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Original Article

James Scotts resistance/hegemony paradigm


reconsidered
Wing-Chung Ho
Department of Applied Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue,
Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong.
E-mail: wingcho@cityu.edu.hk

Abstract This essay represents a reexamination of the reigning resistance/


hegemony paradigm since it was elaborated by James C. Scott in the 1980s. It
argues that the main problem haunting the paradigm is its overemphasis on the
actors experience of personal domination. Being deliberately bypassed is the
experience of impersonal domination shaped by values, traditions or the symbolic
universe when actors are to face and deal with local oppression. Situating the
problem in a wider theoretical context, the author suggests that when actors have to
face and deal with an oppressive situation in order that they may resist it or comply
with it, they must experience both personal and impersonal domination pertinent to
the social structure.
Acta Politica (2011) 46, 4359. doi:10.1057/ap.2010.5
Keywords: resistance; hegemony; domination; social structure; Scott

Introduction
It has been more than two decades since James C. Scott published his Weapons
of the Weak, it would be too repetitive to provide yet another long list of
literature on what is commonly known as resistance studies. The output
of nearly 60 items in the Social Science Citation Index with a topic search of
Scott AND resistance simply tells the story.1 Being a critique of Gramscian
hegemony, Scotts model contends that in situations of relative safety,
subordinates display an impressive capacity to understand the larger realities
of capital accumulation, proletarianization and marginalization (Scott, 1985,
p. 304). They avoid direct and open defiance against external domination only
because they are aware rationally of their inferior position in the social
hierarchy. Brought under the empirical gaze is a spectrum of subordinates
actions against domination, actions which are largely invisible, individually
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based, and require little or no coordination or planning without an intention


to overthrow and transform a system of domination (Scott, 1985, p. 424).
Although Scotts exegesis of resistance has become an influential paradigm in
the social sciences, it has come under increasing attack. Critiques from Sahlins
who deems the concept as translating the apparently trivial into the fatefully political (Sahlins, 1993); from Ortner who describes resistance studies
as ethnographically thin on the internal politics, cultural richness and
subjectivities of subordinated groups (Ortner, 1995); and from Brown who
calls the paradigm a theoretical hegemony with limited utility, are pervasive in
the literature (Brown, 1996).
In this essay, I attempt to argue that many of the critiques which see the
nature of Scotts notion of resistance as a mechanical re-action against the
institutional authority without any revolutionary concern are somewhat
misguided. I suggest that the real problem haunting the paradigm is its
overemphasis on the actors experience of personal domination in dyadic
patron-client politics. Being deliberately bypassed is the experience of
impersonal domination when actors encounter local oppression. Here, impersonal domination refers to the (unequal) power relations originating from the
underlying episteme of society governed by values, traditions or the symbolic
universe.2 The impersonal dimension of domination points to the moment
when actors experience external constraints that go beyond face-to-face
relationships with their oppressors. It suggests that the exclusive concern of the
resistance/hegemony (R/H) paradigm on the personal, patron-client nature of
political experience has marginalized the experience of impersonal forms of
control mediated by pre-predicated values and ideas shared in the subordinate
community. Such a skewed view inevitably causes the paradigm to portray an
overly simplistic and untextured view of actors experiences of oppression. I
believe that it is this theoretical misstep that prevents one from grasping their
more complicated selves, and the complexity of the agency.
In the following, the general critiques of the R/H paradigm are outlined.
Then, the main problem and the underlying theoretical premise of the R/H
paradigm are examined. Finally, I will discuss my concern on the need to bring
back the impersonal element in when attempting to understand the political
experience.

General Critiques of the R/H Paradigm: Justified, or Misguided?


