Today we dealt with subaltern studies in class. In brief let us recap what we have learnt thus far:
Subaltern studies as a movement is an attempt at narrating history through the eyes of those outside the existing power structure (link to history from below). This was essentially done by reinterpreting the existing historical data. This is also one of their major criticisms: that they never came up with anything new in terms of data or facts. As a narration of the other side of the story, they asserted the politixcal consciousness of the subaltern, laying stress on their agency. In doign so, they moved away from a mere narration of peasants and their actions and moved towards the using of culture and ideology as a medium to study the classes. Their primary argument in this regard was that the hegemonic group (the ones with power) influenced culture and ideology to legitimise their rule.
With Gramsci as the starting point, they go beyond the claims that marxists make arguing instead that mere analysis of modes of production is insufficient to study the history of the subalterns with any degree of accuracy. Thus leading to the contention that the proletariat (peasants or whatever) inhabit a different world emphasising upon a fundamental culture of the people (different culture, religious practices etc.). (see in context of Badri’s intervention in class)
The need to study culture and ideology becomes significant for the subaltern because they argue that the peasant consciousness is limited (it not a paradox, really. Also, Ranajit Guha argues that the peasant movements were deliberate thus attributing a degree of consciousness to them). This consciousness, Gramsci says, is due to the fact that they are passive, dependent and fragmented and therefore related and linked to the dominant class’ ideology. (how does this fit in the context of the concept of the “other” that you would have learnt in Socio?)
The other argument they make is that subalterns adopted only some aspects of the dominant ideology and culture. The next claim that is made is that their sense of justice and morals while profound and enduring was not as subtle and sophisticated as the elite’s.(Could this have ben in anyway responsible for the subaltern challenge of the elite? If we see it as subaltern challenge does it really not bolster the imperiallist thesis and go against the nationallist thesis? What does Partha Chatterjee mean by “nt as subtle and sophisticated? What is he getting at?)
This then descended into an argument of what is ‘Modern’ India and whether the Marxist evaluation of the transformation into modern india is correct or not. (Link to the characteristics of the middle class and the uneven development) We shall come to this point further in the course.
To unabashedly cog from Wikipedia to lend some much needed perspective:
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subaltern_(postcolonialism))
READINGS FOR SUBALTERN STUDIES (partha chatterjee is your essential reading):
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, No. 9 (Feb. 28 – Mar. 6, 1998), pp. 473+475-479 Clcik here for Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts
Vinay Bahl, Relevance (or Irrelevance) of Subaltern Studies in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 32, No. 23 (Jun. 7-13, 1997), pp. 1333-1344
Click here for Irrelevannce of Subaltern Studies
Vinay Bahl makes for especially interesting reading. Here is the abstract of his article:
“Subaltern studies, while claiming to rewrite history from the perspective of subaltern groups as a prelude to creating a new emancipatory politics, has deviated from its original intent and become mired in post-modernist debates about ‘difference’. A critique of this brand of history writing should start from a simple question: what is its politics, and whose interests mnay it serve? But as this paper demonstrates, the subalternist approach can be criticised on many other grounds as w Zell, including its lack of a coherent theory of how subjectivity and agency are constructed within a concrete historical context, and its refusal to acknowledge how global capitalist forces are being worked out on the ground, including the generation of ‘differences’.”
Note on the Readings:
I have only uploaded readings that are not available in hard copy format in the library.
Also, if one of you can mail me your class list, it’ll make it much easier for me to distribute your readings.