Revisiting Scott’s (1985) Weapons of the Weak

On 'weapons of the weak':

  • "Here I have in mind the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage and so forth. These Brechtian forms of class struggle have certain features in common. They require little or no coordination or planning; they often represent a form of individual self-help; and they typically avoid any direct confrontation with authority or with elite norms…" (p. 30)
  • "It would be a grave mistake, as it is with peasant revolutions, to overly romanticize the "weapons of the weak." They are unlikely to do more than marginally affect various forms of exploitation that peasants confront. Furthermore, the peasantry has no monopoly on these weapons, as anyone can easily attest who has observed officials and landlords resisting and disrupting state policies that are to their disadvantage." (p. 30-31)
  • "Everyday forms of resistance make no headlines. Just as millions of anthozoan polyps create, willy-nilly, a coral reef, so do thousands of upon thousands of individual acts of insubordination and evasion create a political or economic barrier reef of their own." (p. 36)

On capitalism and community:

  • "Double-cropping and mechanization in Sedaka have presented rich peasants and landlords with a host of unprecedented new opportunities for profit. These opportunities have, with few exceptions, been eagerly seized. To exploit these new chances for capital accumulation, however, large farmers and landlords have stripped away many of the economic and social ties that previously bound them to poorer villagers. They have had to hire machines in place of village laborers, raise rents, dismiss tenants, and cut back their ceremonial and charitable obligations within the community." (p. 184)

On the creation of customs:

  • "It is not that their memory is faulty. The older customs and practices to which they point did exist and worked to their advantage. Their memory is, however, quite selective. It focuses precisely on those beneficial aspects of tenure and labor relations that have been eroded or swept away over the last ten years… There is no doubt, for example, that the losses suffered by Sedaka's poor in the last few years have inspired them to cast a new a sympathetic eye on older arrangements. Ten years ago these arrangements would not, in all probability, have elicited such praise; they were then part of the taken-for-granted practices that had governed rice production for some time. It is only against the backdrop of the new threats posed by double-cropping that such routines have been elevated to the status of revered customs, rights and entitlements. It is only now that the revalued past has become necessary to assess a menacing present." (p. 179)

On the revolution:

  • "The reader will detect, correctly, a certain pessimism about the prospects for revolutionary change that will systematically and reliably respect the insistence on small decencies that are at the core of peasant or working-class consciousness. If the revolution cannot even delivery the petty amenities and minor humanities that animate the struggle of its subjects, then there is not much to be said for whatever else is may accomplish. This pessimism is, alas, not so much a prejudice as, I think, a realistic assessment of the fate of workers and peasants in most revolutionary states – a fate that makes melancholy reading when set against the revolutionary promise. If revolution were a rare event before the creation of such states, it now seems all but foreclosed. All the more reason, then, to respect, if not celebrate, the weapons of the weak. All the more reason to see in the tenacity of self-preservation – in ridicule, in truculence, in irony, in petty acts of noncompliance, in foot dragging, in dissimulation, in resistant mutuality, in the disbelief in elite homilies, in the steady, grinding efforts to hold one's own against overwhelming odds – a spirit and practice that prevents the worst and promises something better." (p. 350)
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