The Arts of Resistance

James C. Scott wrote "Weapons of the Weak" (1985) and "Seeing like a State" (1998), which have been widely influential (cited over 10,000 times each), and each are covered in earlier posts. Scott's 1990 book "Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts" has similar been widely read and referenced (also over 10,000 citations) and is an important read for those interested in gaining insight into how power is expressed and challenged. In it, Scott aims to "suggest how we might more successfully read, interpret, and understand the often fugitive political conduct of subordinate groups" (p. xii). For this, he argues, "the notion of the hidden transcripts helps us understand these rare moments of political electricity when, often for the first time in memory, the hidden transcript is spoken directly and publicly in the teeth of power" (p. xiii).

Unlike the author's more ethnographic work, this book jumps around and pulls examples from different time periods and locations to explore different aspects of this 'hidden transcript.' Scott focuses attention on examples wherein there is great disparity between dominant and subordinate groups, as in these instances "the public transcript of subordinates will take on a more stereotyped, ritualistic cast. In other words, the more menacing the power, the thicker the mask." (p. 3).

The 'hidden transcript' is hidden because it is almost always not recoded in the 'public transcript', but occurs outside of the view of the official (or when within view goes unrecorded). "The social sites of the hidden transcripts are those locations in which the unspoken riposte, stifled anger, and bitten tongues created by relations of domination find vehement, full-throated expression. It follows that the hidden transcript will be least inhibited when two conditions are fulfilled: first, when it is voiced in a sequestered social site where the control, surveillance, and repression of the dominant are least able to reach, and second, when this sequestered social milieu is composed entirely of close confidants who share similar experiences of domination" (p. 120).

Readers might wonder why all this matters – Scott argues that the "undeclared ideological guerrilla war that rages in this political space requires that we enter the world of rumor, gossip, disguises, linguistic tricks, metaphors, euphemisms, folktales, ritual gestures, anonymity. For good reason, nothing is entirely straightforward here; the realities of power for subordinate groups mean that much of their political action requires interpretation precisely because it is intended to by cryptic and opaque" (p. 137). He explains that the term infrapolitics "seems an appropriate shorthand to convey the idea that we are dealing with an unobtrusive realm of political struggle. For a social science attuned to the relatively open politics of liberal democracies and the loud, headline-grabbing protests, demonstrations, and rebellions, the circumspect struggle waged daily by subordinate groups is, like infrared rays, beyond the visible end of the spectrum. That is should be visible, as we have seen, is in large part by design – a tactical choice born of a prudent awareness of the balance of power" (p. 183).

To be clear, the author emphasizes that infrapolitics "is, to be sure, real politics. In many respects it is conducted in more earnest, for higher stakes, and against greater odds than political life in liberal democracies. Real ground is lost and gained. Armies are undone and revolutions facilitated by the desertions of infrapolitics. De facto property rights are established and challenged. States confront fiscal crises or crises of appropriation when the cumulative petty stratagems of its subjects deny them labor and taxes. Resistant subcultures of dignity and vengeful dreams are created and nurtured. Counterhegemonic discourse is elaborated. Thus infrapolitics is, as emphasized earlier, always pressing, testing, probing the boundaries of the permissible" (p. 200).

Neglecting to study this important form of politics, can limit the vision of researchers – consider the Arab Spring: "Social scientists, not to mention ruling elites, are often taken surprise by the rapidity with which an apparently deferential, quiescent, and loyal subordinate group is catapulted into mass defiance. That ruling elites should be taken unaware by social eruptions of this kind is due, in part, to the fact that they have been lulled into a false sense of security by the normal posing of the powerless. Neither social scientists nor ruling elites, moreover, are likely to fully appreciate the incitement a successful act of defiance may represent for the subordinate group, precisely because they are unlikely to be much aware of the hidden transcript from which it derives much of its energy" (p. 224). A small spark may ignite a forest fire: "When the first declaration of the hidden transcript succeeds, its mobilizing capacity as a symbolic act is potentially awesome… That first declaration speaks for the trolled, choked back, stifled, and suppressed. If the results seem like moment of madness, if the politics they engender is tumultuous, frenetic, delirious, and occasionally violent, that is perhaps because the powerless are so rarely on the public stage and have so much to say and do when they finally arrive." (p. 227)

Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism

Notes from Lenin's (1916) book "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism":

  • "Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental attributes of capitalism in general. But capitalism only became imperialism at a definite and very high stage of its development… Economically, the main thing in this process is the substitution of capitalist monopolies for capitalist free competition. Free competition is the fundamental attribute of capitalism, and of commodity production generally. Monopoly is exactly the opposite of free competition; but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our very eyes, creating large-scale industry and eliminating small industry, replacing large-scale industry by still larger-scale industry, and finally leading to such a concentration of production and capital that monopoly has been and is the result" (p. 88)
  • "uneven development and wretched conditions of the masses are fundamental and inevitable conditions and premises of this mode of production. As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will never be utilized for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists" (p. 63)

Famine in Ethiopia (1958-1977)

One of the earliest comprehensive works on famine in Ethiopia was "Rural Vulnerability to Famine in Ethiopia, 1958-1977", written by Mesfin Wolde Mariam (published 1986). The author is noteworthy for a career advocating for human rights, for which he was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, and also for which he was imprisoned by the Government of Ethiopia in 2005. While his life is worthy of many more words, in what follows, I focus on his book on famine:

The author shifts attention away from environmental conditions, and toward two others: the mode of production (subsistence agriculture) and oppression along with exploitation.

  • Mode of production: "If we accept the fact that, in general, subsistence producers are essentially and almost exclusively engaged in producing for themselves and their families on a harvest-to-harvest basis without any reserves of food or cash to carry them over a critical period, then we have recognized a system that is falsely self-sufficient and unreasonably reliant on the capricious physical conditions of the environment and the exploitative socio-economic organization of the society. It is precisely the false self-sufficiency and the groundless reliance on the physical conditions, and the persistent exploitation, that render subsistence production basically vulnerable to famine" (p. 24).
  • Exploitation and oppression: "We are now, it seems [following an analysis of the findings], on much better ground to emphasize that the subsistence production system is the root of the famine, and that the persistent oppressions and exploitations of peasants by socio-economic and political forces rather than occasional aberrations of the natural forces are the decisive factors of vulnerability to famine" (p. 173). When "peasants are forced to pay taxes even when their gross production is insufficient to meet their subsistence requirements, taxation turns into a brutal form of legalized exploitation" (p. 186), for which, Wolde Mariam notes, they benefit nothing.

Wolde Mariam also refutes commonly argued causes of famine, including one that places significant blame on colonialism. While accepting the disasters colonialism wrought, the exploitation it created and the harm caused, he also believes such an argument implies the "peoples and governments of the Third World are mere objects that cannot be called upon to account for their own ills. They are only there to be manipulated by this or that master mind. Such implicitly condescending arguments are extremely dangerous, dangerous because they incapacitate the peoples, especially the ruling elite of the Third World, from accepting the responsibility for their own condition, and for their own actions and inactions" (p. 132).

Given the book was written in 1986, there are a number of quotable points Mesfin Wolde Mariam makes:

  • "The slow and grinding action of famine which perhaps originates in one poor harvest starts a process that reduces the harvest of subsequent years. Famine prolongs and intensifies famine" (p. 63).
  • "Bureaucratic capitalism in its primitive form and most ruthless form becomes the instrument of oppression and exploitation, especially of the disorganized and weakest majority of the population" (p. 16)
  • "The undue idealization of the small peasant plots is a retrogressive view comparable to the well-known anthropologists' appeal 'to leave the native alone'… It is idle to believe that agricultural development can take place on miniscule farms where the majority of the population would remain permanently tied to the land" (p. 136-137).

