Hidden transcripts

'Hidden transcripts' is a concept often used in discussions of power and resistance, and it refers to forms of resistance and dissent that are kept out of sight for those in power. Hidden transcipts do come to the surface, however, during conflicts.

In an influential book called Domination and the Arts of Resistance (1992) James C. Scott drew attention to the fact that ideological hegemony could be an appearance, something he called a 'public transcript', hiding various forms of disagreement and anti-hegemonic thought and conduct. The latter he called 'hidden transcripts': ideas and visions carefully kept below the radar by dissenting groups and individuals as a way of remaining safe in the face of power. People pretend to follow the hegemonies defining their social situation - something Scott called 'orthopraxy' - and follow the social and cultural formats that protect them from sanctions. But without agreeing to the ideologies informing the formats.

Examples given by Scott include those of slaves in 19th century US slave society, who behaved obediently and submissively in the presence of the slave master as a way of avoiding punishment (including being sold), but had developed elaborate tactics of subversion in delaying or slowing down the pace of work, of pretending to be less intelligent and capable (and hence potentially dangerous), of solidarity within the community of slaves, and of overt resistance and cultures of retribution in the safety of the slave quarters. Blues music can be seen as an offspring of such hidden transcripts in American slave society.