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Decolonization: the process of removing an imperial power over a colonized

region (1947-1997). Post-colonial: after colonization is over, or when

decolonization is complete. Postcolonial refers also to a specific type of
history: Postcolonial theory / studies, the study of the formerly colonized
regions and their independent development. As your textbook suggests, it's
not w/o critics because postcolonial society (India, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe,
etc.) still feel the effects of imperialism

The final is subaltern. Historians who use this term take it from Antonio
Gramsci (1891-1937), an Italian Marxist and Communist who was
imprisoned for a long time by Mussolini's police (from 1926) until his death
at age 46. In prison, he wrote notebooks on politics and history and
philosophy. He declared that the subaltern was the subjected underclass in
a society on whom the dominant power exerts its hegemonic influence.

Why choose the term "subaltern"? What does it mean? According

to my handy OED, it means, of inferior status or rank;
subordinate; hence, of rank, power, authority, action

proponents of subaltern studies suggest that we need to find alternate

sources to locate the voice of the subaltern historically. Elite records, like
those at the home office or foreign office could still be used, but you had to
read them with a different pair of lenses. So even though we might be
subject to using these same sources, we can read them "against the grain"
this phrase comes from Walter Benjamin's theoretical work
Historians have tended to use this term in a way that takes back the history
much the same way that the term queer has been brought into the
language of queer theory, subaltern has been a way for historians (and
theoreticians) to expand their language, to recognize the historically
subordinate position of the lives of various groups of people, but in
recognizing their "subalternity" giving them a voice and an agency
Subaltern Studies emerged around 1982 as a series of journal articles
published by Oxford University Press in India. A group of Indian scholars
trained in the west wanted to reclaim their history. Its main goal was to
retake history for the underclasses, for the voices that had not been heard
previous. Scholars of the subaltern hoped to break away from histories of
the elites and the Eurocentric bias of current imperial history. In the main,
the wrote against the "Cambridge School" which seemed to uphold the
colonial legacyi.e. it was elite-centered. Instead, they focused on
subaltern in terms of class, caste, gender, race, language and culture. They

espoused the idea that there may have been political dominance, but that
this was not hegemonic. The primary leader was Ranajit Guha who had
written works on peasant uprisings in India.
She draws on a number of theoretical positions in her analysis of Indian
history: deconstruction, marxism, feminism. She was highly critical of
current histories of India that were told from the vantage point of the
colonizers and presented a story of the colony via the British adminstrators
(Young, 159).

Spivak: Marxist, Feminist, Deconstructionist

Benjamin Graves '98, Brown University

If Spivak's chief concern can be summarized as a wariness of the limitations of

cultural studies, what's particularly interesting about her engagement of the
postcolonial predicament is the uneasy marriage of marxism, feminism, and
deconstruction that underlies her critical work. "Three Womens Texts and a
Critique of Imperialism," an analysis of Emily Bronte's Jane Eyre, Jean
Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, portrays the
complicated interface of competing critical practices. According to Spivak, Bronte's
novel may well uphold its protagonist as a new feminist ideal, but it does so at the
expense of Bertha, Rochester's creole bride who functions as a colonial subject of
"other" to legitimate Jane's simultaneous ascent to domestic authority. In other
words, a feminist approach to theory perhaps precludes an understanding of the
novel's depiction of the "epistemic violence" (and in the case of Bertha, physical
containment and pathologization) done upon imperial subjects. In the following
passage, Spivak portrays such imperialism as a "worlding" process that attempts to
disguise its own workings so as to naturalize and legitimate Western dominance:
If these 'facts' were remembered, not only in the study of British literature but in the
study of the literatures of the European colonizing cultures of the great age of
imperialism, we would produce a narrative in literary history, of the 'worlding' of
what is now called 'the Third World.' To consider the Third World as distant
cultures, exploited but with rich intact literary heritages waiting to be recovered,
interpreted, and curricularized in English translation fosters the emergence of 'the
Third World' as a signifier that allows us to forget that 'worlding,' even as it
expands the empire of the literary discipline (269).
Spivak's description of the Third World becoming a "signifier that allows us to
forget that 'worlding'" resembles in many ways Marx's notion of the commodity

fetish that he describes in volume one ofKapital. In "The Fetishism of the

Commodity and its Secret," Marx suggests that commodity products become part
of an obfuscating network of signs that obscure the history of labour that went into
their production. Spivak suggests that the Third World, like the commodity fetish,
becomes a sign that obscures its mode of production, thus making Western
dominance appear somehow given or natural.

What she and other historians (including Ranajit Guha) wanted was to
reclaim their history, to give voice to the subjected peoples. Any other
history merely reconstructs imperialist hegemony and does not give voice to
the peoplethose who resisted, those who supported, those who
experienced colonial incursion. According to the Subaltern Studies group,
this history is designed to be a "contribution made by people on their own,
that it, independently of the lite" (quoted in Young 160). They did this by
establishing a journal out of Oxford, Delhi and Australia and called
it Subaltern Studies to write a history against the grain and restore history
to the subordinated. In other words, to give the common people back their

Dipesh Chakrabarty ("postcoloniality and the artifice of history"
in representations) suggest that it is really impossible to fully break from
the western narrative.
Obviously, the introduction of subaltern studies, like all of our theories
we've encountered this term, has tremendous political repercussions. In a
society like Great Britain, that claims to operate as a "Commonwealth" yet
sees racism around every corner as well as the desire to keep out the blacks
who cause all the problems (refer to recent Prime Minister elections), the
writing and mapping of a history of previously silent groups creates an
undercurrent throughout the society

Thus subaltern history will help to lay bare previously covered histories,
previously ignored events, previously purposeful hidden secrets of the past.
"other." Otherness is part of modern nationalist rhetoric to define a nation,
to have a nationalist spiritpatriotism, for example is to suggest a certain
level of inclusion.

in terms of binary oppositions self / other. So, "the other" was
constructed as outside the nation. When this kind of bipolarity is
established, the opposite tends to be negated. Otherness, once negated is
subject to the power of the colonizer. It is this discourse that early postcolonial thinkers, like Said, hoped to displace. Like scholars of gender, Said
argued that the bipolar reduced race to an "essentialist" category."
until the emergence of "The New Left" and the rise of non-Marxist social
history in the 1960s that we see concerted efforts at a "history from below"
that provided these characters with a voice.
-In the US, race and gender became especially important in the 1960s in the
face of the Civil Rights Movement and the emergent Feminist Movement.
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique really became a wake-up call
-In Europe, students faced the violence of global migration from colonized
areas (specifically in EnglandCaribbean, African, South Asian, East Asian
and FranceVietnam/Indochina, Algeria/North Africa), they faced
decolonization and in 1968 the huge student riots in Europe showed the
emergence of the "subaltern."
-But other areas of the world as well in Cold War society: Latin American
Revolutions, The revolutions in Asia and Africa.
-The post-war world then, was one of growing discontent "at home" and
"abroad"to be more sophisticated, we should say "globally."

The New Left came out of this discontent. Dissatisfied with the Soviets after
1956, young scholars thought about alternative ways of thinking about the
past by not relying on "working" models. Saw a chance to see the past for
what it was.
1960slots of great stuff on class beginning with EPT's MEWC.
1960s & 1970slots of great stuff that begin to combine all threewhat
historians sometimes refer to as the mantra: race, class and gender.

So what? How does this have to do with "subaltern" and "recovering"

history? EVERYTHING.

IV. This gets us to the point where we can talk about "postcolonial" theory
and history. It enables us to use a discourse that would have been