Wolde Mariam draws on Tawney's description of the peasant situation, similar to a person standing permanently up to the neck in water, where ripples can be disastrous. And, yet, no "matter how strongly the peasants feel the injustice, the oppression, and the exploitation, as realists they find it better to rely on their commonsense and almost inexhaustible patience than on rebellion, which, even it is materializes, will almost certainly fail to achieve any purpose" (p. 18). For the solutions, or recommendations for reducing vulnerability to famine, Wolde Mariam suggests:

  • Social services: "We can also state more emphatically the urgent need for a development policy that is committed to welfare of the masses of Ethiopian peasants" (p. 173).
  • Participation: "by allowing the peasant masses to articulate their own problems and priorities, and by restoring to them their self-confidence and self-respect in order to mobilize their energy and resources to improve their own conditions of living" (p. 179). "It is idle to expect the rural people of Ethiopian to cooperate whole-heartedly in a plan or project that they rightly or wrongly believe is outside the realm of their pressing needs. In such instances, they can only become passive spectators, or, at the most, reluctant participants that will forget the whole thing as soon as the pressure it off them. This is why it is necessary for the new administrators to work with the people by allowing them a large measure of involvement in identifying problems, in setting priorities, in allocating resources, and in deciding the course of action" (p. 185).
  • Access to information: "There is no doubt that the detail and accuracy as well as the speed and efficiency of processing and transmitting information are crucial, particularly in an impending famine situation" (p. 104). However, the problem "is not only the lack of data at a lower level of aggregation, there is also the problem of access to available information. Individuals or institutions that wish to do research are constricted by the problem of the quantity and quality of data they have to use" (p. 181).
  • Control and regulation: "by tightly controlling the governmental and market forces through a responsible and responsive administrative structure in which the peasants should actively and decisively participate" (p. 179)
  • Caution with foreign aid: "It is important to bear in mind that foreign aid, as such, is not inconsequential. What makes it inconsequential, or even harmful, is the inability of the recipients to determine their own needs and priorities, and to insist on aid for specific purposes, on one hand, and the desire of the donors to create new needs and to strengthen the dependence of the recipients on them, on the other. It is the fact that most foreign aid is determined not by the needs of the recipient countries but by the needs of the donor countries that makes it ineffective" (p. 113)

Sustainable Solutions for Global Warming

Ever wonder where you might find a collection of the evidence-based solutions to address global warming, which are also feasible in the policy world? Paul Hawken's edited volume "Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming" (2017) is just that. The book presents 100 of the most sustainable solutions, and in case you want to save the cost and paper (although it is a well-designed book), the solutions are also categorized by theme on its companion website.

The book is a highly resource for specialists and generalists, students and professors, as well as readers with a general interest. The book is divided by thematic area (energy, food, women and girls, buildings and cities, land use, transport, materials, and coming attractions). Each "solution" is presented in a few pages, each with rankings, costs, savings and impacts.

It is worth noting that these are not all big technical solutions – these include micro-grids, management and efficiency advances, reducing food waste, family planning, insulation, to name a few. The 100 solutions are nicely ranked in this table

List of Ethiopian Academic Journals

Appear active (alphabetical)

Bahir Dar Journal of Education (Bahir Dar University)

Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia (Chemical Society of Ethiopia)

Ethiopian Journal of Agricultural Sciences (Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research)

Ethiopian Journal of Applied Sciences and Technology (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Economics (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Journal of Education and Sciences (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Environmental Studies and Management (Bahir Dar University)

Ethiopian Journal of Health Development (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences (Jimma University)

Ethiopian Journal of Science and Technology (Bahir Dar University)

Ethiopian Journal of the Social Sciences and Humanities (Addis Ababa University) – Not Open Access

Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Journal (Addis Ababa University)

Ethiopian Renaissance Journal of Social Sciences and the Humanities (University of Gondar)

Ethiopian Veterinary Journal (Ethiopian Veterinary Assn)

Momona Ethiopian Journal of Science (Mekelle University)

Appear inactive or inconsistent (alphabetical)

Abyssinia Journal of Business and Social Sciences (Wollo University) – Newly launched

Abyssinia Journal of Science and Technology (Wollo University) – Newly launched

Debre Markos University Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies (Debre Markos University) – 1 issue

