By the teeth: A critical examination of James Scott's The moral economy of the peasant

Jane Haggis, Stephanie Jarrett, Dave Taylor, Peter Mayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Peasant households in Southeast Asia and elsewhere live on the margin of subsistence. Their survival strategies make them technological conservatives and weavers of reciprocal webs of social obligation and dependence. James C. Scott has argued that the fabric of this "moral economy" both guarantees subsistence for the peasants and forms the touchstone on which their judgements of social justice are tested. When those who should offer succor withdraw it, peasants are outraged and from their anger springs peasant rebellion. Two South Asian peasant rebellions of the 1940s (Telengana and Tebhaga) fail to support Scott's account and raise major questions about his historical method. Two others case studies focused on the early years of colonial contact (the Padri Wars and the capitalist transformation of the Kaveri delta) lead the authors to question sharply the existence of a "moral economy of the peasant" and to suggest that Scott has inadvertently presented a landlord's view of peasant society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1435-1455
Number of pages21
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1986
Externally publishedYes


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