Hidden transcript in Language and the “Arts of Resistance”

Review: Language and the “Arts of Resistance”
Author(s): Susan Gal
Review of James Scott’s  Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (1990),
Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 407-424

Every subordinate group creates, out of its ordeal, a “hidden transcript” that represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant. The powerful, for their part, also develop a hidden transcript representing the practices and claims of their rule that cannot be openly avowed. [Scott 1990:xii]

The hidden transcript of the subordinate is largely an emotionally fueled response to domination; the practice of domination creates the hidden transcript (p. 27).The hidden transcript of the subordinate is largely an emotionally fueled response to domination; the practice of domination creates the hidden transcript (p. 27). Characteristically, this creation occurs in a range of autonomous social sites that are cloistered from the surveillance and interference of the powerful: in slave quarters, untouchable villages, and the taverns of the working class. Such sites are not automatically available; they must be won and continually de- fended by various kinds of social struggle. It follows that the ordinarily observ- able relations between subordinate and dominant groups represent the encoun- ter of the public transcript of the dominant and that of the subordinate (p. 13). The subordinate, in these public encounters, are coerced by material constraints to defer to the dominant, or to flatter and cajole them. Alternatively, the subor- dinate may enact the image of themselves proffered by the dominant in order to demand the goods, rights, and privileges that the dominant group’s own public (legitimating) ideology implies are due to those who are the proper subjects of their rule. It is thus often in the interest of the subordinate to maintain their def- erential public transcript, even though they do not believe it, especially if open rebellion is seen as a practical impossibility. The weak are most likely to resist in devious ways, without any open confrontation (p. 86).

Thus, ironically, the process of domination itself generates the social evi- dence that apparently confirms notions of hegemony. The dilemma of scholars is to discern what the subordinate “really” think, when they are not performing for the public transcript, by finding evidence of their hidden transcript. Such evidence is available even from public events because the subordinate engage in “a veiled discourse of dignity and self-assertion within the public transcript” (p. 137). If one knows how to decode the public acts and speech of the weak, one can discern in them an “ideological resistance [that] is disguised, muted and veiled for safety’s sake” (p. 137). “What we confront then, in the public tran- script, is a strange kind of ideological debate about justice and dignity in which one party has a severe speech impediment induced by power relations” (p. 138). Ultimately, the importance of these forms of resistance-“arts of political dis- guise”-is that they are the “infrapolitics” of the oppressed, the elementary forms of their political life, on which the possibility of more open action de- pends. Each form of “disguised resistance… is the silent partner of a loud form of public resistance” (p. 199) which may eventually emerge, given favorable conditions.

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