“There are districts in which the position of the rural population is that of a man standing permanently up to the neck in water, so that even a ripple is sufficient to drown him.” With this epigraph, invoking the words of economic historian R. H. Tawney, James C. Scott launched The Moral Economy of the Peasant. His pathbreaking second book describes the social and cultural repertoires through which Southeast Asian peasantries struggled in the 1930s to dampen the ripples and torrents of political and economic change, in an effort to keep their heads above water. In the years since its publication, and despite this seemingly delimited focus, The Moral Economy of the Peasant has generated considerable ripples of its own, energizing the waters through which it has moved over the last four decades. A number of excellent reviews have delved deeply into the origins, inspiration, and impact of this work. Building on these, this short essay attempts to grapple with its intellectual energy, to understand something of how The Moral Economy of the Peasant became, and remains, a touchstone within and beyond the interdisciplinary field of Asian studies.

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