Write a critical analysis of Rananjit Guha’s “The Small Voice of History” from Subaltern Studies IX.

A critical analysis of Ranajit Guha’s essay “The Small Voice of History” could center on the importance of listening to people who have been deemed unimportant, insignificant, or secondary to the creation of history. You could discuss why states and countries tend to gloss over or dismiss the impact of small voices. You could also link the conflict between big voices and small voices to the present debate around descriptive representation versus substantive representation.

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As you might already be aware, Ranajit Guha is an acclaimed Indian historian. The essay you want to discuss—“The Small Voice of History”—was, as you note, featured in an issue of Subaltern Studies.

If you didn’t know, “subaltern” refers to people who don’t receive lots of attention or visibility. It connects to humans thought to be of lesser significance or of an inferior status.

The subaltern identity is highlighted in the title of Guha’s essay. An analysis of Guha’s essay and claims could center on the importance of hearing and listening to the small voices. To fully grasp history, people shouldn’t unthinkingly accept what Guha’s refers to as “statist discourse.” For Guha, history often focuses on countries and their powerful institutions. In a sense, history is taken over by big voices. Historians can make it seem like state-sponsored actions have more importance than the actions of people not connected to apparatuses or movements sanctioned by the nation. Yet the marginalized should be spotlighted much more.

Guha uses the example of the Telangana movement. Guha highlights the important role women played in the quest to create a separate Telangana state in a part of India. Yet their active, forceful role is often ignored or diminished by historians. They’re pushed out of the spotlight.

For Guha, there’s a “myriad [of] voices in civil society.” Yet those voices are “drowned out” or usurped by the power of the state or by the people who are presumed to represent them. According to Guha, the small voices should be restored. They need to be heard before anyone can try and comprehend the manifold intricacies of history.

I think it’s safe to say that Guha’s essay is relevant today. You could analyze his emphasis on small voices with the current stress on hearing everyone’s voice and story. You could also use Guha’s essay to analyze the trend of powerful people claiming to speak for the marginalized or the subaltern. You could link Guha's concept of big voices versus small voices to the current debate about descriptive representation versus substantive representation.

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