Subaltern (postcolonialism)


Subaltern (postcolonialism)

Subaltern is a term that commonly refers to the perspective of persons from regions and groups 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." Subaltern is now regularly used as a term in history, anthropology, sociology, economics, literature, philosophy, and other fields. [Gyan Prakash, "Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism," "The American Historical Review", December, 1994, Vol. 99, No. 5, 1475-1490, 1476.]

The term subaltern is used in postcolonial theory. The exact meaning of the term in current philosophical and critical usage is disputed. Some thinkers use it in a general sense to refer to marginalized groups and the lower classes - a person rendered without agency by his or her social status. [See Young, Robert J. C. "Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction". New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.] Others, such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak use it in a more specific sense. She argues that subaltern is not

just a classy word for oppressed, for Other, for somebody who's not getting a piece of the pie....In postcolonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern - a space of difference. Now who would say that's just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It's not subaltern....Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus, they don't need the word ‘subaltern’...They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They're within the hegemonic discourse wanting a piece of the pie and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.” [de Kock, Leon. “Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa.” "A Review of International English Literature". 23(3) 1992: 29-47.]

Subaltern was first used in a non-military sense by Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Some believe that he used the term as a synonym for proletariat, possibly as a codeword in order to get his writings past prison censors, while others believe his usage to be more nuanced and less clearcut. [See Morton, Stephen. "The subaltern: Genealogy of a concept," in "Gayatri Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason". Malden, MA: Polity, 2007: pp. 96-97 and Hoare, Quintin, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. “Terminology”, in "Selections from the Prison Notebooks". New York: International Publishers, pp. xiii-xiv]

In several essays, Homi Bhabha, a key thinker within postcolonial thought, emphasizes the importance of social power relations in his working definition of 'subaltern' groups as

oppressed, minority groups whose presence was crucial to the self-definition of the majority group: subaltern social groups were also in a position to subvert the authority of those who had hegemonic power. [See "Unsatisfied: Notes on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism." Text and Nation: Cross-Disciplinary Essays on Cultural and National Identities. Ed. Laura Garcia-Moreno and Peter C. Pfeiffer. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996: pp. 191-207 and “Unpacking my library…again,” in T"he Post-colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons". Iain Chambers, Lidia Curti, eds. New York: Routledge, 1996: 210.]

Boaventura de Sousa Santos uses the term 'subaltern cosmopolitanism' extensively in his 2002 book "Toward a New Legal Common Sense". He refers to this in the context of counter-hegemonic practices, movements, resistances and struggles against neoliberal globalization, particularly the struggle against social exclusion. He uses the term interchangeably with cosmopolitan legality as the diverse normative framework for an 'equality of differences'. Here, the term subaltern is used to denote marginalised and oppressed people(s) specifically struggling against hegemonic globalization.

External links

* [http://www.subaltern.org/ Subaltern.org: An organization for underrepresented artists.]
**The website defines "Subaltern" in the following manner: "Originally a term for subordinates in military hierarchies, the term subaltern is elaborated in the work of Antonio Gramsci to refer to groups who are outside the established structures of political representation. In 'Can the Subaltern Speak?' Gayatri Spivak suggests that the subaltern is denied access to both mimetic and political forms of representation."
* [http://www.lib.virginia.edu/area-studies/subaltern/ssauth.htm Subaltern studies bibliography]
* [http://members.shaw.ca/jobev/military.html Information on purchase of commissions in Georgian times.]
* [http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Spivak.html Biography and major publications for Spivak.]
* [http://www.subalternstudies.com/ Subalternstudies.com: An academic collective for the study of the subaltern within media, communications, and cultural studies]

ee also

*Subaltern studies
*Postcolonialism

Bibliography

* Bhabha, Homi K. “Unsatisfied: notes on vernacular cosmopolitanism.” "Text and Nation: Cross-Disciplinary Essays on Cultural and National Identities". Ed. Laura Garcia-Moreno and Peter C. Pfeiffer. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996: 191-207.
* Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (2002) "Toward a New Legal Common Sense", 2nd ed. (London: LexisNexis Butterworths), particularly pp.458-493
* Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. " Can the Subaltern Speak?" in "Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture". Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988: 271-313.

References


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