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									Everyday Metaphors of Power
Author(s): Timothy Mitchell
Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 19, No. 5 (Oct., 1990), pp. 545-577
Published by: Springer
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Everyday metaphors of power

Department of Politics, New York University

Across the different disciplines of social science, studies of power and
resistance continue to be dominated by a single, master metaphor: the
distinction between persuading and coercing. The metaphor seems as
clear as the difference between mind and body, to which of course it
corresponds. Power may operate at the level of ideas, persuading the
mind of its legitimacy, or it may work as a material force directly co-
ercing the body. Max Weber founded his sociology of domination on
this Cartesian and Kantian distinction, and the distinction colonized
other theoretical territory in which it had been originally placed in
question, including that of Marx. The metaphor survives today even in
the growing number of works that realize its limitations and formally
renounce it.' This essay offers a critique of the metaphor, as a mis-
leadingly narrow approach to understanding modern methods of domi-
nation; at the same time, by offering an alternative understanding of
those methods, it reveals the metaphor to be their unexamined pro-

There are at least two reasons for the metaphor's persistence. One
stems from the fact that it is indissociable from our everyday concep-
tion of the person. We tend to think of persons as unique self-constitut-
ed consciousneses living inside physically manufactured bodies.2 As
something self-formed, this consciousness is the site of an original
autonomy. The notion of an internal autonomy of consciousness de-
fines the way we think of coercion. It obliges us to imagine the exercise
of power as an external process that can coerce the behavior of the
body without necessarily penetrating and controlling the mind. Power
must therefore be conceived as something two-fold, with both a physi-
cal and a mental mode of operation. This way of thinking of power in
relation to the political subject applies not only to individuals but to
any political agent, such as a group or class. Much of the recent theoret-

Theory and Society 19: 545-577, 1990.
? 1990 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

ical writing on resistance and power is intended to bring oppressed or
neglected groups to our intellectual and political attention. It does so
by revealing, beneath their appearance as anonymous masses, their
existence as genuine political subjects.3 This means they must be shown
to be self-formed, internally autonomous actors resisting an external
domination. The power to which they are subject, it follows, must
recognize their status as subjects by having the same two-fold charac-

A second reason for the metaphor's persistence is that even those who
have tried to go beyond these humanist assumptions about the political
subject, often in the footsteps of Michel Foucault, and see the
autonomous subject as itself the effect of distinctively modern forms of
power, have failed to consider something further: these forms of power
have also created a peculiar kind of world. Like the modern subject, the
world seems to be constituted as something divided from the beginning
into two neatly opposed realms, a material order on the one hand and a
separate sphere of meaning or culture on the other. No recent explora-
tion of power and resistance, even among those that question our
assumptions about human subjectivity, has managed to break with this
larger dualism. Nowhere is the dualism that opposes meaning to mate-
rial reality examined as the very effect of strategies of power, in a man-
ner that would bring to light the limits and the complicity of thinking of
domination in terms of an essential distinction between the material
and the ideological, between coercing and persuading.

The first of these two arguments, relating conceptions of power to con-
ceptions of personhood, can be illustrated by some of the recent con-
tributions to what has come to be called the "moral economy" view of
power and popular resistance. The name is taken from the work of E. P.
Thompson on the making of the English working class, both a passage
in his well-known book4 and a subsequent article entitled "The Moral
Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century," which
together argue that apparently spasmodic acts of popular resistance to
authority in eighteenth-century England were often in fact deliberate
responses to the violation of a social consensus that required the
authorities to maintain an adequate distribution of food in times of
scarcity, a consensus Thompson calls "the moral economy of the
poor."5The argument was taken up and extended into a general theory
of popular revolt in James Scott's influential study of peasant rebellions
in colonial Southeast Asia, The Moral Economy of the Peasant.6 The
shared theme of these writings is that prior to the triumph of capitalism

common people shared an ethic based on reciprocal exchange of gifts
and services and redistribution in times of need, rather than individual
pursuit of self-interest, and that their consistent actions in defense of
this ethic, although seemingly random and unspectacular, entitle them
to "be taken as historical agents."7

The more recent contributions to this approach are numerous and
diverse. They include for example, among anthropologists, Jean
Comaroff's Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance, a study of "implicit"
forms of resistance to the South African state among the Tshidi people
(where the distinction between physical power and mental resistance is
indicated even in the book's title); among historians, the studies of
popular resistance in colonial South Asia written by scholars associ-
ated with the series Subaltern Studies, published in New Delhi; and
among political scientists, a second and well-received study of South-
east Asia by James Scott, Weapons of the Weak:Everyday Forms of Pea-
sant Resistance.8 Although these more recent studies have drawn on
ideas - including those of Gramsci, Foucault, and Bourdieu - that
undermine the "moral economy" view of power and resistance (and
indeed while continuing to invoke Thompson's work, they now avoid
his famous phrase), they continue to subscribe to it. The reason is that
they continue to examine forms of domination and resistance to bring
to light subordinate groups that can "be taken as historical agents."

In the following pages I offer a critical reading of one of these recent
studies, Scott's Weapons of the Weak. My purpose in focusing on this
book is neither to provide simply a review essay nor to suggest that it
represents a particularly egregious example of the problems I wish to
raise. Rather, I have two related aims: first, to explore through a case
study of Scott's book some fundamental weaknesses in the kind of dua-
listic language with which contemporary social science conceives of the
question of power and resistance, a language I relate critically to the
work of Bourdieu, Gramsci, Clifford Geertz, and other theorists of cul-
ture and ideology; second, to present an alternative approach to the
understanding of domination, one that not only avoids the dualism of
contemporary social scientific writing but, through an analysis of the
process I call "enframing," examines how domination works through
actually constructing a seemingly dualistic world. In a book entitled
Colonising Egypt (1988) I have developed many aspects of this argu-
ment at greater length, using historical material from the Middle East. I
do not repeat that material here, but show instead how arguments
developed from the colonial Middle East can be used to critique and

reinterpret the evidence gathered by Scott from a different period and
different part of the world. Moreover, by presenting this alternative
theory of domination through the critique of an influential recent work,
the relationship can be brought to light between the dualism of contem-
porary social analysis and the larger forms of dualism through which
domination is constructed.

My critique of Scott forms the first half of this article. The analysis first
draws out a contradiction in Weapons of the Weak between the argu-
ment that the exercise of power requires, or at least used to require,
what Scott calls a "symbolic" or "ideological" dimension and the argu-
ment that ideological domination never actually dominates. It then exa-
mines two ways in which the book overlooks this contradiction: by
invoking the unexpected figure of the rational peasant, and by relabel-
ing several forms of domination as something else. These forms of
domination, as a result, are excluded from the analysis of power and
resistance. I argue that both the contradiction and the resulting exclu-
sions are caused by the need to understand resistance in terms of the
problematic distinction between power as a material force and power
at the level of consciousness or culture. The second half of the article
draws on the critique of Scott to develop the two arguments introduced
above: that the problematic distinction between two dimensions of
power is required in order to grant to neglected political groups the sta-
tus of self-formed, autonomous actors; and that this distinction is espe-
cially problematic because an alternative approach to the analysis of
domination (which can be illustrated from Scott's account but is not
offered there) shows how its methods in fact create the apparently two-
dimensional world that our everyday metaphors of power take for

The two orders of domination

 Weaponsof the Weakis a study of power and resistance in a small rice-
growing village in northern Malaysia, which the author names "Seda-
ka."The book's declared intention is "to determine to what degree, and
in what ways, peasants actually accept the social order propagated by
elites."9 In other words, it aims to discover whether power works by
persuading peasants' minds of its legitimacy or simply by coercing their
actions: it examines "the extent to which elites are able to impose their
own image of a just social order, not simply on the behavior of non-eli-
tes, but on their consciousness as well."'0 This distinction between

behavior and consciousness, body and mind, divides the two main
chapters on resistance (6 and 7) and runs throughout the book.

