proclaimed that it was the greatest sin to hoard goods amidst starvation (1976:192). He also demonstrates statistically that there was no significant change in peasants' relative income at the time rebellions occurred, whereas there is a 'striking' chronological correlation between declines in the rice price and the occurrence of revolts (1976:118, 120). Scott clearly demonstrates the existence of a subsistence deficit during the depression (1976:115-16). Also, he provides evidence that executions often resulted from the absence of subsistence provision by elites (1976:145), that groups unresponsive to subsistence needs tended to be targeted (1976:120) and that grain seized in requisitions was expected to be distributed equally, even to the point of people who failed to do this being killed (1976:147). Certainly the imperative character of peasant action suggests Scott is right that they were acting out of indignation rather than simple want-get ratios (1976:188), and also that these conflicts were zero-sum, as Scott claims, rather than positive-sum as in Popkin's model (see Scott 1976:120). Scott also demonstrates effectively that the state was largely indifferent to the effects of its policies on peasants in the contexts where revolts occurred (1976:118). And observers stressed famine as the main cause of the Nghe-An/Ha-Tinh revolts (1976:137).

There is also some evidence for Scott's contention that peasants demonstrated an orientation to a generally anti-capitalist egalitarian collectivism. Documents suggest that the Nghe-An and Ha-Tinh soviets were strongly collectivist (1976:129). In Northeast Thailand, one of the frontier regions of 'open villages' which Popkin sees as problematic to Scott's account, peasants believed that the rice spirit was angered by the sale of rice (1977:245). And Scott also records a strong correlation between the role of market forces and the occurrence of millenarian movements (1977:234).

Scott provides substantial evidence that peasants had their own religious and symbolic traditions (eg. 1977:23). In addition, there is substantial evidence that the peasant role in 'great tradition' projects usually involved the pursuit of a distinct peasant agenda. Scott's model is well able to account for the way in which the Vietnamese communists 'were obliged to organise... action around the concrete grievances of rural cultivation' and the continuation of activity after the arrest of communist cadres (1971:126), elements which are well-supported by evidence. For instance, the party admits that local cadres 'let themselves be led by the masses' (1977:4). Furthermore, party statements were initially critical of 'adventurism' and endorsed the events in Nghe-An and Ha-Tinh only slowly and after they were underway (1976:148). Furthermore, a new programme had to be hastily constructed (1976:144). Such evidence appears to support a model of peasants pursuing their own demands, rather than of the communists as 'political entrepreneurs' initiating and organising all activity.

Other cases also support Scott's model. During the Hukbalahap rising, peasants mobilised around only some of the communists' demands, campaigning vigorously around some land issues and issues of police repression but failing to mobilise against neo-colonialism or the rights of the landless (1977:222-3). Movements like the Guardia de Honor and the Sakdals similarly seemed to gain peasant demands once they obtained peasant support (1977:235-7). Saminism in Java similarly developed mainly around specifically 'little tradition' issues such as forestry rights (1977:215-16). The impact of nationalism was similarly limited to its capacity to absorb into the 'little tradition', and, where it succeeded, it usually took distinct, millenarian forms among its peasant supporters (1977:221-2). The role of Gandhi and the Congress Party, for instance, was absorbed by peasants mainly through their existing symbolic structures (Amin 1989). Other revolts in India can also be seen as expressions of distinctly peasant-based symbolic systems and demands (Guha 1983).

In the P.K.I., similarly, success rested on the articulation of mass beliefs (McVey 1996:99). Some of the elements of its approach appealed to beliefs occurring in Scott's account of the 'little tradition'. For instance, the P.K.I. had an orientation to salvation (1996:101). In some cases the P.K.I. was not peasant-based at all, but relied on rural notables, would-be bureaucrats or workers. Again, when peasant protest occurred, the P.K.I. was not fully involved; rather, it seemed 'oddly distanced from the turbulence in the countryside' (1996:113). Where peasants took part in P.K.I.-led activities, they gave them a specifically peasant significance. When the party mobilised around essentially moderate demands, the local response took on a dynamic of its own to such an extent that party leaders ended up touring the countryside urging their own supporters not to take action. In contrast, political education programmes and the like were resisted by peasants (Scott 1977:2-3). The case of the P.K.I. therefore suggests a distinct peasant dynamic rather than the activity of dominant 'political entrepreneurs'.

