According to Spivak, in what way is the intellectual complicit in marginalizing the subaltern?I am writing a paper examining Dr. Gayatri Spivak's definition of subalternity and how it relates to a...

According to Spivak, in what way is the intellectual complicit in marginalizing the subaltern?

I am writing a paper examining Dr. Gayatri Spivak's definition of subalternity and how it relates to a novel. I know that she asserts that intellectuals, in trying to speak for the subaltern, only help to keep them in their disenfranchised positions. However, I'm not sure I understand why this is. Anyone out there well-versed in post-colonial theory? Thanks.

2 Answers | Add Yours

kimfuji's profile pic

kimfuji | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

What Spivak is trying to say is that when the intellectual "speaks for" the subaltern they are being complicit in keeping them in a helpless sort of role. What should really be happening is for those people to be empowered, that is, yield power themselves and speak for themselves.

(If you read Bell Hooks, she has a very interesting view on this subject.)

When intellectuals speak for marginalized or disenfranchised people it is enabling, in the sense that it keeps them in their comfortable position of not being the power behind their own lives. They are like children. It doesn't do anything for them because they are still in a passive role.

A good analogy is how a mother and child interact. If the mother only set's down rules for the child to follow, the child doesn't learn anything for themselves. If the child acts on their own--taking responsibility for their own actions--they can grow into their own power. Eventually the child must function alone in society to be truly free. It is the same with the subaltern. They must be self-defining to be truly free.

If the mother speaks for the child, she is not allowing her child to grow up or speak for themselves. In a sense she is crippling the child, encouraging them to be dependent. In the same way, an intellectual would be complicit in marginalizing the subaltern if he or she continues to speak for them.

All people must be self-defining in order to be free.

kc4u's profile pic

kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

I would just add a point or two to the detailed answer already given to the question.

The work in focus is 'Can the Subaltern speak?' and the answer is more or less no, she cannot. Spivak herself performs an analysis on the young Bengali woman's suicide to give an illustration. I think, the major point, which needs highlighting, is that it is because of a discursive sliding that the subaltern cannot speak. Even when they speak, the cease to be subalterns as the order of discourse they follow eclipses their subjectivity. Spivak's tradition in philosophy goes back to French poststructuralism of Derrida and Foucault as well as the psychoanalytically grounded feminist theory of Irigaray and Kristeva. The order of discourse sliding the speaking being is apoststructuralist insight and the phallocentric nature of social discourse which does the subaltern feminine in, is a feminist point. In sub-altern history of Dipesh Chakravorty and Ranajit Guha, it is once again the same problem. Even as they try to appropriate the discourse for the subaltern, as the acknowledge, it is a very difficult position to inscribe and they end up appropriating the subaltern into the order of rational and intellectual discourse.

We’ve answered 318,989 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question