Gayatri Spivak and the Subaltern

I recently watched this interesting video of a keynote speech given by Gayatri Spivak about the trajectory of the subaltern in her work.

Gayatri Spivak is most well known for her article “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, considered a founding work in postcolonial studies.  She is also well known for her translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology.  Spivak is a professor at Columbia University.

The idea of the subaltern is an important one in post colonial theory.

From Wikipedia:

Subaltern is a term that commonly refers to persons who are socially, politically, and geographically outside of the hegemonic power structure.  In the 1970s, the term began to be used as a reference to colonized people in the South Asian subcontinent. It provided a new perspective on the history of a colonized place from the perspective of the colonized rather than from the perspective of the hegemonic power. Marxist historians had already begun to view colonial history from the perspective of the proletariat, but this was unsatisfying as it was still a Eurocentric way of viewing the globe. “Subaltern Studies” began in the early 1980s as an “intervention in South Asian historiography.” While it began as a model for the Subcontinent, it quickly developed into a “vigorous postcolonial critique.”

While it is often used to refer to those who are oppressed, I believe that Gayatri Spivak sees the subaltern as those who have no agency or power of their own due to their status of being outsiders.  For example, in order to be heard by the dominant Western world, the subaltern must express their knowledge in a Western way.  Other types of knowledge (i.e. non-Western) are discounted.

The video below is a bit long, but I watched the entire thing and found it thought provoking.  Find some time to watch this (I did while putting away the dishes and tidying the kitchen).

Links for further reading:


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