Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 June 2011
How is one to understand contentious acts that open channels of participation while also making use of existing channels? Rightful resistance is a partly institutionalized form of popular action that employs laws, policies, and other established values to defy power holders who have failed to live up to some ideal or who have not implemented a popular measure. Analysis of opposition to cadre misconduct in rural China, supported by evidence from the United States, Norway, and South Africa, suggests that resistance can share a common dynamic despite its occurrence in strikingly dissimilar settings. Aggrieved individuals and groups turn to established principles to anchor their defiance; use legitimating myths and normative language to frame their claims; rely on existing statutes and government commitments when leveling their charges; and locate and mobilize advocates within officialdom. In differing contexts, a combination of rights talk, legal tactics, and open confrontation may induce power holders to surrender advantages in accord with principles that usually favor them. The cases examined further suggest that rightful resistance springs from rights consciousness and increases it and, finally, that it may be more consequential than most “everyday resistance” while remaining less risky than wholly uninstitutionalized defiance.
1 On the relationship of resistance to negation, see Turton, Andrew, “Patrolling the Middle-Ground: Methodological Perspectives on ‘Everyday Peasant Resistance,‘” in Scott, James C. and Kerkvliet, Benjamin J. Tria, eds., Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance in South-East Asia (London: Frank Cass, 1986), 38Google Scholar.
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11 On the collective definition of grievances, see McAdam, Doug, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 33–35Google Scholar. On the development of an “oppositional consciousness” that only partly rejects a would-be “hegemonic consciousness,” see Morris, Aldon D., “Political Consciousness and Collective Action,” in Morris, Aldon D. and Mueller, Carol, eds., Frontiers in Social Movement Theory (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 363–64Google Scholar.
12 For an insightful discussion of how resistance can originate within a hegemonic discourse, see Scott (fn. 4), 90–107. A passage on critiques within the hegemony that are legitimate by definition appears on p. 106.
13 The fieldwork for this article was conducted in twenty-two villages, over a dozen townships and county towns, three provincial capitals, and Beijing from 1992 to 1995. The interviews were conducted by the author and Lianjiang Li, sometimes together and sometimes apart.
14 Given the sensitivity of rural resistance and the limitations of Chinese sources, full ethnographic detail for each episode was not always available.
15 Tang Jinsu and Wang Jianjun, “Nanyi huibi de redian: jinnian nongcun ganqun guanxi toushi” (Hot issues that are hard to avoid: perspectives on rural cadre-mass relations in recent years) (Report of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Beijing, 1989), 4–5. A shortened version appeared in Difang Zhengzhi yu Xingzheng, no. 3 (1990), 15—20; no. 4 (1990), 13–17; Fang Guomin, “Dui dangqian nongcun jiti shangfang qingkuang de diaocha fenxi” (Investigation and analysis of the current situation of groups seeking audiences at higher levels), Xiangzhen Luntan, no. 12 (December 1993), 36; Cheng Tongshun, “Dangqian Zhongguo nongmin de zhengzhi canyu” (Political participation of current Chinese peasants) (Master's thesis, Nankai University, Tianjin, 1994), 11–12.
16 “Shixin haiyao feili” (Not only breaking promises, but also using force), Hebei Nongcun Gongzuo, no. 6 (June 1993), 42.
17 Cheng Tongshun (fn. 15), 11–12.
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20 “Shixin haiyao feili” (fn. 16), 41.
21 Tang Jinsu and Wang Jianjun (fn. 15), 4. On reciprocal rights and duties in dynastic China, see Gungwu, Wang, The Chineseness of China: Selected Essays (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), 165–86Google Scholar. Interestingly, Wang argues that the notion of reciprocal duties currently takes the form of cadres “serving the people” and citizens meeting their legal responsibilities.
22 On villagers' “awareness of personal rights and an intention to protect them,” see Yan, Yun-xiang, “Everyday Power Relations: Changes in a North China Village,” in Walder, Andrew G., ed., The Waning of the Communist State: Economic Origins of Political Decline in China and Hungary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 235Google Scholar.