On the basis of a careful and richly detailed account of the life of
Sedaka, in particular the reactions of poorer families in the village to
radical transformations during the 1970s (first by new irrigation sche-
mes and seed varieties and subsequently by the introduction of combi-
ne-harvesters and the elimination of opportunities for wage-labor), the
book's answer to the question is that elites may control the outward
behavior of the poor, but not their minds. "Behind the faCade of sym-
bolic and ritual compliance," we are shown "innumerable acts of ideo-
logical resistance."" Although they do their best to drag their feet, pil-
fer and deceive, the poor find that the "realm of behavior" is where they
are "most constrained;" it is "at the level of beliefs and interpretations"
that they are "least trammeled."'2 From this evidence it is argued that
the notion that domination operates at the level of ideology, in particu-
lar Gramsci's explanation of power in terms of "hegemony,"is unhelp-
ful and indeed "likely to mislead us seriously in understanding class
conflict in most situations." The concept of hegemony ignores the abili-
ty of "most subordinate classes ... on the basis of their daily material
experience, to penetrate and demystify the prevailing ideology." 3

This immediately raises a number of questions that need examining.
What is meant, first of all, by a "prevailing ideology" if there are doubts
about its ability to prevail? If subaltern classes are not persuaded by
hegemonic ideas, does power need to operate in this realm, and if so,
why? In an earlier section entitled "Material Base and Normative
Superstructure," the book argues that, "if it is to work at all," domi-
nation "requires" a normative dimension.'4 Thus there is at least a
potential contradiction between the claim that so-called hegemonic
ideologies are not hegemonic, in the sense that the poor see through
them, and the argument that normative superstructures are essential to
the functioning of authority. What is their power and in what sense are
they essential?

This part of Weaponsof the Weakechoes the arguments made earlier in
The Moral Economy of the Peasant, although with an important differ-
ence. Scott's earlier book was very much a study of the "normative con-
text" of peasant life, a context said to be shaped by "the norm of reci-
procity" in the exchange of gifts and services and the "consequent elite
obligation (that is, peasant right) to guarantee - or at least not infringe
upon - the subsistence claims and arrangements of the peasantry."

When the peasant revolts it is because of a "violation of his rights."The
moral dimension of peasant life, in other words, was presented not as a
framework of ideological domination but as a mutually agreed system
of rights that establishes the peasant as a conscious historical agent.
"This emphasis on rights ... confers on him a history, a political cons-
ciousness, and a perception of the moral structure of his society." '

 Weapons of the Weak largely abandons this language of rights and re-
places it with the more fruitful notion of "euphemization," borrowed
from the work of Pierre Bourdieu.'6 Bourdieu's analysis of patterns of
exchange and generosity among Kabyle peasants in Algeria argues not
only that such acts of redistribution are constitutive of political authori-
ty in a pre-capitalist society (an argument previously made by people
like Karl Polanyi and Marshall Sahlins and always drawing, as James
Scott and E. P. Thompson draw, on the work of Malinowski);'7 he
further argues that to create lasting effects of domination these exchan-
ges must always disguise themselves as moral relations. Domination
cannot take place overtly. "In order to be socially recognized, it must
get itself misrecognized." 'o achieve this misrecognition, strategies of
social and economic subordination need to be transformed by means
of gift exchanges, marriages, feast giving, and other practices into rela-
tions of kinship, personal loyalty, piety, and generosity. "In a word, they
must be euphenmized." Weapons of the Weak demonstrates a similar
process at work in the village of Sedaka, showing how the dependence
of the rich on the labor of the poor has traditionally required them to
cultivate their loyalty with acts of generosity and the provision of sup-
port in times of need. "Where direct physical coercion is not possible
and where the pure indirect domination of the capitalist market is not
yet sufficient," Scott concludes, powerful local families depend upon "a
socially recognized form of domination" achieved by the processes of
euphemization and "not simply imposed by force."') This, it would
seem, is the "normative dimension" necessary to the functioning of
political domination in the village. But how does this fit with the argu-
ment that power is essentially coercive since "most subordinate classes"
are in fact able "to penetrate and demystify the prevailing ideology"?

Bourdieu offers an approach to this sort of problem that Scott does not
follow. Instead of assuming an opposition between physical coercion
and the "voluntary" acceptance of an ideology, he invents one of his
wonderfully hybrid concepts, "symbolic violence." The term refers to
the contradictory or "double reality" of conduct that is "intrinsically
equivocal." It is intended to overcome the "dualistic representation of

the relationship between practice and ideology" by bringing to light the
ways in which, for a certain kind of society, sustained coercion "can
only take place" in the guise of a voluntary acceptance.2" "Symbolic
violence," Bourdieu explains, is "the gentle, invisible form of violence,
which is never recognized as such, and is not so much undergone as
chosen, the violence of credit, confidence, obligation, personal loyalty,
hospitality, gifts, gratitude, piety."2'He adds that "it would be a mistake
to see a contradiction in the fact that violence is here both more pres-
ent and more hidden. Because the pre-capitalist economy cannot count
on the implacable hidden violence of objective mechanisms, it resorts
simultaneously to forms of domination which may strike the modern
observer as more brutal, more primitive, more barbarous, or at the
same time, as gentler, more humane, more respectful of persons"22

 Weapons of the Weakhandles this seeming contradiction by saying sim-
ply that although domination is not necessarily imposed by force, the
weaker party must acquiesce "if only publicly."23 other words it relies
on the distinction between a public (and behavioral) acquiescence and
a realm of private (and largely mental) autonomy. But if acquiescence
in the dominant ideology is feigned ("the poor... hardly find it con-
vincing, let alone hegemonic"), what makes this ideological dimension
something essential to the exercise of power? The answer seems to be
that it no longer is essential, it only used to be. "The transition to more
capitalist forms of production" has rendered ideological domination
either ineffective or unnecessary. The book reports of the large farmers
that "the basis of their domination has been transformed. Their control,
which was once embedded in the primary dependencies of production
relations, is now based far more on law, property, coercion, market
forces, and political patronage," all of which are to be construed, pre-
sumably, as non-ideological.24 Hence compared with their situation in
the past, the rich find themselves operating today in "something of an
ideological vacuum." They have to argue continually against "the his-
torically given, negotiated moral context of village life."25

This way out of the contradiction between the necessity for ideology
and its apparent ineffectiveness leaves two kinds of problem. First of
all, the implication remains that before the "historical watershed" of the
1970s, the dominant ideology was accepted.26 The book insists that in
the 1970s the village underwent perhaps the most far-reaching econo-
mic and social changes in its history.27To use evidence gathered during
fieldwork undertaken at the end of such a decade to make an argument,
not about the impact of this transformation but about the nature of

political domination in general, and to conclude on the basis of it that
"most subordinate classes" are able "to penetrate and demystify the
prevailing ideology" is far from convincing.

Second, even the evidence from the late 1970s, as Scott explains,
shows that an important shaping of village discourse is still at work.
Despite the changes that have occurred, the vocabulary of capitalism
remains unacceptable. Straightforward talk about property rights and
profit making "has no moral standing in village life." On the one hand
this places wealthy households at a "symbolic disadvantage," with
"material consequences', because it obliges them to choose between
their reputation in the village and the maximization of their profits.
 Weaponsof the Weakdemonstrates the important point that hegemonic
ideologies always offer significant claims to those they are directed
against. "The desire to be thought well of, or at least not despised, is a
material force in the village made possible only by the symbolic mobili-
zation of the poor around certain customary values," a mobilization
that is strengthened, a footnote adds, by their subversive "threats of
violence and theft."28On the other hand the large landowners have
much more to gain from this joint mobilization around customary
values and the common avoidance of all talk of capitalism. Peasants, we
are told, rarely discuss "options that seem out of reach. The small-
holders of Sedaka, for example, do not talk about land reform," even
though they seem enthusiastic when the author raises the topic. "It was
not a subject that ever arose spontaneously." Nor is it raised by either of
the two major Malay political parties active in the countryside or by
state agricultural officials. Instead, the efforts of the poor are "more
realistically focused on the possibility of securing a reasonably tenancy
within the existing system of landownership."29 Despite the radical
transformation of agricultural life, village politics continues to occur
"almost entirely within the normative framework of the older agrarian
system.... There is virtually no radical questioning of property rights
or of the state and its local officials, whose policies are designed to fur-
ther capitalist agriculture. Almost everything said by the poor fits easily
within the professed values - within the hegemony - of local elites.""

