James C. Scott

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James C. Scott
Born (1936-12-02) December 2, 1936 (age 77)
Nationality American
Fields Political Science, Anthropology
Institutions Yale University
Alma mater Williams College
Yale University
Doctoral students Ben Kerkvliet
Erik Ringmar
Timothy Pachirat
Eric Tagliacozzo

James C. Scott (born December 2, 1936) is a American Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University. He is also the director of the Program in Agrarian Studies and a noted anarchist scholar.[1] Scott is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has held grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science, Science, Technology and Society Program at M.I.T., and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.[2]

Scott lives in Connecticut, where he raises sheep.[3] He received his bachelor's degree from Williams College and his MA and PhD (political science, 1967) from Yale. He taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison until 1976, when he returned to Yale.

Research topics[edit]

James Scott's work focuses on the ways that subaltern people resist dominance. His original interest was in peasants in the Kedah state of Malaysia. During the Vietnam War, he took an interest in Vietnam, and he wrote The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Subsistence and Rebellion in Southeast Asia (1976) about the ways peasant peoples resisted authority. His main argument was that peasants prefer the patron-client relations of the "Moral Economy," in which wealthier peasants protect weaker ones. When these traditional forms of solidarity break down due to the introduction of market forces, rebellion (or revolution) is likely. Samuel Popkin, in his book The Rational Peasant (1979), tried to refute this argument, showing that peasants are also rational actors who prefer free markets to exploitation by local elites. Scott and Popkin thus represent two radically different positions in the formalist vs. substantivist debates in political anthropology.[4]

In Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985) Scott expanded his theories to peasants in other parts of the world, and in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (1990) he argued that all subordinate groups resist in ways similar to peasants. These three books[which?] have been summarized humorously with the descriptions "Peasants in Malaysia, peasants everywhere, everyone everywhere."[citation needed] Scott's theories are often contrasted with Gramscian ideas about hegemony. Against Gramsci, Scott argues that the everyday resistance of subalterns shows that they have not consented to dominance.[5]

In Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Scott uses the term public transcript to describe the open, public interactions between dominators and oppressed and the term hidden transcript for the critique of power that goes on offstage, which power holders do not see or hear. Different systems of domination, including political, economic, cultural, or religious, have aspects that are not heard that go along with their public dimensions. In order to study the systems of domination, careful attention is paid to what lies beneath the surface of evident, public behavior. In public, those that are oppressed accept their domination, but they always question their domination offstage. On the event of a publicization of this "hidden transcript", oppressed classes openly assume their speech, and become conscious of its common status.[6]

Scott's monograph Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998) took him more into the realm of political science. In it, he showed how central governments attempt to force legibility on their subjects, and thus lose local knowledge, which he calls mētis. One example is in permanent last names. Scott cites a Welsh man who appeared in court and identified himself with a long string of patronyms: "John, ap Thomas ap William" etc. In his local village, this naming system carried a lot of information, because people could identify him as the son of Thomas and grandson of William, and thus distinguish him from the other Johns and the other grandchildren of Thomas. It was of less use to the central government, which did not know Thomas or William. The court demanded that John take a permanent last name (in this case, the name of his village). This helped the central government keep track of its subjects, but it lost local information. Scott argues that in order for schemes to improve the human condition to succeed, they must take into account local conditions, and that the high-modernist ideologies of the 20th century have prevented this. He highlights collective farms in the Soviet Union, the building of Brasilia, and Prussian forestry techniques as examples of failed schemes.[7]

In The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, Scott wrote:

... All identities, without exception, have been socially constructed: the Han, the Burman, the American, the Danish, all of them.... To the degree that the identity is stigmatized by the larger state or society, it is likely to become for many a resistant and defiant identity. Here invented identities combine with self-making of a heroic kind, in which such identifications become a badge of honor....

—(pp. xii-iii.)

Selected bibliography[edit]

(Note: excludes edited volumes.)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]