23 Zhengquan, Zhongguo Jiceng Yanjiuhui, Jianshe, Zhongguo Nongcun Cunmin Weiyuanhui Huanjie Xuanju Yanjiu Baogao (Research report on rural China's villagers' committee reelections) (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Chubanshe, 1994)Google Scholar; Fang Guomin (fn. 15), 36; interview with township official, 1993. One Liaoning farmer expressed his desire for greater disclosure with these words: “I don't know what kind of fee you are asking me to pay. When I know, I'll hand over any amount requested”; “Shixin haiyao feili” (fn. 16), 41.
24 These posters were all written on white paper (a color associated with death and ill fortune). This gesture attracted the attention of county officials, who investigated the charges and ruled that the balloting should be rescheduled and nominations reopened. See Zhongguo Jiceng Zhengquan Jianshe Yanjiuhui (fn. 23), 80.
25 Interviews with two officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Beijing, June 1994.
26 Shao Xingliang et al., “Yi min wei tian” (Regarding the people as sovereign), Xiangzhen Luntan, no. 4 (April 1994), 10–13.
27 Interview with official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Beijing, June 1994.
28 Tian Yuan, “Zhongguo nongcun jiceng de minzhu zhilu” (The pathway to grassroots democracy in rural China), Xiangzben Luntan, no. 6 (June 1993), 3—4. Complaints about election irregularities can also be found in Zhongguo Jiceng Zhengquan Jianshe Yanjiuhui (fn. 23).
29 Interviews with two township officials, 1993; interview with provincial civil affairs bureau official, 1993; Bao Yonghui, “Cunmin zizhi fuhe bu fuhe Zhongguo guoqing?” (Does villagers' autonomy accord with China's conditions?), Xiangzhen Luntan, no. 6 (June 1991), 12; interview with village party secretary, 1993; interview with villagers, 1994.
30 Yan (fn. 22), 235.
31 Interviews with two villagers, 1994.
32 See, for example, Wang Wanfu, “Mo rang qunzhong ‘xunzhao gongchandang‘” (Don't make the masses “look for the Communist Party”), Hebei Nongcun Gongzuo, no. 9 (September 1992), 33; also interview with villager, 1994. Leveling charges concerning “oppressing the masses” was discussed in a 1993 interview with a township official.
33 On rural collective violence before the mid-1980s, see David Zweig, “Struggling over Land in China: Peasant Resistance after Collectivization, 1966–1986,” in Colburn (fn. 3); Elizabeth J. Perry, “Collective Violence in China, 1880–1980,” Theory and Society 13 (May 1984); idem, “Rural Violence in Socialist China,” China Quarterly 103 (September 1985)Google Scholar.
34 On petitioning and remonstrating in dynastic China, see Mary Backus Rankin,” ‘Public Opinion‘and Political Power: Qingyi in Late Nineteenth Century China,” Journal ofAsian Studies 41 (May 1982); Ocko, Jonathan K., “I'll Take It All the Way to Beijing: Capital Appeals in the Qing,” Journal of Asian Studies 47 (May 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On precommunist petitions and their relation to repertoires of contention in post-Mao China, see Elizabeth J. Perry, “To Rebel Is Justified: Maoist Influences on Popular Protest in Contemporary China” (Paper presented at the colloquium series of the Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University, November 1995). On post-Mao remonstrators and their relationship to the state, see Nathan, Andrew J., Chinese Democracy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 24–26Google Scholar; O'Brien, Kevin J., “Agents and Remonstrators: Role Accumulation by Chinese People's Congress Deputies,” China Quarterly 138 (June 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
35 To see how contemporary resistance “bears the imprint of past practices” and how a “blurring” in protest repertoires of students, workers, and peasants that began during the Cultural Revolution is accelerating, see Perry (fn. 34). Perry, despite her focus on “continuations,” agrees that recent unrest is partly a by-product of post-Mao reforms. On the adaptation of old repertoires to new concerns, see Sebastian Heilmann, “Grass-Roots Protest and the Counter—Cultural Revolution of the Seventies” (Manuscript, Hamburg, Germany, July 1995).