Surely, then, there is clear evidence that political domination in Sedaka
still works through the shaping of what can be thought and said, by this
defining of what presents itself as "reasonable" and "realistic"and this
maintaining of an ethic of reciprocity and politeness. Even the one
attempt at organized resistance among the village poor, when the
women delayed planting rice for landowners who had introduced com-

bine-harvesters the previous season, was conducted obliquely, with an
almost embarrassed avoidance of direct confrontation, as demanded
by the ethics of hierarchy and dissimulation within the village, and the
challenge quickly collapsed.31 To confine political practice and debate
within the deferential and dissimulating moral world of the village
appears even more limiting when one adds that the combine-harvesters
that now "eat the work" (and the wages) of the poor are owned by
powerful commercial syndicates in the towns, and that the scarce plots
of land that villagers rent are now mostly controlled by large owners
living outside the village.32In addition, even landowners within the vil-
lage are now supported by the coercive external forces of the state. The
"element of fear" that results, especially a fear of the "ever-present pos-
sibility of arrest at the whim of Bashir," a powerful landowner in the
village closely connected with the ruling party and its security ap-
paratus, "is present in the minds of many villagers.... It structures their
view of the options open to them."33

 Weapons of the Weak is aware of the importance of the ways in which
local views are structured by such hegemonic effects, and in fact their
detailed description is part of the richness of the work. Rather like a
villager in 'Sedaka, however, the book appears to move obliquely,
adopting a series of strategies to avoid confronting these effects di-
rectly. The strategies are of two sorts: to admit that these effects amount
to what is often meant by hegemony but then sidestepping them by
insisting on a much narrower field of meaning for the term, at the same
time presenting us outside this narrowed field with the unexpected
figure of the rational peasant; and to relabel and disguise hegemonic
effects under the heading of "givens," or "obstacles to resistance." I
illustrate each strategy, and then argue that what motivates these eva-
sions is the need to sustain a distinction between the two orders of

Evading hegemony

The concept of hegemony is repeatedly defined so as to be too narrow
to fit the evidence from Sedaka. First, it is confined to the sense of
domination at the level of ideas, which is not the way Gramsci uses the
term. Hegemony, in Gramsci's writings, refers to non-violent forms of
control exercised through the whole range of dominant cultural institu-
tions and social practices, from schooling, museums, and political par-
ties to religious practice, architectural forms, and the mass media.34 In

his discussion of Gramsci, Scott admits that "hegemony, of course, may
be used to refer to the entire complex of social domination. The term is
used here, however, in its symbolic or idealist sense, since that is preci-
sely where Gramsci's major contribution to Marxist thought lies."35In
other words, the book emphasizes only one aspect of Gramsci's work
in order to make the notion of hegemony fit the terms of the question
opposing "behavior" to "consciousness." Next, this symbolic sense of
the term is further narrowed by equating it with the notion of consen-
sus. "Put bluntly," the book says, "the core assumption of the case for
hegemony and false consciousness ... is that, to the extent dominant
classes can persuade subordinate classes to adopt their self-serving
view of existing social relations, the result will be ideological consensus
and harmony."36Consensus, however, is significantly different from
Gramsci's term consenso, which refers primarily to the "consent" given
by exploited groups to their exploitation.37 The consent reduces the
need for the use of violence against them, but may or may not produce
consensus in the sense of harmony. Narrowing the meaning of hegemo-
ny to refer to the production of such harmony, Weapons of the Weak
can show easily enough that in Sedaka it cannot be found. Subordinate
groups in the village use the vocabulary of the hegemonic discourse, for
example its notions of charity and mutual assistance, to make modest
but persistent claims against those who exploit them.

Elsewhere the possibility is considered that these observations might
support a "more modest view" of hegemony, as the power "to define
what is realistic." But the possibility is passed over with the comment
that hegemony would then no longer mean the power to create a con-
sensual view of what is just, but simply the ability to shape the villagers'
"more or less rational understanding" of what is practical.38This pre-
sents two problems. On the one hand, the book has already made clear
that the "legally enforced system of private property," for example, is
accepted as a "natural"fact, something significantly different from a
"rational understanding" of the impracticability of changing such facts
(indeed the book admits - but only in a footnote - that this sort of
acceptance might amount to "false consciousness").39 On the other
hand, to avoid having to construe the power to define what is practical
as evidence of hegemony, there now appears the phrase "more or less
rational." The phrase rescues the political actors of Sedaka from any
hegemonic confinement by endowing them with a faculty of reason that
is not shaped by the possibilities of their political and social context,
but stands outside that context, "rationally"understanding - and then
consciously resigning itself to - its limits. So the argument for hegem-

ony is refuted by a final resort, "more or less," to the figure of the ratio-
nal peasant (indicating how much the moral economists share in com-
mon, for reasons we will explore, with some of their supposed oppo-
nents, such as Samuel Popkin).4"It hardly needs pointing out, however,
that resignation to the fact of private landownership is only "rational"
for a given community because of a certain configuration of historical
and political forces, and a certain assessment of those forces. Even
assuming that these villagers go through the strange process that capi-
talist societies call rational decision-making, with its constructions of
alternative artificial futures, its reduction of life's complexities to a
series of isolated variables, and its ideology of the sovereign individual,
the rational is never something calculated in a manner that is context-
free.4' The calculation will always depend on estimations and supposi-
tions that are the effect of a set of hegemonic relations.

To employ the figure of the rational peasant, Weapons of the Weak is
obliged not only to assume such a context-free rationality, but also to
provide some of these estimations. The argument that choosing petty
resistance rather than direct confrontation is the result of a rational
decision depends not only on an evaluation of the situation in Sedaka
but on a general historical estimate of where peasant interests lie. It is
quite possible to disagree with Scott's estimates and reinterpret his evi-
dence. Christine White, for example, points out that "the tricks of
adding stones, straw, etc. to increase the weight of the landlord or the
tax collector's share of the harvest can perhaps give peasants the illu-
sion of having more power and manoeuverability than is actually the
case - that is, these ineffective but psychologically satisfying forms of
resistance could in fact contribute to false consciousness, blinding
people to the painful reality of the extent of their powerlessness and
exploitation."42 Weaponsof the Weakis able to disagree with such nega-
tive assessments of petty resistance (although it concedes - again, only
in a footnote - that to the extent that such resistance actually reinforces
the larger system of subordination, "the case for ideological hegemony
is strengthened")43in part because it begins with the assertion that the
alternative of large-scale revolt is "a mixed blessing for the peasantry,"
given the fact that a successful revolution "almost always creates a more
coercive and hegemonic state apparatus,"which is "often able to batten
itself on the rural population like no other before it."44 My point is not
so much that many peasant households in places such as Algeria, Cuba,
Egypt, and Nicaragua might disagree with this comparatively positive
assessment of the old social orders they helped overthrow, but that
assertions about what is practical and therefore rational in peasant

rebellion are always situated interpretations of historical and political

The book rejects the concept of hegemony, then, by arguing that the
term implies some consensual and "internal" acceptance of things,
whereas the peasants of Sedaka - and perhaps subordinate groups
everywhere - exhibit only an external, rational decision to conform
rather than rebel. "The conformity of subordinate classes rests pri-
marily on their knowledge that any other course is impractical, dange-
rous, or both."46Invoking this rational choice and the unproblematic
kind of knowledge on which it depends ascribes their failure to rebel
not to any hegemonic shaping of consciousness but to the direct reali-
ties of coercive force. "Itis in the immediate interest of most poor villa-
gers to uphold the official realities in nearly all power-laden contexts,"
the book concludes.47 In other words, the narrowing of the definition of
hegemony combined with the device of the rational peasant transform
the rich details of hegemonic domination into evidence that the poor,
although they may lose their outward physical freedom, retain an inter-
nal mental autonomy.

The second strategy by which Weapons of the Weakdeals with the evi-
dence of hegemony is by relabelling many of its effects. They are listed
under an intermediate category, neither coercion nor consciousness,
with a heading such as "givens"or "obstacles to resistance." These ex-
plain the limited nature of peasant resistance without expressly analy-
zing its limits as part of the play of power relations. The book describes
at least five such "major givens." The first is the isolating nature of the
changes that have taken place: on the one hand, they have consisted
mostly of piecemeal shifts in agricultural practice, confronting the
poorer villagers only individually or in small groups; on the other, they
have tended to remove the poor from the productive process rather
than increase their exploitation, so that sites of potential conflict - over
such things as rent payments or the distribution of the harvest - have
been simply eliminated.48 Second, there is the complexity of class con-
flict in the village, with no simple distinction to be found between the
landless and the landowners. Both rich and poor may rent in plots of
land, small landowners (or their children) may work other plots as
laborers, and these laborers may find it economical at the same time to
rent combine-harvesters for their own plots. The absence of "a decisive
single cleavage" along class lines militates against collective action. The
absence is complicated by other divisions and alliances that cut across
class, such as relations of "kinship, friendship, faction, patronage, and

ritual ties." Almost all of these, we are told, "operate to the advantage
of the richer farmers by creating a relationship of dependence that
restrains the prudent poor man or woman from acting in class terms"
(and, one could add, in gender terms). All this is even more true of
links beyond the village, where personal ties are formed by kinship
rather than by class.49The third "obstacle to resistance" is that the most
readily available response to oppression and economic hardship is to
leave the village and look for work elsewhere. A few find permanent
jobs on rubber and oil palm plantations, in factories, on building sites,
or as domestic servants; the majority find only temporary work as con-
tract laborers and must leave their families behind in the village, de-
prived of the household head and marginalized in village politics. The
fourth "given" is "repression and the fear of repression." Attempts to
sabotage the combine-harvesters and boycott those who used them, for
example, occurred in "a climate of fear generated by local elites, by the
police, by the 'Special-Branch' internal security forces, by a pattern of
political arrests and intimidation." Fifth and finally, there is "the day-to-
day imperative of earning a living," the process of personal and house-
hold survival that Marx calls "the dull compulsion of economic re-
lations." Although not ruling out petty resistance, this economic com-
pulsion "sets limits that only the foolhardy would transgress."50

