This sensitive picture of the constant and circumspect struggle waged by peasants materially and ideologically against their oppressors shows that techniques of evasion and resistance may represent the most significant and effective means of class struggle in the long run.
Confrontations between the powerless and powerful are laden with deception—the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, laborers, and prisoners are not free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant. At the same time, the powerful also develop a private dialogue about practices and goals of their rule that cannot be openly avowed.
In this book, renowned social scientist James C. Scott offers a penetrating discussion both of the public roles played by the powerful and powerless and the mocking, vengeful tone they display off stage—what he terms their public and hidden transcripts. Using examples from the literature, history, and politics of cultures around the world, Scott examines the many guises this interaction has taken throughout history and the tensions and contradictions it reflects.
From the acclaimed author and scholar James C. Scott, the compelling tale of Asian peoples who until recently have stemmed the vast tide of state-making to live at arm’s length from any organized state society
For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.
In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott’s work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.
How did ordinary people in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) deal with the demands of the state? In The Art of Being Governed, Michael Szonyi explores the myriad ways that families fulfilled their obligations to provide a soldier to the army. The complex strategies they developed to manage their responsibilities suggest a new interpretation of an important period in China’s history as well as a broader theory of politics.
Using previously untapped sources, including lineage genealogies and internal family documents, Szonyi examines how soldiers and their families living on China’s southeast coast minimized the costs and maximized the benefits of meeting government demands for manpower. Families that had to provide a soldier for the army set up elaborate rules to ensure their obligation was fulfilled, and to provide incentives for the soldier not to desert his post. People in the system found ways to gain advantages for themselves and their families. For example, naval officers used the military’s protection to engage in the very piracy and smuggling they were supposed to suppress. Szonyi demonstrates through firsthand accounts how subjects of the Ming state operated in a space between defiance and compliance, and how paying attention to this middle ground can help us better understand not only Ming China but also other periods and places.
Combining traditional scholarship with innovative fieldwork in the villages where descendants of Ming subjects still live, The Art of Being Governed illustrates the ways that arrangements between communities and the state hundreds of years ago have consequences and relevance for how we look at diverse cultures and societies, even today.