Although this essay does not aim to exhaust all attacks against the R/H
paradigm (Fletcher, 2001), three major lines of criticism are outlined because of
their relevance to my present concern. First, the highly mechanical view of
resistance. It has been said that the paradigm tends to reify the peasant culture
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as fatefully political (Sahlins, 1993) and pits the subordinate towards simply
opposing domination. Such a conception undesirably places the opportunity
for cooperation and reciprocity outside the resistancehegemony formula
(Brown, 1996; Kerkvliet, 2002). Consequently, resistance becomes a virtually
mechanical re-action (Ortner, 1995, pp. 176177).3
Second, there is the missing link with collective action. The paradigm has been
criticized because it ostensibly concedes from an important empirical domain
that people do occasionally possess high internal cohesion and feel the need to
act collectively for a wider social cause. For instance, Escobar criticized Scotts
paradigm for not pushing the question of resistance towards one of its possible
logical conclusions, namely, that point at which resistance gives way to more
organized forms of collective action or social movement (Escobar, 1992a,
p. 399; Escobar, 1992b; Starn, 1992, Ho, 2006). McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly
argued that Scotts concentration on individual resistance provided little
purchase on the question of when these low-level resentments would lead to
mobilization and collective action and when they would remain at the level of
individual resentment (McAdam et al, 1997) whereas Vandergeest remarked
that the paradigm failed to explicate a series of phenomena concerning why
people are willing to give up their lives for their nation (Vandergeest, 1993).
Third, there is the tendency toward psychologizing the concept of resistance.
Being usually relegated to a spectrum of trivialized reflexes in response to
oppression, resistance then becomes difficult to ascertain at the empirical level.
The difficulty rests upon the fact that resistance becomes a set of actions so
individualized to an extent that it seems to be recognizable only within the
subjectivity of the actor. For example, are the unlawful acts of the poor, which
involve only individualistic self interest (for example, burglars, pickpockets)
considered resistance? And, what about subordinates violent acts motivated
by the feeling of resentment toward vendettas (for example, killings, or
sabotage in cases of revenge) or subordinates counter-domination actions
provoked by solipsistic causes (for example, Don Quixotes attack on the
windmill)? Are these individualistic actions which are directed toward
superordinates considered resistance? Indeed, Scott himself was quickly aware
of this problem soon after the Weapons of the Weak was published. He then
further qualified his notion of resistance by asserting that at stake is the
intention that subordinates have in their act of resistance (Scott, 1985, p. 290;
Scott, 1986, p. 2). But this qualification only painted him to the corner as he
almost immediately admitted that assessing intention is difficult, and that it
had not been very successful in helping differentiate everyday resistance from
various survival methods (Scott, 1986, p. 2).
My reading of Scott takes on a slightly different approach from many critics.
I see that his notion of resistance is not purely a consequence of the power
relations created by class cleavages, and hence, cannot be simply re-action
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against oppression. In addition, despite the preoccupation of Scott as well as


many of his readers with the incidental acts that are individualistic, opportunistic, and without any revolutionary consequences, Scotts thesis has
never lost sight of the linkage to collective revolutionary action. In a belated
clarification, Scott admitted that his The Moral Economy of the Peasant
published in 1976 (Scott, 1976) had failed to take into account the peasant
culture and religion in the context of revolution, and such failure might issue a
distorted impression that the peasants resistance is merely a response against
local power and politics (Scott, 2005). Scott referred us back to his early
articles in Theory and Society published in 1977 called Protest and
Profanation: Agrarian Revolt and the Little Tradition (Scott, 1977a, b). It is
in this two-part article that he posited the concept of the little tradition (not
the oppressor) as the most important single factor which mediates resistance
and revolution when subordinates encounter local oppression.
By little tradition, Scott means the distinctive patterns of belief and
behavior which are valued by the peasantry of an agrarian society and
constitute a pattern of structural, stylistic, and normative opposition to the
politico-religious tradition of ruling elites (Scott, 1977a). To Scott, the main
reason that the political dimensions of the little tradition merits attention is
that class interests are not the sole elements that pit peasants against the ruling
elites. What is more important is that the little tradition being the shared
values and goals of the subordinates always contain the elements of radical
dissent which might find expression through rebellion. Since there is always an
imagined future in the little tradition that is frequently shaped by a religious
charter towards more far-reaching, revolutionary goals, under certain circumstances, this folk culture will form the ideational foundation for peasant
movements (Scott, 1977b). Relative to the meticulous discussion of peasants
resistance per se, the role of these folk values in mediating both resistance and
collective defiance was seldom elaborated by other scholars.4 But, taking a
closer look at the text, one can still identify in Weapons of the Weak the
importance of the little tradition in provoking various courses of political
action, including mass action; he wrote,
It is y no exaggeration to say that much of the folk culture of the
peasant little tradition amounts to a legitimation, or even a celebration,
of precisely the kinds of evasive and cunning forms of resistance I have
examined. [And,] y these [traditional] beliefs [also] triggered mass action
[and] had y all the marks of revolutionary crises. (Scott, 1985, pp. 300,
330, emphasis original)
Since oppression is necessarily experienced through the lens of the little
tradition, to Scott, there is no oppression which is in itself inevitable. It is
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inevitable only when it is perceived as such. His concept of perceived