Evidence from millenarian movements also supports Scott's model. Contrary to Popkin's claim that peasants were rational in a sense similar to that of western capitalists, millenarian movements were often dismissed as rational by western commentators on the ground, and appear as rational only in the context of non-western belief-systems (Adas 1979:160-1). Adas's research supports several of Scott's contentions, notably the link between millenarian movements and rapid social change (1979:183), an orientation to a pre-colonial golden age (1979:184), a rejection of existing leaders (1979:184), a basis in village solidarity (1979:185) and a link to the failure of avoidance and coping strategies such as social banditry and migration (1979:186). Scott also provides evidence of the worship of former rebels as spirits (1977:24-5, 32), suggesting a dynamic present in rebellion aside from direct calculation. The importance of profanation in peasant religious dissent, as demonstrated by Scott (1977) and also Guha (1983), also supports the idea of peasant movements as expressing indignation and hostility rather than 'interests'. Peasant religious ideals are 'strikingly uniform' (1977:225), with most millenarian movements sharing goals such as egalitarianism between believers, the nullification of unjust external claims, and the inevitability of divine revolution (1977:225-6). Millenarianism also suggests a zero-sum rather than positive-sum basis for struggles, a claim further reinforced by the risks involved. Furthermore, peasant political action also frequently takes millenarian forms. An electoral candidate's handkerchief or party membership card may be believed to confer mystical powers (1977:220), Gandhi's appeal involved beliefs in his miraculous abilities (Amin 1989), and the P.K.I. rested its appeal partly on messianic appeals and a word for 'science' which was the same as the word for 'gnosis' (McVey 1996:98-9). Millenarianism clearly fits Scott's model of peasant activity better than Popkin's.

There is, furthermore, evidence for Scott's contention that 'the government was known, above all, as a tax collector' (1976:144) and that this was one reason for its rejection in several revolts. Race's (1972) account of government activity in Vietnam suggests its role was primarily administrative. Interviews with participants in the revolt show that tax was a central cause of their participation (1976:145).

However, there is also evidence that creates problems for Scott. His own account suggests that peasat protest occurred mainly in areas with an existing rebellious tradition (1976:128, 139) and also a central role for dissident elites (1976:128) who played the main role in organising demonstrations (1976:148). Again, in discussions of Java, Scott recounts the role of shamans in rebellions (1977:239). This suggests that something more than a spontaneous ethic occurring in a village milieu, especially since many of the participants in peasant protest were village 'outsiders' (Popkin 1979:211) and since some movements occurred in frontier areas. The role of what Gramsci calls 'organic intellectuals' appears to be a significant element in the articulation and decontestation of elements which otherwise appear only amorphously in peasant culture. The process is probably not that posited by Popkin either, since peasant beliefs are central to the success of particular efforts and since most leaders were themselves located within the peasant culture. The role of local radical elites in peasant protest thus remains an inadequately discussed issue, at least in relation to Scott and Popkin.

To conclude, therefore, Scott and Popkin offer highly divergent accounts of peasant political movements resting on methods and assumptions which differ enormously. Popkin's account is linear, straightforward and analytically lean, and therefore offers clarity and certainty. In many ways, however, this is its weakness rather than its strength, since it comes across as too simplistic, convenient and self-contained to be accurate, and, indeed, it contains a number of unsurpassable analytical problems and fits with only a small proportion of the evidence available. Scott's model is decidedly more adequate, treating the peasant as a social actor with distinct concerns and beliefs, engaging with the symbolic content of peasant movements and the nature of distinctly peasant-based demands, and providing a framework which is sufficiently broad and flexible to incorporate diverse evidence and insights. Scott's problematic is by no means valid if treated as a completed system or theory. It retains certain analytical problems and deals inadequately with some kinds of evidence. Nevertheless, however, it remains the more adequate of the two frameworks as a potential framework for future investigation and analysis.


ADAS, Michael (1979) Prophets of Rebellion. Millenarian Protest Movements against the European Colonial Order Cambridge:Cambridge University Press
AMIN, Shahid (1989) "Gandhi as Mahatma. Gorakhpur District, Eastern U.P. 1921-2" in Ranajit Guha (ed.) Subaltern Studies III. Writings on South Asian History and Society Oxford:Oxford University Press
ANDERSON, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism London:Verso
COLBURN, Forrest D. (1995) The Vogue of Revolution in Poor Countries Princeton:Princeton University Press
GUHA, Ranajit (1983) Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India Delhi:Oxford University Press
McVEY, Ruth (1996) "Nationalism, Revolution and Organisation in Indonesian Communism" in Daniel S. Lev and Ruth McVey (eds.) Making Indonesia. Essays on Modern Indonesia in Honor of George McT. Kahin Cornell University, Ithaca:Southeast Asia Programme Publications
POPKIN, Samuel L. (1979) The Rational Peasant. The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam Berkeley:University of California Press
RACE, Jeffrey (1972) War Comes to Long An. Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province Berkeley:University of California Press
SCOTT, James C. (1976) The Moral Economy of the Peasant. Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia New Haven and London:Yale University Press
SCOTT, James C. (1977) "Protest and Profanation. Agrarian Revolt and the Little Tradition" in Theory and Society Vol. 4 Nos. 1-2, Spring and Summer 1977


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