Subaltern Studies Bibliography Template


This bibliographical project is designed to provide a starting point for those who begin to explore the field of postcolonial studies. Given that this interdisciplinary field has expanded in diverse directions in the last few decades, exploring the vast terrains of postcolonial studies may seem a daunting task. Moreover, there are so many guides, readers, and introductory resources that one may need a guide for choosing a guide or guides that will best serve one’s purposes and interests. In this regard, the present project seeks to provide a starting point by offering bibliographical information of select introductory resources. The project is structured as follows.

The first part presents lexical references.

The second part contains a few kinds of introductory resources. Anthologies and readers may work better for those who seek general surveys of influential academic works. Some may be interested in interpreting literary texts. Some might want to know about particular critics such as Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Homi Bhabha. Some might want to focus on particular subjects such as race, gender, and colonial subjectivity. Depending on one’s interest one can choose from the list below.

The third part lists select resources that address historical and theoretical issues. In particular, I have included some resources that deal with defining key terms including postcolonialism. Unlike some other fields, defining postcolonialism or postcolonial theory has been a vexed question in postcolonial studies. One reason is that, as Mishra and Hodge put it, postcolonialism “is not a homogeneous category either across all postcolonial societies or even within a single one. Rather it refers to a typical configuration which is always in the process of change, never consistent with itself.” (“What Is Post(-)colonialism?,” 413). Another reason is that, as Robert Young says, “At one level there is no single entity called, ‘postcolonial theory’: postcolonialism, as a term, describes practices and ideas as various as those within feminism or socialism” (Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction, 7). Accordingly, I have underscored in my annotations essays and book chapters that address the question of definition and other general theoretical issues.

The fourth part provides concrete examples of postcolonial readings of significant literary texts.

The fifth part presents preexisting (annotated) bibliographies.

The sixth and currently last part presents journals for postcolonial and other contiguous studies.

Any suggestions, comments, and corrections are welcome.




Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2013.  

A standard, handy, and affordable reference. The 3rd edition is the most recent.

Radhakrishnan, R. A Said Dictionary. Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2012.

Bibliography at the end of the book provides Edward Said’s work and secondary literature on it.

Benson, Eugene, and L. W. Conolly, eds. Encyclopedia of Post-colonial Literatures in English. 2nd ed. 3 vols. London: Routledge, 2005.

The formerly two-volume reference has been expanded to three volumes. Entries in the first edition have been updated as needed, and some 200 entries have been added. Entries suggest further reading.

Hawley, John Charles, ed. Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies. Westport: Greenwood, 2001.

A 500-page reference with bold-faced cross-references.


The following two are, as their titles indicate, historical references that are useful for studies of particular regions.

Poddar, Prem, and David Johnson, eds. A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures in English. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. (published also as A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Thought in English. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).

Poddar, Prem, Rajeev S. Patke, and Lars Jensen, eds. A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures: Continental Europe and Its Empires. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.  


Standard references in literary studies usually include brief definitions of postcolonial literature. They also include brief further readings. For example:

Abrams, M. H. and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 10th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012.

Harmon, William. A Handbook to Literature. 12th ed. Boston, Mass.: Longman, 2012.




Ramone, Jenni. Postcolonial Theories. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

This book seems optimized for an introductory class. The first part addresses the historical emergence of postcolonial thinking; the second discusses key concepts and critics under three categories, namely, otherness, migration, and the native; the third offers brief postcolonial readings of select novels commonly discussed in class (such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad). The fourth and final section deals with future developments such as “postcolonial ecocriticism” and “postcolonial queer.”

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

See ch. 12 “Postcolonial criticism” (417-50). This book is indeed user-friendly. As in other chapters, Tyson in ch 12 presents a brief introduction to postcolonial studies, some questions for doing postcolonial criticism, an application to a text (The Great Gatsby is the example to which he applies methods throughout the book), and a list of resources for further reading.

Baldwin, Dean R., and Patrick J Quinn, eds. An anthology of Colonial and Postcolonial Short Fiction. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2007.

Three general introductions, “Defining Imperialism and Colonialism,” “The Colonial and Postcolonial Short Story,” and “Postcolonial Theory: A Primer,” are followed by regionally categorized short fictions. Categories include England, Ireland, Canada, the Caribbean, India/Pakistan, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Each regional category is provided with an introduction.

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2005.

Whereas the first edition arranged 86 excerpts under 14 categories, the second edition offers 121 excerpts in 19 categories (but some excerpts in the former edition have been shortened). For students of the Bible or religion, the final part, “The Sacred”, which contains 6 texts, is a welcome addition. One way to use this book is to read the introduction to a given category and proceed to acquire the full texts of the excerpts because, in my view, some texts in the book can barely be understood without reading them in full (e.g. Bhabha’s “Signs Taken for Wonders”). Moreover, Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” needs to be read in full and with Spivak’s later comments on this essay in her A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Young, Robert. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Although this book does have introductory functions, its approach is quite unconventional. This book neither explains key concepts systematically nor provides a historical overview of postcolonial studies. Nor does it offer step-by-step instructions for conducting postcolonial readings. Moreover, this book, Young remarks, does not have “an overall thesis or argument” (7). Young introduces postcolonial thinking in a passionate voice, employing a method he labels “montage” by which he addresses a number of concrete historical examples (even with photos). This book is an excellent introduction to what he calls postcolialism. For Young’s introduction in a conventionally academic form, see his 500-page Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2001).