inevitability is indeed an effective repudiation to the charges pointing at the
fatefully political nature of resistance and the lack of concern for sustained,
mass action in the paradigm. In fact, Sivaramakrishnan has rightly pointed
out that Scott has successfully distilled from notions of custom the
elements that endure in providing political energy to peasant aspirations
(Sivaramakrishnan, 2005, p. 349). Clearly indicated in Scotts paradigm is that
the radical aspect of the little tradition provides a cultural basis for movements
of political dissent.5

Inherent Problems in the R/H Paradigm


Then, what has really gone wrong in the R/H paradigm? My view is that it leaves
out or obscures the actors experience of impersonal domination which is also
vital when encountering local oppression. This missing part possesses a conspicuous association with Scotts early theoretical formulation of the patronclient tie, which constitutes the basis of the personal exchange in his subsequent
notion of resistance. For the patron-client relationship, he defined it as:
y a special case of dyadic (two person) ties involving a largely
instrumental friendship in which an individual of higher socioeconomic
status (patron) uses his own influence and resources to provide protection
or benefits, or both, for a person of lower status (clients) who, for his
part, reciprocates by offering general support and assistance, including
personal services, to the patron.
[And, the three] y distinguishing features of patron-client links [are] y
their basis in inequality, their face-to-face character, and their diffused
flexibility. y
[T]he third distinctive quality of patronclient ties, one that reflects the
affection involved, is that they are diffuse, whole-person relationships
rather than explicit, impersonal-contract bonds. (Scott, 1972, pp. 6667,
original emphases)
As suggested before, only in his Protest and Profanation that Scott thematizes
the little tradition an impersonal component as the most important single
factor that mediates the experience of the oppressed. However, his empirical
analyses in subsequent texts seem to suggest that once the little tradition is
taken by the actors and used to mobilize their social myths, their political
experience will become exclusively personal and only direct at real individuals
in face-to-face, patronclient situations. In other words, once the impersonal
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historical force makes the actors believe that the existing pattern of
exploitation and status degradation is not just material hardship but infers,
for example, a world turned upside down (Scott, 1985, p. 80) or a loss of
everyday social meaning (Scott, 1977b, p. 232), the actors will swiftly walk out
of the shadow of the little tradition, and only face dyadically with real
people. The oppressed are then engaged in the politics within (inter-)personal
bonds. In question then relates to my enemies, not the enemies. Consequently,
subordinates experience is totally stripped of the impersonal elements when
they are experiencing with superordinates. What I attempt to argue in the rest
of this essay is that this move is theoretically unwarranted.
In Domination and the Arts of Resistance published in 1990, Scott reiterated
this position lucidly. He addressed that his analysis was only concerned with
structures of personal domination, such as serfdom and slavery, and admitted
that it was exactly where he departed from Foucault whose preoccupation
was with the impersonal, scientific, disciplinary forms of the modern
state (Scott, 1990, p. 62, original emphases). I believe that Scotts attempt to
appropriate the construct of personal domination out of Foucaults corpus of
work is problematic. It is not just because Foucault endows primordiality to
the impersonal power-knowledge sovereignty in his own work.6 More
importantly, personal domination is exactly what Foucault overtly disclaims
as the defining feature of his power relation. He stated repeatedly and with
exceptional clarity that the power relation is neither a binary [i.e., dyadic]
structure with dominators on the one side and dominated on the other
(Foucault, 1980, p. 142), nor a political structure, a government, a dominant
social class, the master facing the slave, and so on.7 To overemphasize the
personalized forms of human experience of oppression in dyadic, face-to-face
situations would easily confine an actors resistance to a welter of personal
specific re-actions, susceptible to the influences of the fleeting psychological
statuses of particular individuals. However, it is only a restricted view on
the concept of resistance which once again diverges deeply from that of
Foucault.
Throughout his work, Foucault deems resistance simply as an irreducible
opposite to power, a natural consequence of disciplinary practices of power.8
His notion of resistance only represents a prototype of human agency in
response to the constraining system. Resistance is considered a fountain
of vastly multifarious courses of actions ranging from the possibility of
committing suicide, of jumping out of window or of killing the other; to that
of violent resistance, of escape, of ruse, of strategies; to that of a revolution
(Foucault, 1994, p. 18; Foucault, 1998, p. 96). Thus, put in Foucauldian terms,
resistance is an open concept as there is always a whole field of responses,
reactions, results, and possible inventions may open up [in any relation of
power] (Foucault, 1982, p. 220).
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Another problem inherent in the R/H paradigm, probably an even more