Listed in this fashion as "obstacles" to resistance, these five sets of fac-
tors are conceived as fixed limits rather than modes of domination.
This corresponds, of course, to the peasants' own experience of them.
Yet other factors experienced in this way, in particular the moral lan-
guage of the village, are carefully analyzed as part of the mechanism of
power. It would seem appropriate to do the same for these five factors.
For example, when social cleavages between landowners and the land-
less are bridged by ties of kinship, this is no coincidence. Kinship is not
something "given" that happens to work as an obstacle to resistance,
but another of those strategies of euphemization by means of which
relations of dependence and exploitation disguise themselves, as they
must, in this case in the form of family ties. When the system of poverty
installed in the village forces families to send the household head in
search of casual employment in the cities, this too is not something
given but a mode of operation important to the success of large-scale
capitalist agriculture. When combine-harvesting eliminates the sites of
face-to-face political struggle this is not simply an inevitable side-effect
of mechanization but an answer to the urgent need for more efficient
and cost-effective forms of exploitation in the rural areas of the Third
World, an integral part of the combine's profitability. When the "dull

compulsion of economic relations" inhibits rebellion this is not a
restriction imposed by poverty or lack of opportunity but, as the phrase
implies, the careful effect of a determined set of relations. Their parti-
cular arrangement manufactures this compulsion, again not as a side-
effect but as an internal aspect of their functioning. Finally, when one
finds a "climate of fear" generated by the state security apparatus in
cooperation with the large landowners, this is not just an obstacle plac-
ing limits on "the range of available options." It is a disciplinary
mechanism so pervasive and yet largely so unseen that the ordinary
individual is persuaded to become involved in the continuous monitor-
ing of his own actions. As Foucault puts it, "he inscribes in himself the
power relation" and "becomes the principle of his own subjection."51

If, as the book makes clear, the moral language of the village is not just
an obstacle to rebellion but a functioning part of the system of domi-
nation, then all these other "obstacles" surely deserve to be analyzed in
the same way. Why, in that case, are they treated differently in Weapons
of the Weak, as a collection of so many "givens"? The reason for this
second strategy, I think, is the same as the reason for the first (the nar-
rowing of the concept of hegemony and the positing of a rational peas-
ant), as well as for the original contradiction (between the need for
ideology and its apparent ineffectiveness), which both strategies are
attempting to evade. It lies in the fundamental question to which the
book is addressed. As we saw, the book's aim is to discover whether
domination is exercised in "the realm of behavior" alone, or "at the
level of beliefs and interpretations" as well and it takes for granted this
distinction between a behavioral and a mental realm.52 The factors
listed and left aside as obstacles are effects of power that do not easily
fit such a distinction. Kinship strategies, for example, clearly belong to
the "realms" of both behavior and belief; a mode of domination that
operates by transforming relations of subordination into family ties
works upon the physical body, determining how people eat, sleep, work
for one another, and reproduce, and yet these practices are inseparable
from the shaping of ideas, being the source of identity, loyalty and
emotion. The obligation to leave the village in search of casual labor is
a coercion that shapes one's view of the world as much as one's place in
it. The "dull compulsion of economic relations" operates at the level of
such relations, which are equally practical and ideological. Even the
extreme case of direct repression fails to fit within the distinction be-
tween physical and mental modes of power: Weapons of the Weak
phrases its fundamental question by asking about "the relative weight
of consciousness, on the one hand, and repression (in fact, memory, or

potential) on the other" in a system of domination.53 Consciousness,
the mental realm, is placed in opposition to modes of domination that
are not purely physical, it turns out, but include the "memory" of past
repression and an anticipation of "potential" repressions, both aspects
of consciousness. This is no accident of phrasing. Memory and antici-
pation are not something ancillary to the working of so-called direct
repression but part of its every operation. No matter how far one rea-
ches back, away from memory or consciousness or culture in the direc-
tion of a purely physical dimension of power, this physical realm will
turn out to consist of an inseparable mixture of what we insist on think-
ing of as the separable realms of behavior and consciousness.54

Meaning and reality?

A close reading of Weapons of the Weak has brought to light the limi-
tations of founding the analysis of modes of domination on the distinc-
tion between a realm of consciousness or culture and some purely
material or physical realm. But there is a larger argument to be devel-
oped. On the one hand, I want to show that this problematic mental/
physical dualism is the product of humanist assumptions about politi-
cal agency, which in turn it seeks to reproduce. On the other hand, I
argue, the dualism and the accompanying humanism seem natural to us
because they coincide with the apparently two-dimensional order of
the world itself. It is through the creation of what appears to us as the
larger binary order of meaning versus reality that the effectiveness of
modern forms of domination is to be understood.

The more simple mind/body dualism of the behavioral approach to
social analysis, which is still especially persistent in political science
and therefore in accounts of power and resistance, has of course been
criticized over the last two decades or more, in particular by the inter-
pretivist theories of social analysis put forward by scholars like Charles
Taylor and, most notably, Clifford Geertz.55 My own arguments can
best be introduced by showing how interpretivist approaches - and a
similar critique could be made of other kinds of critical theory, inclu-
ding Marxist and post-Marxist writings56 - ultimately fail to historicize
or even put in question the larger opposition between meaning and rea-
lity that seems so obvious to the modern world.

Interpretivist theories have argued against the view that sees culture or
political consciousness as a private, internal realm of meaning or belief,

opposed to a public world of observable behavior. Social interaction,
Taylor and Geertz point out, is itself meaningful, for it depends upon
the continuous interpretation of what others' actions mean. These mea-
nings are not something private, but publicly shared understandings
that constitute, in Geertz's words, "a multiplicity of complex conceptual
structures" or public "frames of meaning" in terms of which particular
actions are "produced, perceived and interpreted." Culture, it follows,
is "ideational" without existing "in someone's head" and "unphysical"
without being "an occult entity."57 The common metaphor used to
evoke the public and yet not-quite-physical nature of this realm of
meaning is to liken it to a written text. The best way to outline a critique
of this approach is to try and bring to light the problematic assumptions
about meaning versus reality or structure versus practice embodied in
this simple metaphor of the text.58

One way Geertz explains what it means to think of culture or social
meaning as a text is by introducing, as a further metaphor, a special yet
"nicely illustrative sample of culture" - a Beethoven quartet. It is with
this further metaphor that we will have to begin. "No one
would ... identify [the quartet] with its score," Geertz suggests,
"nor... with a particular performance of it or with some mysterious
entity transcending material existence." Rather, the quartet is "a tem-
porally developed tonal structure, a coherent sequence of modeled
sound - in a word, music."59Such an understanding of music, I would
argue, is a peculiarly western one; and, unproblematic as the metaphor
may seem to us, in the end commits us to believing in something mys-
teriously transcendental.

