JAMES C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcript deals with conflicting circumstances between the powerful and powerless group, between colonizer and colonized people, between the rulers and the ruled.
These groups interact and communicate each other directly and indirectly on the stage and off the stage, and develop their own “language” and “logic” based on their position in the arena. Nevertheless, they maintain their perspective and point of view toward the other group. Those people speak with the same language and words, but yet they have their own meaning and intention behind the the language and words.
Yet, this is the nature of domination and resistance: they are just like the two side of one coin. In his word, Scott underlines that the relations of dominations are, at the same time, the relations of resistance. Colonization will be followed by anti-colonization, and the oppression will be followed by the anti-oppression.
Here Scott differentiates two terminologies, which are public the transcript and the hidden transcript.
The public transcript he defines as an open communication and interaction between the powerful and powerless, where both of those groups speak common language that they can understand each other.
The language and the words they use are the same, and yet the meanings too are the same. But, the bottom line in the public transcript is that each group tends to maintain the position at the first place before they go forward; for the powerful to more control the powerless, and for the powerless to overthrow the powerful.
Nevertheless, Scott also underlines that public transcript is “the self portrait of dominant elites as they would have been seen” and is designed “to be impressive, to affirm and naturalize the power of dominant elites, and to conceal or euphemize the dirty linen of their rule.”
Meanwhile the hidden transcript Scott defines as a secret and disguised meaning behind languages, words, or even performances developed either by the powerless ones in the presence of the powerful, or by the powerful whenever they practice their control over the powerless ones. It represents a “discourse—gesture, speech, and practices—that is ordinarily excluded from the public transcript of the subordinates by the exercise of power.”
The hidden transcript makes the oppressed group could easily transfer and exchange their ideas and feelings toward the colonization, and furthermore could help them to construct and organize a freedom movement. It reacts back on “the public transcript by engendering a subculture and by opposing its own variant-form of social domination against that of the dominant elite.” Whereas the hidden transcript of the powerful is similarly an artifact of the power exercise, which is excluded from the public transcript by the ideological limits.
Scott’s explanation and many cases he describes in this book can help we to understand the game of power within the domination drama between the dominant and dominated.
Another thing in his book is his critique toward the hegemony and the false consciousness theory from the Marxist tradition, particularly the one developed by Antonio Gramsci in looking at the quiescence or conforming behavior by less powerful group when the dominant group doesn’t use any coercive meaning to control them.
The greatest problem with concept of hegemony is the implicit assumption that the ideological incorporation of subordinate group will necessarily diminish social conflict. Therefore any ideology claims to a hegemony must promise to the subordinate groups by explaining why a particular social order is also their best interest.
Without any sufficient explanation, this claim will be a trigger for violent conflict. Then, social movement becomes meaningless.