Postcoloniality and Subaltern Studies

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Postcoloniality and Subaltern Studies

Postcoloniality and subaltern studies are studies done regarding a specific culture influenced by colonialism but the perspective in which they are done is different. Postcoloniality study by definition is a specifically post-modern intellectual dissertation that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural effects of colonialism. Subaltern studies on the other hand is the analysis of the dimensions of colonialism and how it affected cultures but from the point of view of that inferior country inflicted by colonialism, for example South Asia in regards to Britain’s colonialism. Subaltern studies are primarily focused on the masses as opposed to only one specific class of society. These definitions vary from the prospect of three theorists; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Homi Bhaba, and Ranajit Guha.

Dipesh Chakrabarty in his article “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” Mentions that this new awareness of subaltern studies can be proclaimed as the representation of Indians in history. He feels that history itself of subaltern regions is overshadowed by the one acclaimed history of domineering Europe. By subaltern, we mean less developed, inferior, unrepresented regions. He says “Europe” remains the sovereign, theoretical subjects of all histories, including the ones we call India” (pg 1). This is to say that the subaltern studies are studies that target regions like India and the problem is that these subaltern regions always feel obligated to link their histories with that of Europe and this stems from the euro-centrism. He terms euro-centrism to be “cultural arrogance”.

However, euro-centrism is not the single problem from which subalternity has derived. He mentions a paradox with European history and philosophies, that even though the westerners are ignorant of these subaltern regions, they still find their philosophies and history beneficial in understanding their own societies. To Chakrabarty the crucial function of subaltern studies is to recognize the struggles, ideas, tragedies, ironies, and such of the social groups empowered by a sovereign state. To represent the masses and not just one class of the elite is essential to subaltern studies. Chakrabarty explicitly says this as he says “that the rhetoric and the claims of the (bourgeoisie) equality , of citizens’ rights, of self determination through a sovereign nation state have in many circumstances empowered marginal social groups in their struggles is indispensable to the project of subaltern studies” (pg 21).

Ranajit Guha in his article “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency” explores the three types of discourse; primary, secondary and tertiary” and how they effects on post-colonialism due to their “appearance in time and their affiliations. He explains that primary discourse is immediacy. Giving an example of a primary source in which a representative writes to a high official, shows an immediate official response to an event. For example after the Barasat uprising of 1830, the Secretary to government, military department writes a letter to the deputy adjutant general of the army. An example of a secondary discourse was a source of a letter where there was non-immediate action by either participant or official in an event; and tertiary discourse was non-immediate action by a non-official and generally appears in third person.

These all were in regards to the texts provided by Guha in the article. Guha primarily focuses on the vocabulary, context, and sequence of narration in the sources, which he believes is crucial in corroborating history. He feels policy historiography reveals the character as a form of colonialist knowledge, and that we could use these discourse texts to gain the knowledge of the bourgeoisie to interpret the world in order to master it and establish their hegemony over western societies” (pg 355).

Homi K. Bhabha in his article “locations of culture” implies that the post colonialism studies have a sort of bias to them for they are stemming from ethnocentrism. He introduces to us an idea of multiculturalism and how the voices of the masses should be taken into consideration in regards to history. He says “the wider significance of the postmodern condition lies in the awareness that the epistemological “limits” of those ethnocentric ideas, are also enunciative boundaries of a range of other dissonant, even diffident histories and voices- women the colonies, minority groups, the bearers of policed sexualities” (pg 3). This is to say postcolonial studies need to be more aware of the minority. He also expresses distaste of the fact that for minorities to be represented of their own identity blood has to be shed, in regards to Siberian nationalism.

All three anthropologists are conjoined with the group of Subaltern Studies and feel that the main crucial point of any history is representing the masses. They all imply this sort of ethnocentrism with history in which Europe and the “West” per say is domineering. Chakrabarty mentions, how the subaltern regions now feel obligated to rather link their histories with the West’s history in order to make it seem more legit. Guha focuses on the texts and sources, which can be categorized into either primary, secondary, tertiary, and how their narrators and point in time written can affect the historical context. Lastly, Bhaba advocates for multiculturalism and moving away from this sort of ethnocentrism and allowing the minority to be heard. However, the goal of subaltern studies is to alongside of postcolonial studies, collaborate the histories of South Asia, which has been heavily impacted under colonialism and represent not only the elite but also all classes of society.

Work Cited

Bhamba, Homi k. Locations of Culure. Sanjeev Khagram & Peggy Levitt,eds. New York: Routeledge, 2008 pgs 333-338

Chakrabarty, Dipesh.

1992 Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for “Indian” Pasts? Representations 37: 1-26

Guha, Ranajit. The Prose of Counter-Insurgency. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. Pgs 337-371


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 12 August 2016

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