It can be shown, as I have argued at length elsewhere,61 that to conceive
of music - or texts, or cultural/ideological forms in general - as an
abstract structure or model, endowed with a non-particular and un-
physical being, existing somehow beyond any "particular performance
of it," that is, beyond any particular practical or material occurrence, is
ultimately to take for granted a quite mysterious, elusive, and transcen-
dental effect. Its elusiveness begins to become apparent when one cea-
ses adding metaphor to metaphor and starts trying to pin down the
nature of this "unphysical" entity. It turns out to be an effect created
only out of particular performances, arrangements, and practices. The
distinctive nature of the modern "world-as-exhibition" in which we live
is that more and more of social life has been so arranged that we mis-
take these effects of certain coordinated practices for the existence of a

distinct metaphysical realm of structure or meaning that stands apart
from what we call material reality.61

In the relatively simple case of western classical music, for example,
these would include a whole series of distinctive techniques - including
methods of musical notion, the cult of the composer, the apparatus of
criticism and musical scholarship, and the theatrics of performance -
that cumulatively conjure up the unphysical effect of the musical work.
By contrast, there are other musical traditions, those rooted in the
complex arts of improvisation, whose methods do not create this effect
of a composer and his "work,"or of the work as a text-like structure
that can be considered to have an existence or nature apart from the
repeated and yet always differing performances. A similar argument
can be made regarding written texts. I have described elsewhere a lite-
rary tradition other than our own, that of the pre-colonial Arab world,
which did not share our naive conception of the text as an "unphysical"
entity that somehow exists apart from the "physical"process of its oral
or written repetition. In fact Arabic scholarship was preoccupied with
the arts of continuously recreating written works through repeated
recitations and copyings. The text existed and survived only in its
always differing performances.62

My argument, then, is that the conception of a people's culture or polit-
ical consciousness as a text employs a problematic and distinctively
modern notion. However much the cultural text is said to "find ar-
ticulation" in "particular performances," it is assumed to enjoy a sepa-
rate nature as an unphysical "structure"or "frame of meaning."The dis-
tinction between particular practices and their structure or frame is
problematic not simply because it may not be shared by non-western
traditions but because, as it is the purpose of this essay to argue, the
apparent existence of such unphysical frameworks or structures is pre-
cisely the effect introduced by modern mechanisms of power and it is
through this elusive yet powerful effect that modern systems of domi-
nation are maintained.

There is a second, related problem with the dualist understanding of
meaning or ideology illustrated by the metaphor of cultures as texts,
which must be addressed before considering further the question of
frameworks, namely the problem of agency. Just as the corresponding
western conception of music ties the work to the authority of a com-
poser with a proper name, whose intention supposedly governs all par-

ticular performances and yet survives apart from them, this view of cul-
ture or ideology as a text-like entity existing apart from a material base
implies a sovereign subject (individual or collective) whose intention is
the author of the cultural text. "Our formulations of other people's
symbol systems must be actor-oriented," Geertz writes. That is, they
must be "cast in terms of the construction we imagine [those people] to
place upon what they live through."63   This constructed text can then be
construed as "a story they tell themselves about themselves."64
Although the interpretive theory of culture rescues us from the closed
behavioralist world of private beliefs motivating public actions, its
notions of text and authorship keep us in a world of subjects who
always author their own collective narratives and whose cultural identi-
ties are thus unique and self-produced. Built into the theory, therefore,
is the latent notion of a subjectivity or selfhood that pre-exists and is
maintained against an objective, material world, and a corresponding
conception of power as an objective force that must somehow penetra-
te this non-material subjectivity.

This conception could be illustrated from almost any recent account of
power and resistance, whether the theoretical inspiration is behavioral-
ist, interpretivist, Gramscian, or any other. O'Hanlon's sympathetic but
critical reading of the Subaltern Studies work on resistance to colonial
rule in South Asia, for example, where the strongest theoretical influ-
ence is that of Gramsci, shows how assumptions of this sort have
tended to govern that research.65Here I illustrate the problem by re-
turning to Weapons of the Weak,and exploring how political agency is
constructed in terms of the distinction between a power that operates
at the level of objective behavior and power in the realm of individual
or collective consciousness.

In the first place, this distinction is linked with a series of other opposi-
tions: material versus ideological, actions versus words, observable
versus hidden, coerced versus free, base versus superstructure, body
versus spirit. Weapons of the Weakand much of the other recent litera-
ture on power and resistance construct their objects of study out of
these parallel tropes, each of which is dependent on all the others.
These correspond to a theory of domination that understands power as
something originally and essentially behavioral or material, which
seeks to extend itself and work more economically by producing effects
that are cultural or ideological. This way of thinking about power cor-
responds in turn to a certain conception of the human person. In fact it

is one demanded by the desire to make the discovery of a self-formed
and autonomous personhood the end point of the analysis.

The Moral Economy of the Peasant, James Scott's earlier study of pea-
sant resistance, ends with a paragraph that expresses this desire, which
Weapons of the Weakis to take up. "It is especially at the level of cultu-
re,"the earlier book concludes,

         that a defeated or intimidated peasantry may nurture its stubborn moral dis-
         sent from an elite-created social order. This symbolic refuge is not simply a
         source of solace in a precarious life, not simply an escape. It represents an
         alternative moral universe in embryo - a dissident subculture, an existen-
         tially true and just one, which helps unite its members as a human communi-
         ty and as a community of values. In this sense, it is as much a beginning as an

 Weapons of the Weakis an attempt to discover and describe such a real
place, an embryonic moral universe, a beginning or point of origin, a
site of originality, justice, and existential truth. The site is given the
name Sedaka, a Malay word of Arabic origin whose usage suggests
generosity or social justice - but whose original meaning, it so happens,
is "to speak the truth."

Having deliberately reduced, as we have seen, many of the more com-
plex modalities of power to the status of givens or "background,"and
shown how dominant groups control the villagers' visible, "onstage be-
havior" (the theatrical metaphor erects an apparent artificiality essen-
tial for creating a contrasting sense of something unproblematically
authentic), the book moves "behind the scenes" and records, "back-
stage where the mask can be lifted," a few lines of what it calls "the full
transcript" of peasant discourse.67 The author does not claim access to
this "unedited transcript of subordinate classes" in its entirety. He
admits, for example, that the village poor told him almost nothing
about religion, even though it appears that the major form of under-
ground political opposition among these Malaysian villagers takes the
shape of "shadowy" Islamic organizations with many thousands of
members, two of which were banned during the first year of the
author's stay in Sedaka.68(The implications of this silence are left unex-
plored, as of the fact, mentioned in passing, that the author was living
in the house of by far the largest and richest landowner in the village, a
position that must surely have shaped his discussions with the poor, no
matter how much they took him into their confidence.)69 Nevertheless,

Scott clearly makes the claim that there is such a text, such an unedited
original, such an inner site of authenticity and truth - "that small social
sphere where the powerless may speak freely."7'

"Power-laden situations are nearly always inauthentic," the book ex-
plains. What it hopes to reveal in this "small social sphere" is a place
where the play of power does not penetrate, where discourse becomes
authentic. It seeks the voice of an "author"in the problematic, idealist
sense discussed above, a collective self that is the author of its own cul-
tural constructions and actions, constituting a "beginning" or point of
originality that is embryonic, initially autonomous, and genuine. In this
way it hopes to uncover a site of "existential truth."To reveal the nature
of power, it is assumed, one must oppose to it a pre-existent self and
truth, to which relations of power are wholly external.To do justice to
the victims of inequality and domination in the modern world one must
prove, in E. P. Thompson's words, that they can "be taken as historical
agents," and the means of establishing them as historical agents is to
discover their authenticity, their original autonomy.71The consequence
is an essentialized notion of the subaltern, of the subject in general and
its self-created mentality, and a theory of power that accepts without
question the dichotomy between the material and the ideological, a
power that coerces and places limits on people's options, rather than a
power that works, among other things, through creating truths and sub-
jects and sites of apparent autonomy.

Sedaka, one might say in summing up the argument so far, names a de-
sire for the authentic, and it is this desire that subverts the logic of
works like Weapons of the Weak.It is this desire that disguises power
relations as a list of givens, conjures up the figure of a rational peasant
who stands outside the field of hegemonic effects, and elides the impact
of historical transformation by developing general theories of power
and resistance from evidence gathered at the end of the most pro-
foundly dislocating decade in a people's history.

Unphysical frameworks

I now want to turn to look at this historical transformation more close-
ly, and to trace in it the appearance of those "unphysical frameworks"
first mentioned above in the discussion of Clifford Geertz. The appear-
ance of such frameworks, I argue, is the elusive yet powerful effect
through which modern systems of domination are maintained. This

argument was developed through a study of political and social trans-
formation in colonial Egypt,72 but I want to show here how the same
analysis of modes of domination can be made through a reinterpreta-
tion of the material Scott presents on Southeast Asia.

