Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance

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Yale University Press, 2008 - SOCIAL SCIENCE - 389 pages
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Weapons of the Weak is an ethnography by James C. Scott that studies the effects of the Green Revolution in rural Malaysia. One of the main objectives of the study is to make an argument that the Marxian and Gramscian ideas of false consciousness and hegemony are incorrect. He develops this conclusion throughout the book, through the different scenarios and characters that come up during his time of fieldwork in the village. This publication, based on 2 years of fieldwork (1978-1980), focuses on the local class relations in a small rice farming community of 70 households in the main paddy-growing area of Kedah in Malaysia. Introduction of the Green Revolution in 1976 eliminated 2/3 of the wage-earning opportunities for smallholders and landless laborers. The main ensuing class struggle is analyzed being the ideological struggle in the village and the practice of resistance itself consisting of: foot-dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance and sabotage acts. Rich and poor are engaged in an unremitting if silent struggle to define changes in land tenure, mechanization and employment to advance their own interests, and to use values that they share to control the distribution of status, land, work and grain.

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Scott spent two years (p. xvii) in (fictionally named),Sedaka, Malaysia collecting empirical evidence of “everyday forms of peasant resistance” for this book where their forms of opposition remained characteristically and deliberately subtle, non-confrontational and anonymous.He presents many reasons why protests had not drastically escalated while strongly rejecting the notions of “mystification” and “false consciousness“. The peasants to him are no “sacks of potatoes” indeed but capable of recognizing their own disadvantaged position and consciously reacting to it accordingly through their “everyday forms of resistance”. The collaborative contributions of opinions and voices of the peasants presented in this book is precious. These peasants do not experience monopoly capitalism in great extent, but readers will have to decide for themselves if the Sedaka natives can really be seen as “rebels”, even though no blatant, open revolt has occurred. Much of Scott’s sources for this book consist of interviews, including gossip, jokes, name-calling, etc. in the vernacular but he writes them coherently (either between or within the classes, thus not producing a messy “web” of varied accounts). Furthermore, their contributors do not remain anonymous. He identifies most of the locals he interacted with (pp. 92-94), and this helps to a certain extent, reduce questions of authenticity and unreliability in the remarks, opinions and grievances that he had quoted in the book. In a way, Scott can be seen as the “champion” of the voiceless peasants, and as a political scientist, he has gutsily gone against dominant and revered classic models and theories While discussing this book, it is very hard not to mention his previous book, The Moral Economy of the Peasant of which claims can be made that this book was written to empirically justify and support the claims he made in it. At first glance it can be easily wondered if its contents are just “The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Part 2”. Some segments are actually quite repetitive. Scott manages to illustrate Sedaka’s genuine sense of community and his “undetached” treatment of his respondents is praiseworthy. They were not (scholarly) presented as subjects (or objects), but as individuals with important and meaningful views and concerns. They were just not part of a bigger mass-mobilized violence, thus their grievances were effectively watered down and neglected though other forms of resistance do exist and persist. 

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A great work on ethnographic research and applied politics focusing on SE Asia.


1 Small Arms Fire in the Class War
2 Normal Exploitation Normal Resistance
3 The Landscape of Resistance
4 Sedaka 19671979
5 History according to Winners and Losers
Photographs following page 162
Ideology at Work
Cautious Resistance and Calculated Conformity
Everyday Forms of Ideological Struggle

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