East African Journal of Science (Haramaya University) – Last issue 2011

Ethiopian Journal of Biological Sciences (Addis Ababa University) – Last issue was 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Business and Economics (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Development Research (Addis Ababa University) – 3 issues in last six years

Ethiopian Journal of Education (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2015

Ethiopian Journal of Health and Biomedical Science (University of Gondar) – Last issue 2010

Ethiopian Journal of Higher Education (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2007

Ethiopian Journal of Language, Culture and Communication (Bahir Dar University) – 1 issue

Ethiopian Journal of Sciences and Sustainable Development (Adama University) – Only one issue

Ethiopian Journal of Social Sciences and Language Studies (Jimma University) – Only three issues

IER FLAMBEAU (Addis Ababa University) – Last 2009

International Journal of Ethiopian Legal Studies (University of Gondar) – One issue, in 2016

ITYOPIS Northeast African Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (Mekelle University) – Last issue 2011

Journal of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences (Bahir Dar University) – 2 issues

Journal of Law (Bahir Dar University) – Issues do not appear online

Journal of Science and Development (Hawassa University) – Last issue 2014

Omo International Journal of Sciences (Arba Minch University) - Newly launched

SINET Ethiopian Journal of Science (Addis Ababa University) – Last issue was 2014

Star Journal (Wollega University) – Last issue was 2015

Please email me with corrections, updates, recommendations and missed journals.

Note: I have excluded journals with no issues.

New publication: Designing Knowledge Co-production for Climate and Development

Harvey, B., Cochrane, L., Van Epp, M., Cranston, P., and Pirani, P.A. (2017) Designing Knowledge Co-production for Climate and Development. CARIAA Working Paper #21. International Development Research Centre: Ottawa.

  • AbstractClimate change poses significant global challenges. Solutions require new ways of working, thinking and acting. Knowledge co-production is often cited as one of the innovations needed for navigating the complexity of climate change challenges, yet how to best approach co-production processes remains unclear. In this working paper we explore the ways in which climate and development researchers are approaching the co-production of knowledge and grapple with the extent to which the modalities used are reaching their stated potential. Using a diverse array of case studies, we outline a range of approaches to co-production, from technical to transformative. Drawing on literature on co-production, we propose a heuristic that maps out a spectrum of approaches to co-production and offers an assessment of the relationship between processes and outcomes of co-production in order to enable more informed planning and decision-making. In so doing this paper provides lessons and insights that CARIAA and similar adaptation research initiatives can apply in determining the potential of knowledge co-production as a means to influence policy, practice and behaviour.

Available here.

Political Economy of Tanzania

Edwards wrote about Tanzania in 2014, providing an external perspective, largely from purview of the World Bank. For an alternative perspective, readers can pick up Andrew Coulson's "Tanzania: A Political Economy" (1982), which he wrote from within, as a civil servant and academic in Tanzania. Coulson provides an introduction to Tanzania from the colonial period until 1980, attempting not to be "ether romantic or dismissive" about the nation (p. 25). The book is very readable, and accessible for undergraduate readers – particularly those with an interest in history (given the book was published 30+ years ago). It is also important for the different perspectives. A dominant opinion about Tanzania and its early socialist inclinations has developed, Coulson provides viewpoints and insight that are well worth revisiting.

What did the socialist inclinations in Tanzania include? Coulson neatly summarizes that for "some years after 1967, Tanzania was the country in Africa most noticeable committed to socialist principles. Nyerere became a world figure, a spokesman for the 'poorest of the poor', demanding a New International Economic Order that would give them a greater share of the world's wealth, and trying to ensure that the non-aligned countries acted as a trade union, merging some of their individual interests to campaign on a common programme" (p. 22). Coulson outlines the origins of Nyerere's approach to non-alignment and independence in international relations (e.g. p. 180-181), which set the nation on a unique path during the post-colonial period. At the same time, Coulson criticizes Nyerere, such as the authoritarian rule, and idealized and romantic assumptions that drove the African Socialism approach (e.g. p. 184, 285, 347, 377).