Weapons of the Weak offers a very rich account of how large landow-
ners, with the intensification of large-scale capitalist agriculture in
Malaysia, are becoming increasingly dependent on what we call the state,
while their dependence on the labor and ideological acquiescence of
the poorer villagers decreases. The state itself, Scott argues, has never
needed the latter's ideological acquiescence, at least in the twentieth
century; not because its power relies solely on physical or economic
coercion, but because the majority of villagers are "irrelevant" to its
appropriation of surplus rice, given that three-quarters of the region's
marketed paddy is produced by the richest eleven percent of its cultiva-
tors. One can find several discrepancies in this line of argument. The
production figures, first of all, are from the late 1970s, after the intro-
duction of new seed varieties and a second growing season had increa-
sed yields of rice by more than fifty percent.73 State regulation,
moreover, has for a long time played a role in agricultural life, in parti-
cular through fixing low prices for rice so as to facilitate feeding and
pacifying the urban population - resulting in rural protests on more
than one occasion.74 Price controls affect not only the income the poor
receive for what little they sell, but the wages they get for planting and
harvesting the rice of the richer farmers. State regulation has also
played an active role in preventing villagers from switching to other,
more profitable crops, and in enforcing the grossly unequal distribution
of land, which ensures that the rich have surplus rice to market, leaving
the bulk of the rural population living below the poverty line. This un-
equal distribution can itself be seen as a state-enforced "appropriation."
Indeed the book explains at the beginning that "the state ... is now a
direct participant ... in nearly all aspects of paddy growing. Most of the
buffers between the state and rice farmers have fallen away."75 whySo
does the book subsequently insist on minimizing the relation between
the state and the peasantry?

It does so, I think, to make its central argument about the absence of
ideological hegemony more plausible. Weapons of the Weak needs to
show that an older authority negotiated within a shared moral world of
face-to-face encounters has given way to a kind of power that is essen-
tially impersonal, intractable, and remote - and thus in no particular
need of ideological support. Scott portrays the local experience of this

transformation in tremendous detail. I draw on these details to con-
struct an alternative account of the new forms of power. Far from being
less ideological, I argue, they operate by inventing the apparent distinc-
tion between material and ideological realms, in all its supposed sim-
plicity, that every modern theorist of power takes for granted.

The transformation in modes of power can be described, of course, in
economic, social, and political terms. It occurs in each of these spheres.
In every sphere, however, it involves what I have called elsewhere (bor-
rowing a term from Martin Heidegger), the process of "enframing."76
By enframing I mean a variety of modern practices that seem to resolve
the world's shifting complexity into two simple and distinct dimensions.
Such practices - which I illustrate from the case of Sedaka - give rise to
the effect of a purely material world, opposed to and given order by
what now appears as a free-standing, non-material realm of meaning.
We name this realm "culture"(or the symbolic, or the ideological, or in
some contexts simply "the state") and believe it to exist, metaphysically,
as something apart from what we call the physical world. The new
modalities of power work, at least in part, by means of this binary

I should stress that in describing this world as two-dimensional, I am
not invoking the unity of some antecedent life where, as Bourdieu says
(following Weber), the world was not yet "disenchanted"; where, as
Foucault says, words were not yet detached from things; or where, as
Marx says, the values of things were not yet detached from their uses.
Rather, it is the invention of this two-dimensionality that makes it pos-
sible to imagine such an antecedent unity, such enchantment, and such
attachment of meanings to their objects and of uses to things.

A first way of describing the transformation is that villagers find them-
selves subject to powers whose source seems increasingly removed
from their own world. The terms of their agricultural life, Scott ex-
plains, "are now decisively set by social forces that originate far outside
the village sphere. Everything from the timing of water supply, and
hence the schedule of transplanting and harvesting, to the cost of fer-
tilizer and tractor services, the price of paddy, the cost of milling, the
conditions of credit, and the cost of labor is so much an artifact of state
policy and the larger economy that the sphere of local autonomy has
shrunk appreciably."77The local powers of dominant village house-
holds are not simply an autonomy being eliminated, however. They are
patterns of domination that, in typical fashion, are becoming the con-

duits of these larger forces. Power relations continue to acquire their
hold over peasants' lives as something local and immediate, at work in
forms of landowning and employment, the supply of seeds and irriga-
tion water, or the demands of kinship and personal loyalty. The differ-
ence is that the articulation of these local powers into larger networks
now creates the effect of power as a system of demand that exists as
something external to ordinary life.

This articulation, moreover, takes several forms. The larger networks
are not only those of the state, but also large-scale commercial syn-
dicates and powerful landowning interests outside the village. Nor are
they encountered only in the form of persons or groups. The new com-
bine-harvesters, for example, are experienced as mechanisms of exter-
nal demand, which ignore the villagers' need for employment in the
name of an external capitalist accounting and transfer the money
previously paid as wages within the villages to the commercial consor-
tia from whom the machines are rented and the companies in Australia
and Japan who manufacture them.78

In the second place, these new forces create an effect of fixity and per-
manence. The earlier, less coordinated forms of domination seemed
always unstable. To maintain them required the innumerable techni-
ques of euphemization, and the periodic acts of violence, by which rela-
tions of subordination were continuously created and recreated. The
new forms of domination, by contrast, appear fixed and enduring. The
negotiated and flexible modes of authority have given way to patterns
of power that seem to reproduce themselves. Weapons of the Weak
offers several illustrations of this.

The book shows, for example, how a series of relationships that were
the subject of negotiation have become determined and nonnegotiable.
Thus, the way land is rented has changed from a system of "paddy rent"
to one of cash rent. Previously tenants paid the landowner his rent at
the end of the season, after the harvest, in a quantity of the harvested
paddy (or its cash equivalent, according to its price that season). Now
most rents are required in cash in advance. So the rent can no longer be
bargained up or down on the threshing floor according to the number
of sacks of threshed paddy. The payment carries no reference to those
sacks - to the amount and value of what the land has produced.79 The
site where competing economic needs were established and negotiated
season by season has been eliminated, replaced by a predetermined
and inflexible demand.

There are many similar transformations described. The price of paddy
is set by predetermined external forces, meaning government policy
and the international market, rather than by local or regional need. The
patterns of transplanting and harvesting no longer vary with the mon-
soon rains, as was mentioned, but are fixed according to an official irri-
gation schedule. The government control of milling, marketing, and the
distribution of fertilizer and credit are further aspects of this pervasive
programming of rural life. The local offices of the Agricultural Devel-
opment Authority have each spawned a Farmer's Association, through
which the larger farmers acquire a disproportionate share of credit.
Villagers are increasingly dependent on credit to purchase the large
amounts of fertilizer required for green-revolution agriculture.8"Con-
trol of the land has become more rigid as the enormous profits of the
green revolution and combine-harvesting cause ownership to be con-
centrated among fewer families, leaving less available for rent or for
distributing as dowries to children. Marriage, as a result, has become
more difficult.81

The fixed, self-reproducing power is also evident in a far greater con-
trol over dishonesty and delinquency, achieved with less surveillance
and supervision. Both cash rents and mechanical harvesting have con-
tributed to this more efficient exercise of power. Under the old system
of "paddy rents," Scott explains, the tenant could use a number of care-
ful ploys to decrease the owner's share of the crop, from quietly harves-
ting a little of the rice the night before the official harvest, to making
spurious claims of crop damage in order to bargain for a reduced rent,
or deliberately leaving unreaped paddy on the stalk to be collected
later when gleaning.82With rents for the land fixed and paid in advan-
ce, the landowner places all the risks of cultivation upon the tenant,
thus guaranteeing himself a larger profit at the same time as he frees
himself from the need to exercise any surveillance over the harvesting.
Similarly with the introduction of combine-harvesting, Scott points out,
the machine relieves the farmer of the task of recruiting laborers and
supervising them in the field. It also enables him to harvest and store
his entire crop in a single day, thus removing the opportunity for the
poor to steal an occasional sack of the harvested paddy left overnight in
the fields.83 All such transformations in the agricultural life of the villa-
ge make its system of exploitation more effective, more economical,
more inflexible, and more permanent. Patterns of domination that
before had to be continuously established and re-established are now
built into the functioning of economic and social practices.