challenging one, is Scotts usage of the phrase direct experience. In portraying
political experience as exclusively personal, Scott lays stress on the concreteness
of the local social milieu within the horizon of the actors direct experience.
Initially, it seems wise that Scott conceives of a coupture between macro,
national ideologies/politics and local social milieu featuring little tradition
parochialism.9 But, it quickly becomes problematic to end his analysis solely on
the subordinates experience of the local domination as it is lived (Scott,
1985, p. 43), or as experienced (Scott, 1990, p. 21) within the interpersonal
relationship. His view is that any experience of the abstract values and
desiccated terminology of social science (for example, proletarianization,
differentiation, accumulation and marginalization) would be incompatible with
peasants lives in a world of diffuse whole-person relationships.10 He claims
that his gaze is only placed at the actors direct experience of domination in
the realm of personal engagements with either personal allies or enemies.
What is meant by direct experience? Scott admits only once that the
concept of direct experience is borrowed from Berger and Luckmanns classic
thesis The Social Construction of Reality.11 For Berger and Luckmann, whose
work drew on the social phenomenology of Alfred Schutz (1980[1932]), the
actors direct experience of another person refers to the face-to-face encounter
within which the two actors share with each other the same time (duree) and
space with the inter-corresponding streams of consciousness. Scott then states
that only in the time-space simultaneity shared by subordinates and the ruling
elite, that the former views the latter as enemies [who] are not impersonal
historical forces but real people (Scott, 1985, p. 348). To him, it is in this realm
that the oppressors are considered consociates (in Berger and Luckmanns
terminology) (Berger and Luckmann (1972[1966]) by the oppressed with
the highest sense of concreteness without considering the larger, abstract
(stereo-)types.
Obviously, Scott is totally unaware of the phenomenological conceptualization of subjective experience. In The Social Construction of Reality, the actors
orientation to the other in the world of consociates is characterized by a
taken-for-granted natural standpoint. In phenomenological terms, direct
experience refers to the unreflective routine dispositions of the actor who
naively takes the other (including the enemy) for granted in the natural
attitude. It is only when the actor experiences exploitation and comes to ask:
who is treating me shabbily?, or who is exploiting my family? that she/he
moves out of the temporal and spatial simultaneity with the other. She/he then
stops to reflect upon the experiences with the act of attention in the world of
contemporaries within which larger, abstract categories and types are usually
used. It means that in the phenomenological tradition when one is to
experience local oppression, she/he must abandon his/her direct experience
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with the other in the world of consociates. She/he must consciously adjust to
the emergent exigencies of changing situations within real-world circumstances
(that is, the world of contemporaries).12 In short, when Scott claims that he
can see subordinates directly experiencing and consciously directing their anger
onto their exploiters as enemies, as real people, he is making a paradoxical
phenomenological statement in a way similar to saying that he can see a circle
out of a square. This is because his usage of the notion of direct experience
has mistakenly conflated two highly distinctive categories (that is, the world of
consociates and the world of contemporaries) in social phenomenology.13
Therefore, I deem that Scotts attempt to dispel the impersonal elements from
the political experience through emphasizing the actors direct experience of
particular individuals is theoretically problematic.