In contrast to many writers, Coulson says the villagization program "cannot be said to have failed – although it changed the face of Tanzania – for the achievements in the field of social services also have to be taken into account" (p. 308). Speaking about international relations, and specifically the choices and actions of the international donor community, he writes "it would be a rash analyst who thought that a single theory would explain the behaviour of all the governments involved" (p. 367) – although Edwards cites Coulson, he seems to have missed this point.

There are many interesting side notes for readers studying history and development, such as the increase of tsetse due to colonial activity (p. 56), the German use of Swahili and advancement of a national language that was not a colonial one (p. 70), and education as "the most powerful weapon in the battle for the minds of the colonized" (p. 123). On the underlying paradigms, Coulson writes "all the institutional policies…were justified by an appeal to modernization theory. The view that peasants are primitive, backward, stupid – and generally inferior human beings – dominates the rural chapters of both the 1961 World Bank report and the Tanganyikan First Five-Year Plan" (p. 199).

An area of particular interest to Coulson is agriculture. Given the book was published in 1980, he offered some sharp criticism of agricultural extension, which (unfortunately) continue to be applicable. For example: "Farmers who refused to accept 'modern methods' were described as stubborn, lazy, ignorant, conservative, uncooperative, etc. There was little or no recognition that logic often lay in the refusal to do what the extension staff advised" (p. 85). Furthermore, "many studies found that much of the advice given by extension workers was not appropriate to small farmers. The clearest case of this was inter-cropping. Extension workers were trying (with little success) to persuade farmers to plant their crops in pure strands" (p. 192). He also points to studies showing that extension workers provided services to richer farmers, not equally, not the most in need of support (p. 191).

Civil Society & Development

"Civil society has established itself at the beginning of the twenty-first century as a significant, even paradigmatic concept in the field of development policy and practice" wrote Jude Howell and Jenny Pearce in their 2001 book "Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration" (p. 1). Yet, how do donors conceptualize, fund and engage with civil society? What assumptions do donors have about civil society, and its relationship to development, democracy and the market? These are some of the questions the authors set out to address. This book is well written and researched. It remains relevant to readers interested in civil society and development.

  • A focus on civil society by donor agencies emerged from a specific context wherein there was "growing disillusion with the state as both agent of economic development and locus of justice. These political assaults on the state took place within the ideological context of the rise of neoliberalism, which celebrated the allocative efficiencies of the market and derided the state as an agency for economic growth and management" (p. 89-90).


  • "De Tocqueville emphasized how a participatory citizenry active in a multiplicity of associations could ensure defense of the citizen against despotic government but also foster active engagement rather than disengagement with politics. It nurtures, for instance, the habit and capacity for self-rule. It encourages different interests to argue with each other without any attempt to reach a collective will… De Tocqueville assumed the self-interest and weakness of the isolated individual. This led him to search for forms of cooperation as a way of overcoming weakness. In the process, the individual learned the skills and developed the democratic culture…" (p. 44).

Civil society and democracy:

  • "In emphasizing the role of civil society as a democratic force against oppressive states, donor discourse has added to the dominant anti-statist theme in civil society debates, which is its most partial renderings has reduced civil society to antistate. This has ensured that a serious debate on the problems and prospects of the developmental state has not happened, and the neoliberal critique of that state remains the uncontested paradigm. Moreover this antistate focus has detracted attention away from the despotic tendencies of corporate capital and its potentially damaging effects on civil society. Donor encourage the illusion that civil society is harmonious and that is can only ever act as a force in favor of the liberal – primarily U.S. – model of capitalist development and democracy." (p. 11).

On social capital:

  • "The concept of social capital fails intellectually to provide a convincing missing link in development or to measure precisely what civil society contributes to development. Like the associations of civil society, trust and reciprocity can contribute negatively or positively to a variety of outcomes" (p. 30).