Outside the sphere of agricultural production there have been similar
increases in the efficiency of surveillance and control. A generation
ago, Scott reports, when the region was more sparsely settled and
included large areas of uncleared brush and forest, and its population
was more mobile and less actively policed, there were many groups
who escaped the surveillance and control of the large landowners and
the authorities, including bandits and rustlers now remembered as
popular heroes. Since then, the government-organized spread of irriga-
tion canals, agriculture, roads and police stations has eliminated the
places of refuge and opened up the countryside to permanent super-
vision. Today, says Scott, "all the land around Sedaka is flat and culti-
vated and the police ... are far more numerous, mobile, and well
armed."84So alongside the programming that tends to enfix rural life is
a pervasive and everyday policing. The area does not suffer from the
mass arrests and government death squads common elsewhere in
Southeast Asia or in places such as Central America. Instead there is
an Internal Security apparatus that prevents effective political organiz-
ing, and an efficient system of "everyday repression" maintained by
"diligent police work."'5The result is not a system of terror but rather a
continuous effect of fear and insecurity that guarantees a relatively effi-
cient self-reproduction of authority.8"

The frame of meaning

These various features of the new techniques I have described combine
to produce the common effect of enframing. The new modes of power,
by their permanence, their apparent origin outside local life, their in-
tangibility, their impersonal nature, seem to take on an aspect of differ-
ence, to stand outside actuality, outside events, outside time, outside
community, outside personhood. Hence they appear, not as something
given, as Scott would have it, but rather as something other, something
non-particular and unchanging - as a framework that enframes actual
occurrences. Although it is constituted, like the rest of the social world,
out of particular practices, this framework appears as somehow non-
particular and non-material, that is, as something ideal, and comes to
seem as though it were its own, transcendental dimension of reality.
Numerous examples can be found in Weapons of the Weak of this
novel, metaphysical effect.

Take, as the most straightforward illustration, the new system of rents
explained just above. One way the villagers express the difference that

comes with pre-paid rents is in terms of the "living"and the "dead."87
The old rents were carefully related to what was grown in the rented
fields, hence the name "live rents."The new rents, fixed in advance, are
"dead," no longer a part of what grows and fluctuates, but abstract,
non-living, arbitrary. This disconnection makes the rent into a scale
that stands apart, an absolute measure against which the success or fai-
lure of the harvest must now be measured. The measure is unaffected
by what it measures, like a container holding a certain contents. Rent
now appears to stand in relation to agricultural life as this inert contain-
er, this framework that is somehow of a different order from the sorts
of practice it enframes. Of course the fixing and paying of rents are
social practices like any other part of the life of the village. But the new
principle that governs them creates the effect of a life no longer made
up of interrelated practices, but rather consisting of a framework and
the practices it enframes, as though these were two different orders of

As the economy of Sedaka is converted to the use of cash, there are
several other ways in which money becomes an example of this kind of
intangible, inorganic measure of things. Scott explains that before the
economic transformation the measurement of a family's resources was
immediate and tangible. "The wealth of a paddy-growing family could
in the past have been inferred from the amount of paddy stored in the
granary."The tangibility of resources made it relatively easy for the
poor to importune their richer neighbors for loans, for which the tradi-
tional medium "was, fittingly, paddy or polished rice (beras), the basic
food staple" (not to mention the fact that by prying apart the boards of
a granary at night the poor could surreptitiously help themselves to
additional supplies). Now, however, "the widespread use of cash marks
a shift to a village in which wealth is more easily hidden." The resources
of the rich become transformed into something inaccessibly other,
something inorganic and non-material, outside the realm of what can
be borrowed, begged, or otherwise appropriated. Indeed "the poor
appear to believe that the sale of paddy for cash is, in part, an attempt
by the wealthy to avoid being importuned for loans."88 In such ways,
the surplus from the fields is converted into what seems an abstraction,
something that stands outside the play of personal relations and local
demand. Capital, which is no more than a practical set of relations,
creates the impression of a world now absolutely divided, between a
realm of the tangible and material and a realm of the abstract and

When one is told that for the peasants of Sedaka, "the basic contours"
of the country's capitalist economy have become "for all practical pur-
poses a given,"this should not be read, I would argue, as implying simply
an extension or redefinition of the boundaries of the natural landscape
of the village - as the word "given" implies.89 Economic forces now
appear as contours in a literal sense, like abstract lines on a map.
However much they may be taken for granted, the new economic prac-
tices create an order that seems to stand apart from the natural land-
scape, the way a map does, as a plan that gives the world a dimension of
order. Starting with strategies as everyday as the payment of rent in
advance or the selling of rice paddy for cash, the new social and politi-
cal practices all contribute to creating the effects of enframing.

These effects are not limited to the economic. "The very process of cul-
tivation," to repeat an example mentioned above, is now "largely deter-
mined by the schedule of water release fixed in advance."9?The con-
trolling and distributing of irrigation waters are practices like any other
part of social life. But with their distance from local influence, their
regularity, and their repetitive uniformity, practices of this sort create
once again the effect of something that is not a part of social practice,
something that seems to exist outside the practical world as a program
governing particular practices. It is the effect, once again, of enframing.
Government plans and official policies, all the self-reproducing
methods of controlling and policing described above, all the new
effects of fixity, legal regulation, and structure, create this effect of the
program. The provision of what is labeled "infrastructure,"such as
roads, electricity, piped water, clinics, schools, and mosques, a process
that has "touched virtually every village in the country," is a further
aspect of the pervasive process of enframing.91

Working through the techniques of enframing, power will now appear
as something essentially law-like. It will seem to be external to practice,
as the fixed law that prescribes a code against which changing practices
are then measured. This transformation occurs, moreover, at precisely
the point when power in fact becomes most internal, most integral, and
continuously at work within social and economic practices. So it is not
simply that, as Foucault says, power inserts itself and, "arranges things
in such a way that the exercise of power is not added on from the out-
side, like a rigid, heavy constraint, to the functions it invests, but is so
subtly present in them as to increase their efficiency by itself increasing
its own points of contact."92It is that this occurs at precisely the same
moment when, and by precisely the same detailed methods as, power

presents itself for the first time as "law"or "the state," as though it were
somehow merely an external framework that keeps things and be-
haviors orderly.

None of this is to be understood as simply the superimposing of order
and regularity where previously there was disorder. The life of the vil-
lage and the countryside, needless to say, had its own complex methods
of order, some of which still endure. Nor is it to be understood simply
as the creation of structures or institutional frameworks where none
existed before, unless those terms cease to take for granted the prob-
lematic process of enframing, the technique that gives rise to the effect
of structure or institution - or state. What is new is not a set of struc-
tures, frameworks, or programs, but a set of practices that continuously
create the effect of structure, frame, or program, the effect of an un-
physical realm of order that stands apart from the world of practice.
This apparently separate realm seems to stand as the abstract opposed
to the concrete, the unchanging versus the changeable, the hidden ver-
sus the visible, and the ideal versus material. It follows that it appears at
the same time - like a text in relation to the real world, to reinvoke our
problematic metaphor - as a separate realm of "meaning"in relation to

This final aspect of the transformation is perhaps the most profound,
and can be illustrated once again by particular innovations. The new
social practices include the building and running of government
schools and mosques, the provision of agricultural expertise, and the
ideological work of local party organizations. These innovations are
connected with the shrinking importance of a locally-produced imagi-
native life: village entertainments, small feasts, games, religious events,
and no doubt much else, are all becoming less frequent or disappearing
altogether.93The replacement of these diverse creative and imaginative
practices by the modern techniques of education, organized religion,
government expertise, and official ideology is not simply a replacement
of local learning and cultural life with nationality regulated forms. The
new practices, unlike the old, are expressly concerned with program-
ming. Modern schooling, for example, opposes itself to life, offering a
kind of operating code or "instructions for use" to be mastered before
one takes up, so to speak, the thing itself; organized religion, official
expertise, and party ideology set themselves apart in similar ways, as
programs to govern life. Once again, like the life they program, these
methods of programming consist of nothing more than particular social
practices; but they are set up and regulated in such a way as to appear

to stand outside ordinary practice. They correspond to the methods of
enframing already described, all of which contribute to this impression
that life's meanings constitute a program or text that exists apart from
the practical world.

The binary world constructed by the new forms of power includes a
series of novel practices that appear to create outside the world itself a
separate realm of intentions, ideology, or meaning. The effects of ex-
ternality, fixity, and permanence achieved by the new modes of domi-
nation coincide, therefore, with the more general effect of the existence
of meaning as a distinct order of being, opposed to what it will now be
possible to call mere reality, a merely "material"world.

It can now be seen how the binary world of modern techniques of
order and domination, far from being brought to light by analyses like
 Weapons of the Weak,works itself into the very vocabulary with which
we speak of power. Like most of the work of the moral economy sort,
and indeed virtually all contemporary literature on power and resist-
ance, Weapons of the Weak approaches the question of domination in
terms of an essential distinction between physical coercion and ideo-
logical persuasion. The approach is inevitably blind to the possibility,
argued in the preceding pages, that power now works through novel
methods of creating and recreating a world that seems reduced to this
simple, two-dimensional reality. It represents a way of writing in which
such two-dimensionality is merely reproduced.

