Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance Paperback – 1 Jul 1987
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From the Back Cover
This sensitive picture of the constant and circumspect struggle waged by peasants materially and ideologically against their oppressors show that techniques of evasion and resistance may represent the most significant and effective means of class struggle in the long run.
About the Author
James C. Scott is the Sterling Professor of Political Science, professor of anthropology, and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University. His books include "Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed"; "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts"; and most recently, "The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia". He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a mediocre part-time farmer and beekeeper.
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Before Scott published his book, the dominant model for understanding participation in authoritarian societies did not extend far beyond institutional and client-patron models. Scott breaks away from this mode and demonstrates how ordinary, powerless people in repressive societies can still manage to influence policies, through such actions as sabotage, foot-dragging, and gossip. This model makes it much easier to understand, for example, how China reformed its agricultural system (although this book is about a Malaysian village, it is easily applied to most any country one wishes to study).
Essential reading for political scientists and sociologists alike. After reading this book, you will have a whole different view of how change is affected, and a more sophisticated frame of analysis.
Peasants, Scott argues, have their own forms of resistance which have not until now been looked into. The resistance or protest of peasants in the Malaysian village of Sedaka may not be collective and organized but they certainly exist. Simply because the Sedaka villagers do not protest in what we have come to know as "protest" that does not prove that there is no resistance or opposition to authority, change in labor relations, or social changes. Instead of revolution, the peasants choose what the author calls "the weapons of the poor:" silent non-compliance, gossip, character murder, petty sabotage, small theft and pilferage. The common characteristics in these acts of resistance are almost invisible and non-coordinated. The reasons behind these acts are not straightforward: do the poor steal in order to feed their families or do they do so in order to hurt the rich in the village?
Scott goes further into predicting that the weapons of the poor may not directly create a new order, they are effective in mitigating the process of marginalisation and therefore have made impact overtime in social changes and history.
The people of Sedaka are portrayed very realistically in the sense that Scott does not leave any element out. He is extremely detailed in his theoretical criticisms as well by arguing against the idea that these people fit into any one theory. Most noticeably, Scott critiques Marx who said that ideologies were mystifying, meaning that the proletariat did not know that they were being exploited. Scott points out rather obviously that these people are well aware of the way in which they are treated and as a result engage in a variety of forms of resistance.
Understanding the village dynamics is key in understanding the ways in which theory can be applied or disproved. Scott uses Chapter one to lay out exactly how the villagers interact with one another. He introduces to opposing extreme characters Razah and Haji Broom. Chapter two explains resistance and its history. It is here where he explores Gramsci's concept of hegemony, which he later disproves. Chapter three explores resistance in the Malaysian context. The relationship between classes as well as the relationship that classes have to the state is also discussed.
During the second half of the book, Scott writes on the changes that occurred due to the green revolution. Major societal changes were a result of double cropping, the mechanization of farming, and combine harvesting. The ideologies that had been upheld for generations began to deteriorate with the arrival of the new ideologies associated with capitalism: greed, self-interest, accumulation, maxim profit at the lowest cost, etc. Scott discusses hegemony and questions whether or not it is upheld by false consciousness, or is slowly being worn down by acts of resistance.
The final two chapters of the book explore more deeply what exactly Scott meant by resistance, what Marx meant by false consciousness, and similarly what Gramsci called hegemony. Scott concludes that even though the term resistance is still debated, in his opinion, the people of Sedaka are actively engaging in both individual and collective acts of resistance. False consciousness and hegemony are two ideas that he sees as false because they imply that the subordinate class is not aware of their position in society.
One of the first messages Scott opens with is, "peasant rebellions--let alone peasant revolutions--are few and far between. The vast majority are crushed unceremoniously. When, more rarely, they do succeed, it is a melancholy fact that the consequences are seldom what the peasantry has in mind" (Scott xvi). This excerpt shows one of Scott's explanations for the lack of overt peasant revolution--that even when the peasantry rebel, their poor socioeconomic status will remain intact or pushed farther down the societal food chain. In order to argue his point further, Scott uses a case study of a Malaysian village called "Sedaka" during the time of the Green Revolution. He chooses this particular village to understand the struggle between the rich and the poor as Sedaka applies capitalist methods to their preexisting agricultural methods.
He characterizes "the struggle between the rich and the poor in Sedaka" as "not merely a struggle over work, property rights, grain and cash" but also "a struggle over the appropriation of symbols, [a struggle] over how the past and present shall be understood and labeled, [a struggle] to identify causes and assess blame, and a contentious effort to give partisan meaning to local history" (xvii). Specifically Scott uses the stories of two members of Sedaka, Haji Broom and Razak to illustrate the struggle, and the relationship between the rich and the poor. Razak and Haji Broom are on polar spectrums of the socio-economic society. They depict the general way Sedakan society reacts to the exploitive, arrogant, rich farmers, as well as how they react to the the dishonest, poor, and lazy peasant.
After Scott establishes the interactions between the rich and poor in Sedaka, he discusses the political and social influence they have on each other. Scott's critical argument here is targeted toward a specific (and popular) Marxian theorist named Antonio Gramsci. Unlike Gramsci's theory about false consciousness and hegemony, Scott argues that the peasants do not comply with the will of the bourgeoisie because they don't know better--but because of a multitude of largely material and some ideological reasons. Scott critiques Gramsci, saying that, "the concept of hegemony ignores the extent to which most subordinate classes are able, on the basis of their daily material experience, to penetrate and demystify the prevailing ideology" (38). One reason among others that peasants passively comply with their exploitive employers is called "self-protecting compliance" (280). Instead of active rebellion, peasants quietly resist, soil the reputation of the large farmers (bourgeoisie) and constitute what Scott calls, "the weapons of the weak" (29).
Scott continues his arguments more in depth throughout the chapters, and at the end he asks readers to question Gramsci's strict argument on hegemony and false consciousness. Not only that, but he also brings up Marx's theories, who argues that because the peasants perceive their place in society as normal, they will not rebel because they do not know any better to do so. Scott concludes by conceding that his own theories might seem pessimistic for the prospects of revolutionary change because "petty amenities and minor humanities" (350) are too small of actions to ever create change for the peasantry class. However, he does say that his theories are "a realistic assessment of the fate workers and peasants in most revolutionary states--a fate that makes melancholy reading when set against the revolutionary promise" (350). Because open, universal peasant revolution is rare and often unproductive, Scott writes that it is all the more reason to hold on to the abstract optimism that comes in "ridicule, in truculence, in irony, in petty acts of noncompliance, in foot dragging...to hold one's own against overwhelming odds--a spirit and practice that prevents the worst and promises something better" (350).