Publictranscripts, popular agency
and the politics of subsistence
in early modern England
n the summer of 1596, the balladeer Thomas Deloney was facing imprisonment. While Londoners were struggling with the consequences of harvest
failure, Deloney had published, ‘a certein ballad containing a Complaint of the
great Want and Scarcitie of Corn within the Realm’. His oﬀence was to have
represented the Queen speaking ‘with hir people in dialogue-wise in very fond
and undecent sort’ and to have prescribed ‘orders for ye remedying of this
Early modern England was marked by profound changes in economy, society, politics and religion. It is widely believed that the poverty and discontent which these changes often caused resulted in major rebellion and frequent 'riots'. This book argues for the inherently political nature of popular protest through a series of studies of acts of collective protest, up to and including the English Revolution. Authority was always the first historian of popular protest. Explaining the complex relationship between the poor and their governors, the book overviews popular attitudes to the law and the proper exercise of authority in early modern England. A detailed reconstruction of events centring on grain riots in the Essex port of Maldon in the crisis of 1629 is then presented. Urbanisation, regional specialisation and market integration were the larger changes against which disorder was directed between 1585 and 1649. The book discusses the 'four Ps', population growth, price rise, poverty and protest, explaining their connection with population explosion to poverty and protest. The major European revolts of the so-called 'Oxfordshire rising' are then analysed. Popular politics might deploy 'weapons of the weak' in a form of everyday politics that was less dramatic but more continuous than 'riot'. On the very eve of the Civil War, large crowds, with underemployed clothworkers, attacked and plundered the houses of local Catholics and proto-royalists among the nobility and gentry. In a culture that proscribed protest and prescribed obedience, public transcripts could be used to legitimise a popular political agency.
Settlers instead invested enormous faith and energy in what they called prestige, a kind of protective barrier surrounding them. This, whites believed, permitted them to travel, work, and live in almost total security despite their being fantastically outnumbered by Africans. Lack of deference in the most minor way suggested that prestige was fraying and, unchecked, left settlers undefended. Because prestige must attach to white skin, any white person’s individual failure to maintain prestige threatened the prestige of all white people. Thus whites demanded of each other that they lived and comported themselves in certain ways. Settlers who fell into penury, became vagrants, turned to crime, or “went native” failed miserably to possess the demeanor necessary to inspire prestige. Moreover, settlers and colonial officials each wrote their own “public transcripts” that they demanded Africans follow. Whereas settlers insisted that prestige much attach to white skin, colonial officials argued it attached to all those representing the Crown. Settlers constantly attended to white prestige, both because it was crucial to the survival of white domination, and because it seemed perpetually in danger of dissipating.
claims are laid out and
how they are denied or mitigated. The dynamics of claiming authority while
justifying and externalising failure turn peacebuilding’s publictranscript into
what Barrington Moore calls the moral authority of suffering (1978: Ch. 2).
Peacebuilding’s discourse is projected with a sense of inevitability and unanimity, demanding consent, despite continuous armed conflict and deteriorating
living conditions. These conditions, however, generate criticisms and political
Although the hidden transcript cannot be simplistically seen as an
Reconstructing popular political culture in early modern England
one, if key, moment, in a history of longer-term negotiations. As my essay
on publictranscripts and the politics of subsistence sought to show, popular
politics might deploy ‘weapons of the weak’ in a form of everyday politics that
was less dramatic but more continuous than ‘riot’ (chapter 7). There was an
important dialectic between the tradition of protest and this larger repertoire.
An understanding that there was a wider repertoire of actions available to
subaltern groups in negotiating or critiquing power, helps to avoid framing
popular politics in the
Weak empire to weak nation-state around Nagorno-Karabakh
Jan Koehler and Christoph Zürcher
then connected to fundamental questions of
revising administrative borders between Soviet republics.
Hidden transcript into publictranscript: dissident nationalists
leave their informational island
What actually has been the most striking feature of Armenian politics since independence is a lack of ideology rather than ideological diﬀerences. Had the survival of
African elephants been a popular issue in Armenia, there can be little doubt that the
same individuals who formed the Karabakh Committee would have been members of
a “Save the Elephants Committee” if this
avenue of retreat. Scott concluded
that the ‘ambiguous polysemic elements of folk culture mark off a
relatively autonomous realm of discursive freedom [for subordinates],
on the condition that they declare no direct opposition to the publictranscript as authorised by the dominant’.43 Much of Scott’s evidence
for this theory is derived from peasant and slave societies as well as
early modern Europe. However, some of these concepts still remain
applicable to early nineteenth-century society in London and can assist
us in understanding the deeper function of violent
Batavia, considered a strong move to restore discipline among ‘music-
loving’ Afro-Surinamese, did not seduce this hard core to attend
church.17 However, there was not open resistance against all authority
in Batavia. Instead, sufferers expressed what anthropologist James Scott
has designated ‘hidden transcripts’ of anger and frustration, which was
a discourse that had existed in Batavia alongside the publictranscript of
Christian care and obedience.18 Only rarely did this hidden transcript
become public, such as during the Bishop’s visit to Batavia in 1883.
not, alas, so straightforward that we can call what is said in
power-laden contexts false and what is said offstage true. Nor can we simplistically
describe the former as a realm of necessity and the latter as a realm of freedom.
What is certainly the case, however, is that the hidden transcript is produced for a
different audience and under different constraints of power than the publictranscript. (1990: 5)
More than the boundaries between these two transcripts, the real conflict takes
place in the space in between. Scott premised his central argument on the
, pp. 70–71.
40 J. Walter, ‘PublicTranscripts, Popular Agency and the Politics of Subsistence in
Early Modern England’, in M. J. Braddick and J. Walter (eds), Negotiating Power
in Early Modern Society: Order, Hierarchy and Subordination in Britain and Ireland
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 145.
41 See C. Hill, Experience of Defeat, passim; and Woolrych, ‘Good Old Cause’,
42 See Irwin-Zarecka, Frames of Remembrance, p. 54.
43 See Matthews, Calamy Revised, p. 540.
44 Roger Lowe, The Diary of Roger Lowe of Ashton