As I argued in the first half of this essay, the complexities of domination
never quite fit the terms of the opposition between a physical and
mental form of power. Many forms of exploitation and control cannot
be reduced to this binary form. The attempts to make them fit seem to
arise from a desire to present certain political groups as self-formed
political subjects, meaning subjects who preserve against an essentially
physical coercion a space of mental autonomy. This binary and essen-
tializing view of the political subject is what connects the weaknesses of
prevailing approaches toward the study of power to the alternative
understanding of domination advanced in the second half of this essay.
This is because the opposition between a subject and an object-world
that this view implies depends on taking for granted the fundamental
distinction opposing an ideal realm of existence to a material realm.
The latter corresponds to the broader distinction we take for granted
between the realm of meaning and the real world. Rather than being
fundamental to the nature of power, this larger opposition turns out to

be a metaphor that imitates, but fails to see, the very distinction
through which modern effects of domination are produced.


Many people read and commented on an earlier draft of this arti-
cle. I am particularly grateful to Lila Abu-Lughod, Nathan Brown,
Wendy Brown, and Bertell Ollman. I would also like to thank Jim Scott
for his willingness to discuss my criticisms of his work, and for the
graciousness with which he did so.


 1. For example, Jean Comaroffs study of power and resistance among the Tshidi of
    southern Africa criticizes the acceptance of such "stubborn dichotomies" as the
    distinction between "the symbolic and the instrumental," but her critique is limited
    to showing the "interdependence" between these "two distinct orders of determina-
    tion" rather than questioning the nature of the distinction. Jean Comaroff, Body of
    Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People
    (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 3-4, 262.
 2. The political invention of the modern notion of mind or consciousness, and its rela-
    tionship to modern theories of power as essentially coercive or repressive, are exa-
    mined in the work of Michel Foucault, especially Discipline and Punish: The Birth
    of the Prison (New York: Pantheon, 1977), and The History of Sexuality. Volume 1:
    An Introduction (New York: Pantheon, 1978). I have explored this process in a
    colonial context, and contrasted it with pre-modern theories of personhood, in
    Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
    1988). On the contrast with classical understandings of body and soul, see also
    Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univer-
    sity Press, 1979).
 3. See Rosalind O'Hanlon's critique of studies of resistance to colonial rule in South
    Asia, "Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and Histories of Resistance in
    Colonial South Asia," Modern Asian Studies 22/1 (1988), 189-224.
 4. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Gollancz,
    1963), 59-68.
 5. E. P. Thompson, "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth
    Century," Past and Present 50 (1971), 79.
 6. James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in
    Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976).
 7. Thompson, "Moral Economy of the English Crowd," 76.
 8. Ranajit Guha, editor, Subaltern Studies: Writingson South Asian History and Soci-
    ety (Delhi: Oxford University Press,1982-); James Scott, Weapons of the Weak.
    Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).
 9. Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 41.
10. Ibid., 38-9.

11.   Ibid., 304.
12.   Ibid., 322.
13.   Ibid., 317.
14.   Ibid., 307.
15.   Scott, Moral Economy of the Peasant, 188-189.
16.   Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
      sity Press, 1977).
17.   Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957 119441;
      Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (Chicago: Aldine, 1972).
18.   Bourdieu, Outline, 191.
19.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 307.
20.   Bourdieu, Outline, 179.
21.   Ibid., 192.
22.   Ibid., 191.
23.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 307.
24.   Ibid., 310-312.
25.   Ibid., 184-185.
26.   Ibid., 147.
27.   Ibid., 139.
28.   Ibid., 234-235.
29.   Ibid., 325-326.
30.   Ibid., 336.
31.   Ibid., 250-251.
32.   See John R. Bowen, "The War of the Words: Agrarian Change in Southeast Asia,"
      Peasant Studies 14/1 (1986), 61.
33.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 274.
34.   See Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Gramsci and the State (London: Lawrence and
      Wishart, 1980).
35.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 316.
36.   Ibid., 335.
37.   See Joseph Femia, "Hegemony and Consciousness in the Thought of Antonio
      Gramsci," Political Studies 23/1 (1975), 32-35.
38.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 326.
39.   Ibid., 49.
40.   Samuel L. Popkin, The Rational Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in
       Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).
41.   On the relations between artificial futures and capitalist agricultural practices, see
      Pierre Bourdieu, "The Disenchantment of the World," in Algeria 1960 (Cambridge:
      Cambridge University Press, 1979).
42.   Christine White, "Everyday Resistance, Socialist Revolution and Rural Develop-
      ment: the Vietnamese Case," Journal of Peasant Studies 13/2 (1986), 56.
43.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 287-288.
44.   Ibid., 29.
45.   For Malaysian peasants, this experience might include memories of "strategic ham-
      lets," "free-fire zones," and other innovations developed by an occupying British
      army to suppress the long communist insurgency in post-war Malaya, innovations
      that were subsequently transferred by British military advisers to South Vietnam.
      Scott's assessment of Malaysians' propensity to rebel makes no mention of this his-
      torical experience.
46.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 320.

47.    Ibid., 321.
48.    Ibid., 242-243.
49.    Ibid., 244-245.
50.    Ibid., 246-247, citing Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970),
5 1.   Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 202-203.
52.    Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 322.
53.    Ibid., 40.
54.    These ideas about violence are further developed in Timothy Mitchell, "The Repre-
       sentation of Violence in Writings on Political Development: The Case of Nasserist
       Egypt," in Farhad Kazemi and John Waterbury, editors, Peasant Politics and
        Violence in the Recent History of the Middle East (forthcoming).
55.    Charles Taylor, "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man," The Review of Meta-
       physics 25/1 (1971), 3-51; Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected
       Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973).
56.    For example, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strate-
       gy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London: Verso, 1985) calls for a post-
       Marxist abandoning of the "discursive/extra-discursive dichotomy" and the
       "thought/reality opposition" (110). But like the work of Foucault on which they
       draw, they fail to explain how and why the construction of what I have called "the
       world-as-exhibition" has made these oppositions, despite their elusiveness, so
       powerful and so seemingly obvious. See Timothy Mitchell, "The World as Exhibi-
       tion," Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1989), 217-236.
57.    Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," in
       The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 7,
       10, 28.
58.    Recent criticisms of Geertz's work fault it for failing adequately to distinguish the
       natives' cultural text from the interpretive text of the anthropologist (a difficulty
       Geertz himself admitted from the beginning). They do not tend to question what is
       meant by a text. See, for example, Vincent Crapanzano, "Hermes Dilemma: The
       Masking of Subversion in Ethnographic Description," in James Clifford and
       George E. Marcus, editors, WritingCulture The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography
       (Berkeley: University of California, 1986) and Mark Schneider, "Culture-as-Text in
       the Work of Clifford Geertz," Theory and Society 16/6 (1987), 809-839.
59.    Geertz, "Thick Description," 1 1-12.
60.    Mitchell, Colonising Egypt.
61.    See Mitchell, "The World as Exhibition."
62.    Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, 142-154.
63.    Geertz, "Thick Description," 14-15.
64.    Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," in The Interpreta-
       tion of Cultures:Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 448.
65.    Rosalind O'Hanlon, "Recovering the Subject."
66.    Scott, Moral Economy of the Peasant, 240.
67.    Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 48, 287-288, 329.
68.    Ibid., 288n, 334-335.
69.    Ibid., 2.
70.    Ibid., 330.
71.    Cf. O'Hanlon, "Recovering the Subject."
72.    Mitchell, Colonising Egypt; see also Timothy Mitchell, "The Effect of the State,"

      paper presented at the SSRC workshop on State Creation and Transformation in
      the Middle East, Istanbul, September 1989 (publication forthcoming).
73.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 312-313.
74.   Ibid., 52, 56.
75.   Ibid., 56.
76.   Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, 44-48, 79, 92-94.
77.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 48.
78.   Ibid., 162.
79.   Ibid., 72-73, 151-153.
80.   Ibid., 82-84.
81.   Ibid., 237.
82.   Ibid., 152-153.
83.   Ibid., 156,269.
84.   Ibid., 266.
85.   Ibid., 274.
86.   Ibid., 277.
87.   Ibid., 104.
88.   Ibid., 142-143,268.
89.   Ibid., 48.
90.   Ibid., 56.
91.   Ibid., 54-55.
92.   Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 206.
93.   Scott, Weapons of the Weak, 149.

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