The R/H Paradigm in a Broader Theoretical Context


The theoretical underpinning of the R/H paradigm, which emphasizes
individual motivations and strategic calculations being actively played out in
the face-to-face interpersonal relationships, is indeed typical of the approach of
rational-choice theorists. The rational-choice theory typically posits that all
social actions are predicated on self-conscious experience which helps
individuals define the situation and the strategic priority of actions (Bates,
1988; Levi, 1988; Coleman, 1990; Sil, 2000). To Emirbayer and Mische, the
R/H paradigm and its rational-choice component involves, what they call, the
practical-evaluative dimension of agency (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998,
pp. 10001001). Featuring in Scotts notion of resistance is the capacity of
actors to make practical judgments among alternative possible trajectories
of action in response to the emerging demands, dilemmas and ambiguities of
presently evolving oppressive situations (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998, p. 971).
Some rational-choice theorists, like Scott, also take into account the role of
value system (such as, the little tradition in Scotts case) in determining the
strategies for action (Elster, 1983; Taylor, 1983; Knight, 1992; Bates et al,
1998). However, as Sil points out that they do not view the dominating forces
emanating from the impersonal value systems as carrying equal epistemological significance y as y that of the instrumental action of rational
individuals (Sil, 2000, p. 358). Premised on this theorizing, the R/H paradigm
also entails an outlook on interpersonal relationship similar to Goffmans view
of the interaction order which is autonomous by nature, and can be
distinguished, both analytically and theoretically, from the larger impersonal
structures (Goffman, 1983, pp. 23).
Although the R/H paradigm is useful for understanding human
experience which requires active definition of situations with conscious and
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practical-evaluative actions, its exclusive emphasis on the interaction process


has abrogated all supra-interpersonal traces in human experience.14 Such a
theoretical move is akin to the relational perspective which seems to be
gaining popularity among sociologists (Emirbayer, 1997; Ewick and Silbey,
2003). The advocates erect an enduring polarization between the processual
and substantial views of structure. They claim that the former focuses on
dynamic interpersonal experiences of constraints and resources, whereas the
latter something impersonal leads one to see nothing but static things .15
However, my call for a more comprehensive framework for understanding
political experience rests on the presupposition that the experience of
domination (no matter whether its outcome is resistance, compliance,
collectivist spirit, or else) is predicated on the apprehension of both personal
and impersonal domination pertinent to the social structure.

Impersonal Domination Rekindled


In speaking of impersonal domination, I mean that political experience
necessarily involves something supra-interpersonal, something transcending the
self, and something beyond personal patron-client relationships. It is essentially
a call for incorporating in the R/H paradigm, what Emirbayer and Mische
coin, the iterational (or habitual) dimension of human agency. To them, the
iterational component of agency refers to:
y the selective reactivation by actors of past patterns of thought and
action, as routinely incorporated in practical activity, thereby giving
stability and order to social universes and helping to sustain identities,
interactions, and institutions over time. (Emirbayer and Mische, 1998,
p. 971)
In the literature, different social theorists have developed their own theories
that underscore the iterational dimension of agency. For instance, Pierre
Bourdieu emphasized the immanent harmonization, synchronization of the
agents experiences and the objective structures (Bourdieu, 1990). Anthony
Giddens argued for the duality of structure such that man actively shapes
the world he lives in at the same time as it shapes him (Giddens, 1982, p. 21).
To relate it to the empirical analyses of political experience, Sherry Ortner
lays stress on the internalization/reproduction, constitution and improvisation of structure through embodied resistive practice (Ortner, 1989). In
another study, Jean Comaroff suggests that the [resistive] movement was an
integral part of the culture of the wider social community, drawing upon
a common stock of symbols, commenting upon relations of inequalityy, and
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communicating its message of defiance [unconsciously] beyond its own limited


