What is the subaltern?

I like this well-worded comment in the text:

“Rey Chow makes some interesting points about the construction of the subaltern and the category of the ‘native’. She argues that part of the problem of attempting to find the voice of the subaltern is that there may be some incommensurability between the subaltern and the rescuer. It may be the case that the very act of recovering the voice of the subaltern can be the act of ‘translating’ an ‘image’ that imperialism can make sense of.”

This is critique is valid from any scientific view of the world–and the words or language we try to use to describe or measure that world.


Reading and writing. Today it is about the subaltern. This term is thrown about a lot, but there seems to be some confusion about what it means. There are a number of ways of approaching the subject, so I think I may just ramble a bit here about it.

The subaltern is a technical term for a certain kind of dispossessed person. It is a person who fits within the model of the Oppressor/Oppressed as the being so marginalized as to not even have the ‘voice’ of the oppressed. So, symbolically, we might say that the colonizer is Self, the colonized is Other, and all of those who are invisible to both Self and Other are the subaltern. Gayatri Spivak has the most theoretical look at the subaltern, and her work is still the root text for a discussion of the subaltern, in her article “Can the Subaltern Speak?” The…

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About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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