36 On the empowering effects of quiet changes in “resource arrays,” see Zhou, Kate Xiao and White, Lynn T. III, “Quiet Politics and Rural Enterprise in Reform China,” Journal ofDeveloping Areas 29 (July 1995), 463–65Google Scholar.
37 The extent of villager dependence on village cadres before and after reform has been a subject of lively debate. For several perspectives, see Oi, Jean C., State and Peasant in Contemporary China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)Google Scholar; Nee, Victor, “A Theory of Market Transition: From Redistribution to Markets in State Socialism,” American Sociological Review 54 (October 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Unger, Jonathan, “State and Peasant in Post-Revolution China,” Journal of Peasant Studies 17 (October 1989), 133–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Shue, Vivienne, The Reach ofthe State (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1988)Google Scholar; Walder, Andrew G., “Markets and Inequality in Transitional Economies: Toward Testable Theories,” AmericanJournalofSociology 101 (January 1996)Google Scholar. On the declining importance of administrative connections even in marketized areas with high labor-demand, see Parish, William L., Zhe, Xiaoye, and Li, Fang, “Nonfarm Work and Marketization of the Chinese Countryside,” China Quarterly 143 (September 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Some research suggests that declining dependence may be most pronounced in poor agricultural villages. See Oi, Jean C., “Rational Choices and Attainment of Wealth and Power in the Countryside,” in Goodman, David S. G. and Hopper, Beverly, eds., China's Quiet Revolution: New Interactions between State and Society (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994), 73Google Scholar; O'Brien, Kevin J., “Im plementing Political Reform in China's Villages,” Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 32 (July 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
38 On farmer conflicts with the state, see Thomas P. Bernstein, “In Quest of Voice: China's Farmers and Prospects for Political Liberalization” (Paper presented at the University Seminar on Modern China, Columbia University, February 10,1994).
39 In a seven-year dispute over the illegal renaming of a township, hundreds of Shanxi villagers demonstrated in front of a county office building, demanding that the responsible officials come out. A group of the complainants marched carrying lit lanterns and candles (in broad daylight!) to prove that they could not “see” under the township's dark rule. Li Renhu and Yu Zhenhai, “Yangzhao xiang gengming fengbo” (The disturbance over changing the name of Yangzhao Township), Banyuetan (Neibuban), no. 6 (March 1993), 32—36. This case is a textbook example of rightful resistance because the villagers (1) based their claims on two state council regulations, (2) sought to locate allies in the county and provincial government, and (3) engaged in lawful collective action.
40 Yan (fn. 22), 235. For a similar report, see Yu Xin, “‘Luan tanpai’ reng wei xiu” (Arbitrary apportionments still have not stopped), Minzhuyu Fazhi, no. 9 (September 1993), 26–27.
41 Interview with township official, 1993.
42 Interview with township official, 1993.
43 Zhang Chenggong, “Cunzhang si yu chunjie” (Village heads die at spring festival), Landun, no. 3 (March 1993), 26–27; Zeng Yesong, “Jingdong Zhongnanhai de shinian yuanan” (A ten-year-long unjust verdict that disturbs Zhongnanhai), Zhongguo Nongmin, no. 5 (May 1995), 34—37; Lu Fengjun, “Da eba Han Gang fufa ji” (Report on the execution of local bully Han Gang) (Paper by a county judicial official, Shandong Province, 1993).
44 Maintaining morale among village cadres is a top concern of township leaders, particularly in unstable, “semiparalyzed” villages where underpaid, overworked cadres often threaten to abandon their posts. Interview with a township official, 1993.