confines (Comaroff, 1985, p. 262).
Not withstanding the critiques of these theories,16 I suggest that to speak of
experience of something other than the self (or the alter ego) points to a timehonored doubt in social theory, which can be dated back, at least, to the
late Emile Durkheim. In one of his last papers entitled The Dualism of
Human Nature and its Social Conductions, Durkheim stated succinctly his
double-centered-gravity thesis of human experience; he wrote,
Our inner life has something that is like a double center of gravity. On the
one hand is our individuality and, more particularly, our body in which
it is based; on the other is everything in us that expresses something other
than ourselves. (Durkheim, 1960, p. 328)
Apparently, to Durkheim, the self could be neither completely other than itself,
nor entirely and exclusively of itself.17 The reason is that in order to think, he
wrote, we must have something [other than ourselves] to think about
(Durkheim, 1960, p. 328). But, what is this something other than ourselves?
Durkheim held that it is [s]omething else in us besides ourselves [that]
stimulates us to act (Durkheim, 1960, p. 328, emphasis added). In other words,
it is something within our subjective experience but not originating from or
belonging to the subjectivity. Unfortunately, the ontological status Durkheim
assigned to this something was ambiguous as he seemed to be ambivalent
about whether it was the result of a collective elaboration among human
beings, or was something impersonal beyond the reach of human interaction
(Durkheim, 1960, p. 327).18
To relate the above reflections to the R/H paradigm, if subordinates, to
follow Scotts description, understand the larger realities of capital accumulation, proletarianization and marginalization, these rationales are by no means
derived from the subjectivities of the subordinates. Therefore, their subsequent
actions directed at the concomitant changes in social structure either do these
actions involve resistance, compliance, collectivist spirit, or else must involve,
at least, momentarily, the experience of something other than the selves, or
something of an impersonal cause which is larger than the narrow interests
of the individual. The presence of the impersonal cause implies that there
is always a shared, supra-interpersonal basis underlying various courses
of actions when facing local oppression. Thus, I argue that no matter how
surreptitious, personal or individualistic resistance appears, the presence of the
impersonal cause always assumes that other actors in similar situations would
experience similar structural constraints. They are likely to measure the
domination subjectively by similar moral yardsticks and enact similar courses
of actions (to resist being one of the options for action). The role of the shared,
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impersonal cause that mediates resistance helps demarcate it from previously


mentioned instances of pseudo-resistances, such as burglary and killing,
which are solely based on narrow individual interests. In addition, in reality,
the awareness of the impersonal dimension of domination that transcends
individual motives may not involve a high level of consciousness with
desiccated social scientific terms. Rather, subordinates usually understand
it in a fragmented and contradictory manner which still makes Gramscis
quandary of how to transform sporadic resistance into a revolution
irresolvable.
To bring the experience of impersonal domination back in the R/H paradigm
does not mean that personal domination is absent in the experience of the
oppressed. What I suggest is that the experience of the impersonal force derived
from values, tradition and the symbolic universe is also vital in understanding
local politics. In fact, Kerkvliet has already hinted at the same point when he
suggests that one should move beyond the patron-client, fractional framework
implied in the R/H paradigm. Kerkvliet stated in the context of Philippine
politics that,
[a]ccording to the pcf [patron-client, fraction] framework, the underlying
values and ideas in Philippine politics are largely if not exclusively in the
realm of personal attachments and animosities, personal allies and
enemies, personal interests and those individuals with whom one has
a personal relationship. y [T]he framework leaves little or no room for
other values and ideas, other bases for cleavage and struggle, other
grounds for organization and cooperating. (Kerkvliet, 1995, pp. 403404)
Kerkvliet argued that it is not only personal and familial loyalties but also the
experience of capitalism, Marxism, democratic values and liberation theology
that are important in constituting moral appeals to peoples desire to revolt in
the face of oppression.
Another attempt to move beyond the experience of face-to-face, patron
client domination is my study of the rise of a collective spirit in a community in
Shanghai during the 1960s1970s (Ho, 2006). On the surface, informants
attributed their fervent participation in socialist mass campaigns to the face-toface persuasions of the old mothers (state representatives in the community).
However, further research suggests that underlying the dyadic, old-mother
versus the resident form of patron-client relationship is the influence of the
traditional Chinese ethics of reciprocity. Therefore, apart from the face-to-face
domination of the state representative, the massive compliances of and
individual resistances against the state orders were mediated by the impersonal
Confucian moral values that were woven into the fabric of the residents
political experience.19
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Concluding Remarks
The ubiquitous presence of Scotts concept of resistance in social science
research has confirmed the importance of the R/H paradigm. However, my
view is that the R/H paradigm has unwarrantedly taken for granted the
existence of an impersonal element in the actors experience in facing
oppression. This impersonal dimension of political experience can take the
forms of values, traditions or the symbolic universe which is understood and
shared across contexts for particular groups of actors in particular situations. I
contend that the political experience is overwhelmingly characterized by the
dimension of personal rule owing to Scotts two-fold problematic appropriation of Foucault and phenomenology, as well as his theoretical predilection for
a rational-choice theory of social action. To strip the political experience of its
impersonal flavor, one consequence is that the R/H paradigm has the meaning
of resistance within the confines of individualistic, subdued and unobtrusive
discontent. By only attending to a particular experience bound within (inter-)
personal ties, the paradigm has aroused criticism for its inability to grasp the
complexity of human agency and the experience of domination.
However, one should remember that the way the impersonal dimension of
experience manifests itself to actors does not simply mean that social values, such
as religious ideals and traditional moral yardsticks, play an important part in
guiding various courses of action. Indeed, considerable ethnographic effort have
already been put into showing that religious values, traditional beliefs and
practices, and indigenous political ideology may constitute vital and relatively
autonomous forces that explain and justify resistance and revolt on the part
of subordinates.20 The key issue that this essay attempts to bring up is to
(re-)introduce the impersonal dimension into the empirical investigation of
subjective experience in the field of power and politics. It implies that actors
derive subjective experience from encountering the impersonal objective reality
not as static things but as something extended beyond their immediate here
and now, something of the transcendence but it is experientially real and comes
to bind them and guide their action. Rather than a reified entity that reduces the
complexity of human ingenuity to a limited set of antinomic forces between
subordinates and super ordinates, the domination emanated from the pertinent
objective structures constitutes the more or less open field of possibilities in
which the actors cannot have complete control of its consequences.

