James C. Scott
|James C. Scott|
Mount Holly, New Jersey
|Fields||Political Science, Anthropology|
|Alma mater||Williams College, BA
Yale University, MA, PhD
|Doctoral students||Ben Kerkvliet
|Influences||Marc Bloch • Alexander Chayanov • John Dunn • Antonio Gramsci • Eric Hobsbawm • C. Wright Mills • Barrington Moore • Karl Polanyi • E.P. Thompson • Eric Wolf|
|Part of a series on|
|Social and cultural anthropology|
James Campbell Scott (born 1936) is a political scientist and anthropologist. He is comparative scholar of agrarian and non-state societies, subaltern politics, and anarchism. His primary research has centered on peasants of Southeast Asia and their strategies of resistance to various forms of domination. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, where he has directed the Program in Agrarian Studies since 1991.
Scott received his bachelor's degree from Williams College and his MA and PhD in political science from Yale. He taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison until 1976 and has remained at Yale for the duration of his career. He lives in Durham, Connecticut, where he raises sheep.
Early life and career
Scott was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey in 1936, nine years after the birth of his older brother. His father, a physician, died when Scott was nine. Scott attended the Moorestown Friends School, a Quaker Day School. In 1953, he matriculated at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he majored in economics and political economy under the mentorship of Frederick Schuman and Robert Gaudino. On the advice of Indonesia scholar William Hollinger, he wrote an honors thesis on the economic development of Burma.
On graduation, Scott received a Rotary International Fellowship to study in Burma, where he was recruited by an American student activist who had become an anti-communist organizer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Scott agreed to do reporting for the agency and at the end of his fellowship was given an attractive post in the Paris office of the National Student Association, which, with Scott’s knowledge, accepted CIA money and direction in working against communist-controlled global student movements over the next few years. Scott began graduate study in political science at Yale in 1961. His dissertation on political ideology in Malaysia, which was supervised by Robert E. Lane, analyzed interviews with Malaysian civil servants. In 1967, he took a position as an assistant professor in political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. As a Southeast Asianist teaching during the Vietnam War, he offered popular courses on the war and peasant revolutions. In 1976, having earned tenure at Madison, Scott returned to Yale and settled on a farm in Durham, Connecticut with his wife. They started with a small farm, then purchased a larger one nearby in the early 1980s and began raising sheep for their wool.
Scott's first books were based on archival research, and he is unusual for conducting his primary ethnographic fieldwork only after receiving tenure. To research his third book, Weapons of the Weak, Scott spent fourteen months in a village in Kedah, Malaysia between 1978 and 1980. When he had finished a draft, he returned for two months to solicit villagers' impressions of his depiction, and significantly revised the book based on their criticisms and insight.
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 debate in political anthropology.
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. His first three books, as detailed above, have been summarized humorously with the descriptions "Peasants in Malaysia, peasants everywhere, everyone everywhere." 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.
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.
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 fail to see complex, valuable forms of local social order and knowledge. Scott uses examples like the introduction of permanent last names in Great Britain, cadastral surveys in France, standard units of measure across Europe to argue that a reconfiguration of social order necessary for state scrutiny, and require the simplification of prior arrangements. In the case of 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.
... 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.)
In Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play from 2012 Scott says that "Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philosophy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism or anarchist philosophy."
Awards and fellowships
Scott is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been awarded resident fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the Science, Technology and Society Program at M.I.T.. He has also received research grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and was president of the Association for Asian Studies in 1997.
(Note: excludes edited volumes.)
- Decoding subaltern politics. Ideology, disguise, and resistance in agrarian politics. Routledge, 2012 (Critical Asian scholarship ; 8) ISBN 9-780-41553975-3
- Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton University Press, 2012 ISBN 0-691-15529-1
- The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 2009 ISBN 0-300-15228-0
- Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-300-07016-0
- Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, 1990 ISBN 0-300-04705-3
- Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, 1985 ISBN 0-300-03336-2
- The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-300-01862-2
- Comparative Political Corruption. Prentice-Hall, 1972 ISBN 0-131-79036-6
- Munck, Gerardo L.; Snyder, Richard (2007). "Peasants, Power, and the Art of Resistance". Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801884641.
- Schuessler, Jennifer (5 December 2012). "James C. Scott: Farmer and Scholar of Anarchism". New York Times. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- "Academic Prize 2010, Award Citation". Fukuoka Prize. 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Scott, James C. (26 March 2009). James Scott interviewed by Alan Macfarlane (video) 1. Interview with Alan Macfarlane. Cambridge, England. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
- Paget, Karen M. (2015). Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA's Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 235, 395, 407-408. Retrieved 2015-04-22.
- Scott, James C. (26 March 2009). James Scott interviewed by Alan Macfarlane (video) 2. Interview with Alan Macfarlane. Cambridge, England. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
- Scott, James C. (1985). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03641-8.
- Scott, James C. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Scott, James C. (2012). Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Homepage at Yale
- James Scott explores governance in the Southeast Asian highlands at Asia Society, November 2010 (w/ video)
- James Scott interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 26th March 2009
- Interview with James Scott by Theory Talks, May 2010