45 Interviews with villagers, 1994. Suppression sometimes fails. In one telling case several villagers tore up their ballots just as a village election began and denounced a township-promoted candidate as corrupt. Though township officials at first sought to prosecute them for “impeding an election,” and the county procurator accepted the case, the provincial people's congress, after consulting with the National People's Congress, decided it was “not appropriate to regard their actions as illegal” because the original nominating process had been conducted improperly. Zhongguo Jiceng Zhengquan Jianshe Yanjiuhui (fn. 23), 107–8.
46 Interviews with villagers, 1994. In Hebi City, Henan, about 60 percent of the collective complaints lodged in 1993 demanded an audit of village financial records, sometimes up to ten years' worth. Fang Guomin (fn. 15), 36.
47 Jonathan Fox argues that opportunities to gain citizenship rights rarely arise so long as authoritarian elites remain united, but that divisions caused by declining legitimacy and threats to long-term political stability can increase “access to state entitlements,” even without meaningful electoral competition. See Fox, , “The Difficult Transition from Clientelism to Citizenship: Lessons from Mexico,” World Politics 46 (January 1994), 155–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
48 In one village I visited, farmers have raised a collection to hire a journalist (preferably a reporter from the Focus segment of the CCTV program Dongfang Shikong) to investigate their charges. Interviews with villagers, 1994.
49 Hobsbawm (fn. 7), 15, writes: “It is as though the villages, always conscious of potential strength even within their subalternity, required only the assurance of goodwill or even mere toleration from the highest authorities to straighten their backs.”
50 Interview with official of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 1994; interviews with provincial civil affairs bureau officials, 1993 and 1994.
51 Fang Guomin (fn. 15), 36; interview with villager, 1994.
52 On “letters and visits work” and the use of mass petitions by leaders at higher levels to monitor cadre performance, see Huang, Yasheng, “Administrative Monitoring in China,” China Quarterly 143 (September 1995), 834—35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ma Jinlin, “Jianchi qunzhong luxian, miqie dangqun guanxi” (Uphold the mass line, improve party-mass relations) (Paper by a county official, Hebei Province, 1992).
53 Cf. “In fact, given the highly personal nature of political ties in Morocco generally, it is very likely indeed that if any individual has a problem in his own locale he will seek a person who can help him from any place in the country, any position in the official hierarchy, and on the basis of any personal connection that best serves his particular purpose at the moment.” Lawrence Rosen, “Social Identity and Points of Attachment: Approaches to Social Organization,” in Clifford Geertz, Hildred Geertz, and Rosen, Lawrence, Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 53Google Scholar.
54 For a discussion of “sandwich strategies” and triangular conflict between reformers, entrenched elites, and popular forces, see Fox, Jonathan, The Politics of Food in Mexico: State Power and Social Mobilization (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), chaps. 6, 7Google Scholar. On “fragmented authoritarianism,” see Lieberthal, Kenneth G. and Lampton, David M., Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making Post-Mao China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), chap. 1Google Scholar.
55 Wang Wanfu (fn. 32), 33. On concerns that angry villagers may one day attack grassroots leaders with their shoulder poles, see Peng Zhen (Speech to the fifth joint meeting of delegation leaders and members of the Law Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress, April 6, 1987).
56 Interviews with central officials, 1993 and 1994. On the role of the Organic Law of Villagers' Committees in reducing cadre-mass conflict, improving policy implementation, and strengthening cadre supervision, see Wang Zhenyao, “Woguo nongcun de lishixing biange yu cunmin zizhi de biran qushi” (Our country's historical reform and the inevitable trend of villagers' autonomy), in Min-zhengbujiceng Zhengquan Jianshesi Nongcunchu, ed., Cunmin Zizhi ShifanJiangxi Ban Shiyongjiao-cai (Teaching materials for the study group on villagers' autonomy demonstration) (Laixi City, Shandong Province, November 1991), 44–45.
57 The subject of how to avoid abandoning categories prematurely when encompassing additional cases is discussed in Collier, David and Mahon, James E. Jr., “Conceptual ‘Stretching‘Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis,” American Political Science Review 87 (December 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
58 Geertz, Clifford, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in Geertz, ed., The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 27Google Scholar.