  • "For most donors civil society is a means to an end – be than democratization, economic growth, or sustainable development – rather than an end in itself. It is thus reduced to a technical exercise of coordination, cooperation, and joint effort, depoliticized and neutralized" resulting in "blueprint status" (p. 117).
  • "Not only is there a tendency to assume that civil society within nation-states is homogenous in moral purpose and values, but also that there is one civil society in the world" (p. 118).
  • "In contexts of aid dependence, the manufacturing of, and the long-term sustainability of, civil society become significant issues. External dependence on donors can easily lead to a distortion of local agendas as local NGOs competing for funding shape their planned programs and activities around the priority of donors. In countries where civil society and democratic institutions are fragile, the arrival of donors with preconceived notions about what civil society should do can end up weakening the capacity of local organizations to develop their own visions of civil society, their own understandings of how to achieve social and political change, and their own solutions to problems that are central to their lives" (p. 120).
  • "With their emphasis on urban, formal associations, their selection of a limited number of NGOs for funding, and their effective control over agendas, donor agencies have played a significant role in the shaping of civil society in the post-Cold War era" (p. 185). Further: "Through capacity building, financial auditing requirements, reporting procedures, and proposal preparation, donors play a powerful role in shaping not just the developmental agenda but also the direction and raison d'etre of civil society. By setting up local branches, Northern NGOs reproduce organizations in their own image, creating virtual clones, whose priorities, interests, and structures are externally shaped. As donors command the resources, they also consciously or unwittingly shape the priorities, promote certain values, and cultivate particular institutional forms such as projects and microcredit groups. The processes are in turn invigorated as local NGOs and groups formulate proposals around the perceived interests of donor agencies, adding a gender dimension here, inserting environmental issues there, and adopting donor discourses of empowerment, participation, sustainability, and income generation to lend credence to their proposals. As donors suggest revisions, they further stamp their priorities, values, and visions of development on the proposals, underlining the normative effects of their power" (p. 187-188).
  • "…a failure to fully grasp the salience of ethnicity in associational life can also lead to an unrealistic assessment of the cohesiveness of civil society and the potential constraining power of ethnic identities" (p. 202-203).
  • "When donors seek out partners to work through or to support, they are implicitly making political judgments about the location of these groups in processes of social and political change, their agendas, and their relations to other groups and actors in society" (p. 231).
  • "Donor civil society strengthening programs, and indicators of achievement, run the risk of inhibiting and ultimately destroying the most important of purposes of civil society, namely the freedom to imagine that the world could be different" (p. 237).

Solutions? (there are more challenges than solutions)

  • There is a need to "think in terms of multiple civil societies existing across time and space, with diverse purposes, varying degrees of autonomy, and different political implications. In strengthening civil societies donors have first to be clear about their own expectations to avoid disappointment and also recognize the limitations of any attempt to give civil society a purpose for which it is not structurally or politically equipped" (p. 145).
  • In terms of actions, donors "could help defend such spaces [public, political, civil] and foster the conditions for an inclusive associational life, for example by funding education, the rule of law, and economic opportunities" (p. 60).
  • "We emphasize the political importance of protecting and fostering an understanding of civil society as an intellectual and associational space in which to reflect openly and critically and to experiment with alternative ways of organizing social, economic, and political life" (p. 237).

New Publication: The Geography of Development Studies: Leaving No One Behind

Cochrane, L. and Thornton, A. (2017) The Geography of Development Studies. Forum for Development Studies.

Abstract: Whereas the Millennium Development Goals sought reductions, the Sustainable Development Goals have set forth bold new objectives of leaving no one behind. This Commentary explores the continued geographic prioritization and exclusions within development studies research and some of the causes. The status quo is entrenching exclusion. A transformation of research, and the research community, is required to ensure that no one is left behind. Providing the evidence to support decision-making that is equitable and inclusive necessitates critical reflection of the exclusions that exist, along with innovation and creativity in how the research community can address gaps and support the more inclusive SDG agenda. Thought leadership and evidence will be the foundation that transforms our research and practice – if we, as a community of researchers, heed the call.

Article is gated here. Email for copy.

2 Years of Blogging!

Logan Cochrane

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