Language and the “Arts of Resistance”: Review of "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts" by James Scott

Essay Excerpt

James Scott's latest book, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (1990), is certainly instructive for anthropologists and is studded with stimulating insights about power. Nevertheless, it is a deeply flawed work. The book was published several years ago and has been widely reviewed in journals of political science and sociology where the major issues of contention have been Scott's arguments about the nature of hegemony, the rationality of political action, and the logic of explaining revolutions (see, for example, Mitchell 1990 and Tilly 1991).

However, the book is at least as much about the political significance of speech. It analyzes the situated nature of political expression, the relationship among speech, belief, and ideology in everyday power relations, and the political efficacy of talk. And it is exactly the language-related concepts introduced in the book - such as transcript and infrapolitics - that are having the widest influence, appearing with increasing frequency in writings about local politics and the political meaning of linguistic and cultural practices. For this reason, my aim is to discuss Scott's work for what it says and assumes about language and power. Ironically, it is just this aspect of the book that has not yet been seriously and critically reviewed (407). 

Gal, Susan. "Language and the 'Arts of Resistance'." Cultural Anthropology 10.3(1995): 407–424.

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