Simplistic notions of Domination and Resistance: Polarized Dualities
When we examine the relations between those in power and those who are subordinate, a typical way of framing these relationships is as a duality. On one hand, those in power are ruling using various power bases such as force, coercion, and/or charisma. The impact of these power bases keeps people passive. In fact, some claim that that powerless people come to agree they deserve to be in the position they are in. At the other extreme are open insurrections where the powerless temporarily rebel or even enact a revolution to overthrow those in power. The problem is that there are no in-between stages or a spectrum between pure submission on the one hand and revolution on the other.
From force to coercion
The ultimate basis of domination in complex state societies is force. However, the use of constant force only works in times of conquest or open rebellions. When domination acquires a kind of social continuity, other forms of dominance are set in motion. James C. Scott, in his book Domination and the Arts of Resistance, uses his experience as a sheep herder to compare the situation of sheep penned in by an electric fence with the dominant relations in human society.
If sheep are pastured in a field surrounded by a powerful electric fence, they will at first blunder into it and experience the painful shock. Once conditioned to the fence, the sheep will graze at a respectful distance. Occasionally, after working on the fence, I have forgotten to switch on the power again for days at a time, during which the sheep continue to avoid it. The fence continues to have the same associations for them despite the fact that the invisible power has been cut. (48)
In human affairs, this captures the movement from the use of force to coercion or the threat of force. However, the analogy breaks down when we compare the difference between the motivations and actions of sheep and humans.
With sheep we may only assume a constant desire to get to the pasture beyond the fence - it is generally greener on the other side of the fence since they will have grazed everything on their side. With tenants or sharecroppers, we may assume both a constant testing through poaching, pilfering... and a cultural capacity for collective anger and revenge. The point is that the symbols of power, provided that their potency was once experienced, may continue to exert influence after they may have lost most or all of their effective power. (48)
The problem with social scientific understandings of power dynamics is that there is not much explanation of what is in between submission and revolution . But James C. Scott argues that rarely can we see a case where an individual slave, untouchable, or serf is being either entirely submissive or entirely insubordinate. In between submission/acceptance and open revolution there are other states of power.
Barrington Moore widens the spectrum between complete submission and revolution by arguing there are two other grades of resistance before the third stage of revolution:
- lower classes criticize some of the dominant stratum for having violated the norms by which they claim to rule;
- the lower classes accuse the entire stratum of failing to observe the principles of its rule;
- the lower classes repudiate the very principles by which the dominant stratum justifies its dominance. This would be to identify with alternatives to the dominant system.
Scott argues that the historical evidence clearly shows that subordinate groups have been capable of revolutionary thought that repudiates existing forms of domination. However, subordinate groups are not born with revolutionary consciousness. They prefer squatting to a defiant land invasion. They prefer evasion of taxes to a tax riot. They would prefer poaching or pilfering to direct appropriation. It is only when these behind-the-scenes measures fail that they might be open to more drastic measures. Scott argues that there is a whole spectrum of resistance that occurs before even the first of Moore's three gradients, as we shall see shortly.
My presentation of Scott's work has five parts. In this introductory section, I will discuss three theories of submission, "thick", "thin" and "paper thin" states of submission. Then I will probe into Scott's three dimensions of submission including material, status and ideological dimensions. In the second section I will cover what Scott calls the "public transcript" that is dominated by elites. These forms include things like parades and coronations and control of language. There are also forms of resistance such as the gathering of crowds and how terrifying they were to elites because they were public gatherings of subordinates without authorization. Interpersonal forms of resistance include mocking body language and verbal language including voice intonation and sarcasm. This will conclude Part I of this article.
In Part II I describe Scott's notion of the hidden transcript. Hidden transcripts require secret social sites in which to discuss, rehearse and resist elites. Elites attempt to minimize this hidden transcript by taking away social sites and attempting to atomize individuals. In the second section of Part II, I discuss two forms of resistance that come out of the hidden transcript. One is social-psychological strategies and the other is the cultural strategies of resistance. In the last section of Part II, I describe Scott's analysis of how the process of resistance turns into open insubordination. This is the electrifying time when the hidden transcript goes public. The general movement of both articles goes from the public transcript controlled by elites, to hidden transcripts controlled by subordinates to a return to the public transcript, this time controlled by subordinates who are now becoming insubordinate.
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