Notes
1 Fifty-nine items were found in a search conducted on 5 August 2008. For those wanting
to understand the early theoretical formulation of the resistance/hegemony paradigm, Scott
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4
5

8
9

(1972) is an essential reference. For those who first touch on resistance studies, Susan
Seymour (2006) offers an instructive and most recent bibliography relevant to political
anthropologists.
The term episteme is Foucauldian. The terms features Foucaults much debated account of
power such that discursive formations, that is, the structures of epistemes (knowledge), both
constitute and exert power over social objects, including human bodies.
However, it should be noted that scholars did make attempts to repair such a (Mertonian)
ritualistic view on resistance. For instance, Ortner (1995) argued for a more comprehensive
framework as to look also into the cooperation and reciprocity manifested by subordinates.
Brown (1996, p. 731) suggests that subordinates who inserted themselves into this conflict were
not only responding to external challenge but also advancing their own vision of existential
redefinition or transcendence. Kerkvliet (2002) observed that everyday politics featured
cooperation and conflict among people in different classes and statuses; and proposed to delve
into the contending moral values that constituted a significant, and relatively autonomous,
motivational force behind their resistive actions.
Two notable exceptions are Skrimshire (2006) and Sivaramakrishnan (2005).
Although Escobar is one of the representative figures who criticizes the resistance/hegemony
paradigm as having no concern with collective action, his notion of submerged network of
meanings in mediating collective movements I suggest has strong resemblance to Scotts
little tradition. Escobar suggested that in engaging in collective action, people do not mimic
dominant ideological models, such as those derived directly from the Marxist cannon, but
appropriate them and remodel them into their own distinctive system. He suggested that
collective identities are constructed through processes of articulation that start out of a
submerged network of meanings, proceed through cultural innovation in the domain of
everyday life, and may result in visible and sizable forms collective action for the control of
historicity Escobar, 1992a, pp. 395432).
In Foucaults work, there is an organic linkage between the impersonal power-knowledge
sovereignty in Foucaults work set out to examine in The Other of Things and The
Archaeology of Knowledge, and the personal domination in his later Discipline and Punish.
Although the former outlines the historical a priori (that is, the episteme) that
grounds knowledge and its discourses within a particular epoch, the latter substantiates
the rules as derived from the a priori conditions of possibility by the minutiae of various
corporeal rituals of bodily discipline. Here, I generally concur with Smart regarding
the logical sequence between The Order of Things and Discipline and Punish; he remarks:
Only after having attempted to reveal the epistemological configuration on which the human
sciences depend for their possible does Foucault proceed, in Discipline and Punish
and subsequent works, to a discussion of the disciplinary methods, the technology
of power, and the administrative extraction of knowledge, which provided the extra- or
non-discursive conditions of possibility for the human sciences (Smart, 1982, p. 125); see also
Hook (2001).
Michel Foucault (1994, p. 11). Another highly relevant, but longer quote from Foucault which
points to the impersonality of domination is that power is not something that is acquired,
seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away y [And,] neither the
caste which governs nor the groups which control the state apparatus nor those who make the
most important economic decisions direct the entire network of power that functions in a
society (Foucault, 1998).
Speaking of resistance, he puts: We all fight each other. And, there is always within each of us
something that fights something else (Foucault, 1980, p. 208).
To Scott it was the local social structure which was decisive, not the national parties and what
