Political Science-James Scott
James Scott introduces another perspective of studying of power relations by introducing the concept of public vs. hidden transcript. He uses public transcript to define the open and discernible interactions resulting from the everyday politics between the dominant and the subordinate. He describes public transcripts as “[a]n indifferent guide to the opinions of subordinates,” a performance, and role playing between the powerful and the weak (3). In general, public transcripts are inclined to take on the discourse of the dominant (4). However, because “[i]t is in the interest of the subordinate to produce a more or less credible performance…” (4), there lies the importance deepening the inquiry into the dynamics of domination and subordination (4). As such, Scott argues that to look at these relations based on what is patent and easily observable does not do justice to analyze power relations. In such interplays, he contends that beyond what is apparent in relations between the dominant and the subordinate lies a domain wherein true expressions of thoughts and feelings are unequivocally conveyed, whether through spoken or tacit language. Appearances, which he aptly terms as “performances,” are not to be taken at face value, and instead should be viewed in terms of express behavior that is socially acceptable. Being the acceptable behavior (1) does not necessarily render these expressions or actions as truthful to the unexpressed opinions of either the dominant or the subordinate.
Because public transcripts are basically public performances rendered on a so-called public stage, Scott introduces the realm of the hidden transcript in power-relations analysis. The hidden transcript, as opposed to the public transcript, is the discourse within the confines of private space. The private space, which Scott calls “offstage,” affords the sense of anonymity and security for the one evincing deeply held opinions and feelings that are deemed as socially objectionable. Because concealment is provided, hidden transcripts, which in most cases are contrary to the public transcript, are unrestrained performances within the safety provided offstage and the assumed like-mindedness of the audience.
The difference between the public vs. The hidden transcript is the “impact of the domination on public discourse” (5). Thus, Scott illustrates the contradiction between the public and the hidden transcripts as he illustrates George Orwell’s experience in colonial Burma (10-11). For the dominant, failure to perform his role could very well threaten his autocratic position, which may open for questioning the legitimacy of his authority and power. Because he needs to maintain his position of authority, he chooses to perform his public transcript despite his hidden transcript. While public performance has much bearing on the dominant’s position of authority, Scott shows that decisions that truly matter are made in the realm of the private rather than in public assemblies where public transcripts are performed (12).
Scott brings to fore an alternative reading of power relations in introducing the concepts of public and hidden transcripts. Power relations viewed from the lenses of transcripts becomes more nuanced as it attempts to see what lies beneath the direct and openly observable relations between the dominant and the subordinate (13-14). Scott’s seminal way to analyze power relations challenges traditional notions of public sphere by introducing the domain of offstage, which can be viewed as an alternate “public” sphere wherein it becomes the public sphere of either the dominant or subordinate.
Scott, James C. “Behind the Official Story.” Domination and the Arts of Resistance:
Hidden Transcripts. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1990. 1-16.
Scott, James C. “A Saturnalia of Power: The First Public Declaration of the Hidden
Transcript.” Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1990. 202-227.
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