59 On “deep analogies,” see Tilly, Charles, As Sociology Meets History (New York: Academic Press, 1981), 8Google Scholar.
60 The quoted text and a strong defense of pursuing “narrative ordering of circumstantial detail” can be found in William H. Sewell, Jr., “Three Temporalities: Toward an Eventful Sociology” (Manuscript, University of Chicago, February 1992).
61 Stinchcombe, Arthur L., Theoretical Methods in Social History (New York: Academic Press, 1978), 15, 21Google Scholar.
62 Some relevant factors are which government commitments resisters invoke, which elite advocates are available, how political pressure is applied, and how willing authorities are to resort to ruining rightful resisters outside the law.
63 Mathiesen (fn. 19), 13, also 178, 187.
64 Abel, Richard L., Politics by Other Means: Law in the Struggle againstApartheid, 1980–1994 (New York: Routledge, 1995), 23–65Google Scholar; material in the rest of the paragraph is drawn from pages 62, 534,12, 3, 541, 13, 62, 28–43, 539, 61.
65 On “weapons of the weak,” see Scott (fn. 9).
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68 McCann (fn. 5), 290–93.
70 For a critique of this view, see Thompson, E. P., Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975), 258–61Google Scholar.
71 McCann (fn. 5). Cites in the paragraph are drawn from pages ix, 12, 9.
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77 McCann (fn. 5), chap. 4.
82 See Thompson (fn. 70), 263.
83 McCann (fn. 5), 297–98.
84 Thompson (fn. 70), 263. Hunt (fn. 72), 311, has also noted, in discussing Gramsci's understanding of the relationship of law to social change, that “for a hegemonic project to be dominant it must address and incorporate, if only partially, some aspects of the aspirations, interests, and ideology of subordinate groups.”
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86 Hay, Douglas, “Property, Authority and the Criminal Law,” in Hay, Douglas et al., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Allen Lane, 1975)Google Scholar. Although Hay allows for resistance based on law (p. 34), he focuses on the persuasiveness of law as ideology and its contribution to legitimacy. “Mind-forged manacles” are discussed on p. 49.
87 McCann (fn. 5), 230, 276, 232, 269.
88 On the growing importance of contracts even in remote rural areas, see Ross, Lester, “The Changing Profile of Dispute Resolution in Rural China: The Case of Zouping County,” StanfordJournal of International Law 26 (Fall 1989), 63Google Scholar.
89 This language is borrowed from McCann (fn. 5), 232. In China many villagers have shown themselves to be remarkably attentive to cadre misconduct related to birth control implementation. This is probably not because they desire conscientious enforcement of family planning but rather because any violation of a “national policy” can be used to weaken a cadre and secure high-level support. Interview with villager, 1994; interview with village cadre, 1994.
90 On “cognitive liberation,” see McAdam (fn. 11), 34.
91 McCann (fn. 5), 281, 271, 282, 269, 264–69.
92 Li Kang, “Jiceng zhengquan yu jiceng shequ” (Grassroots government and grassroots community), in Li Xueju, Wang Zhenyao and Tang Jinsu, eds., Zhongguo Xiangzhen Zhengquan de Xian-zhuangyu Gaige (Current situation and reform of Chinese township government) (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Chubanshe, 1994), 267.
93 For Scott's reversal of Gramsci, see Scott (fn. 4), 90–91. Scott's position is complex, and some of the evidence he considers in his discussion suggests less constraint in action than his turning of Gramsci upside down implies (pp. 94–107).
94 Interview with village party secretary, 1993; interview with deputy village party secretary, 1993.
95 Li Jingyi, “Nongcun ‘zhiluan‘qishi lu” (Reflections on overcoming disorder in the countryside) (Paper by a county party secretary in Hebei Province, 1992). A shortened version of this article appeared in Hebei Nongcun Gongzuo, no. 8 (August 1992), 14—15.
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