Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance

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Yale University Press, 2008 - Business & Economics - 389 pages
3 Reviews
This sensitive picture of the constant and circumspect struggle waged by peasants materially and ideologically against their oppressors shows that techniques of evasion and resistance may represent the most significant and effective means of class struggle in the long run.
-A major contribution to peasant studies, Malaysian studies, and the literature on revolutions and class consciousness.---Benedict R. Anderson, Cornell University
-The book is a splendid achievement. Because Scott listens closely to the villagers of Malaysia, he enormously expands our understanding of popular ideology and therefore of popular politics. And because he is also a brilliant analyst, he draws upon this concrete experience to develop a new critique of classical theories of ideology.--Frances Fox Piven, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
-An impressive work which may well become a classic.--Terence J. Byres, Times Literary Supplement
-A highly readable, contextually sensitive, theoretically astute ethnography of a moral system in change.... Weapons of the Weak is a brilliant book, combining a sure feel for the subjective side of struggle with a deft handling of economic and political trends.--John R. Bown, Journal of Peasant Studies
-A splendid book, a worthy addition to the classic studies of Malay society and of the peasantry at large.... Combines the readability of Akenfield or Pig Earth with an accessible and illuminating theoretical commentary.--A.F. Robertson, Times Higher Education Supplement
-No one who wants to understand peasant society, in or out of Southeast Asia, or theories of change, should fail to read [this book].--Daniel S. Lev, Journal of Asian Studies
-A moving account of the poor's refusal to accept the terms of their subordination.... Disposes of the belief that theoretical sophistication and intelligible prose are somehow at odds.--Ramachandra Guha, Economic and Political Weekly
-A seminally important commentary on the state of peasant studies and the global literature.... This enormously rich work in Asian and comparative studies is... an essential contribution to participatory development theory and practice.--Guy Gran, World Development
James C. Scott is professor of political science at Yale University.

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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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