they stood for (1977b, 220221).
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10 The reason is that peasants (unlike urbanites) know the biography, family and peculiarities of
other people well within the community (Scott, 1977b, p. 219).
11 It is interesting to note that Scott seems to have quoted Berger and Luckmann only once when
illustrating his use of the concept of experience in Protest and Profanation though his stresses
on direct experience and concrete experience resonate in Weapons of the Weak and later
Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Another thing is that Scotts reference to Berger and
Luckmann in the endnote is problematic as I see no clear relation between the pages (pp. 2834,
with two pages being blank) Scott quoted and what had been discussed in the main text. See
Scott (1977b, p. 243).
12 The explication here is based on the premises that exploitation by nature invokes ones
conscious act of attention, and that resistance involves the practical-evaluative dimension of
agency, which inflects conscious and explicit actions. The latter premise is in line with the
categorization of Mustafa Emirbayer and Ann Mische (1998, p. 1001). However, one should be
reminded that this categorization is opposite to the view of Gramsci who regarded resistance as
largely passive, and took it to contrast with agency (1971, p. 337). According to Kaplan and
Kelly, [to Gramsci,] resistance itself is largely unconscious activity, and revolution is only
possible through active agency (Kaplan and Kelly, 1994, p. 126).
13 It should be noted that Scott does not shy away from calling his approach phenomenological;
for example, see Scott (1985, p. 42).
14 It should be noted that this theoretical move is also similar to the poststructuralist,
deconstructive treatments to reject claims about the capacity of discourse to objectively
represent extra-linguistic realities. For example, an extreme postmodernist like Baudrillard
argues to explain away reality in terms of signs and images, or in what he calls the contingent
play of simulacra (Baudrillard, 1983).
15 Emirbayer writes in his seminal article Manifesto for a Relational Sociology that, Sociologists
today are faced with a fundamental dilemma: whether to conceive of the social world as
consisting primarily in substances or in processes, in static things or in dynamic, unfolding
relations (Emirbayer, 1997, p. 281).
16 For example, see Hannerz (1992, pp. 275276), Certeau (1984, p. 58), Mouzelis (1995,
pp. 118221), Emirbayer and Mische (1998, p. 983), and Farnell (2000, pp. 397418).
17 In the quote, subjectivity could never be nullified by collective representations as Durkheims
earlier work seemed to be suggesting. As a matter of fact, scholars now commonly recognize
two Durkheims in his writing. See Rawls (1996), Janssen and Verheggen (1997), Stone and
Farberman (1967).
18 In fact, such theoretical ambivalence remains unraveled in the theories of Durkheims
intellectual posterity. For example, Parsons had a formulation of social structure very close to
late Durkheim such that social structures are essentially interconnected institutional subsystems
comprising sets of activities and their underlying values and normative supports. These
normative elements, stressed Parsons, can be conceived of as existing [real] only in the mind of
the actor (Parsons, 1937, p. 733). But, like Durkhiem, he did not pursue further to discern the
ontological status of these normative elements which are essentially something other than the
actor.
19 For a theoretical exposition of my usage of the traditional Confucian value as an impersonal
component of human experience, see Ho (2008).
20 As mentioned in passing, Scott himself can be classified as an advocate for this view. Skrimshire
(2006, p. 208) has rightly pinpointed that in Scotts paradigm, the imaginations of a world
turned upside down performed in rituals such as the Carnival in the Catholic tradition or the
Saturnalia in classic Rome has continually provided the ideological motivation for revolt. Other
proponents for this view include Peel (1983), Comaroff (1985), Laitin (1986), Ong (1987), and
Owusu (1989).
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