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

This book has been influential in the sense that it has been often quoted and discussed, and that it has been widely used as an introductory text.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London: Routledge, 1998.

A fine introduction to postcolonialism. The first part reviews key terms such as colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and postcolonialism; it also reviews the historical development of colonialism and colonial discourse. The second part explores significant subjects such as race, cultural difference, class, gender, colonial subjectivity, and hybridity. The third and last part deals with forms of resistance to colonialism such as nationalism, pan-nationalism, and feminism; it also discusses positions concerning the question of whether the subaltern can speak.

Moore-Gilbert, Bart. Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. London: Verso, 1997.

This book may look little dated now but still is a useful resource. The first chapter offers a brief account of how commonwealth literature evolved into postcolonialism. The next three chapters discuss the works of three critics, namely, Said, Bhabha, and Spivak, and criticisms of these critics.

Peter, Childs, and Patrick Williams. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory. Prentice Hall, 1997.

Another fine introduction to postcolonial theory. Somewhat like Moore-Gilbert’s book above, the middle parts summarize and critically discuss the works Said, Bhabha, and Spivak.



Chew, Shirley, and David Richards, eds. A Concise Companion to Postcolonial Literature. Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2010.

Not an introduction to postcolonial studies per se. Instead, drawing from ten different disciplines, this collection of essays aims to explore how those disciplines have addressed cultural issues such as race and identity in countries which had become independent in and after 1947 (1). The titles of the essays are as follows: “Framing Identities,” “Orality and Literacy,” “The Politics of Rewriting,” “Postcolonial Translations,” “Nation and Nationalism,” “Feminism and Womanism,” “Cartographies and Visualization,” “Marginality: Representations of Subalternity, Aboriginality and Race,” and “Anthropology and Postcolonialism.”

Edwards, Justin. Postcolonial Literature. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Each chapter discusses a key subject and debate in postcolonial studies. Subjects addressed in this book (15 in total) includes postcoloniality, difference, language, orality, rewriting, violence, travel, maps, gender, queer, haunting, memory, hybridity, diaspora, and globalization.

Loomba, Ania, Suvir Kaul, Matti Bunzl, Antoinette Burton, and Jed Esty, eds. Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Durham and London, UK: Duke University Press, 2005.

An interdisciplinary collection of essays from a conference by the name of the book title in 2002, with a focus on globalization. Students of history may find part four particularly relevant: see esp. Daniel Boyarin, “Hybridity and Heresy: Apartheid Comparative Religion in Late Antiquity” (339-58); David Scott, “The Social Construction of Postcolonial Studies”(385-400); Frederick Cooper, “Postcolonial Studies and the Study of History”(401-422).

Schwarz, Henry, and Sangeeta Ray, eds. A Companion to Postcolonial Studies. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005.

This companion provides 29 essays in four categories. For those interested in historical and theoretical issues, the first part, “Historical and Theoretical Issues,” and the third part, “The Inventiveness of Theory,” will be helpful. Here are the titles of essays in the first part: “Imperialism, Colonialism, Postcolonialism”; “Postcolonial Feminism/Postcolonialism and Feminism”; “Heterogeneity and Hybridity: Colonial Legacy, Postcolonial Heresy.” Those in part three: “Humanism in Question: Fanon and Said”; “Spivak and Bhabha”; “A Small History of Subaltern Studies”; “Feminist Theory in Perspective”; “Global Gay Formations and Local Homosexualities.”

Ludden, David. “Introduction: A Brief History of Subalternity.” Pages 1-42 in Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical History, Contested Meaning and the Globalization of South Asia. Edited by David Ludden. London: Wimbledon, 2002.

Young, Robert. Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2001.

A seminal work that provides theoretical and historical examinations. For a general survey and definitions one will find helpful the first introductory chapter “Colonialism and the Politics of Postcolonial Critique” and Part I “Concepts in History” that discusses colonialism, imperialism, neocolonialism, and postcolonialism in turn. The following parts trace the development of postcolonialism as he investigates anti-colonial movements in detail.

Huggan, Graham. The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins. London: Routledge, 2001.

As its title indicates, this book investigates the production, marketing, and consumption of postcolonial writings in the West, which in an interesting way helps understand the rapid growth of postcolonial studies. Those who are interested in marginality and otherness may find helpful Huggan’s analysis of exoticist discourses.

Ahmed, Sara. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. London: Routledge, 2000. See, “Introduction: Stranger Fetishism and Post-Coloniality” (1-18).

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial Historiography.” Nepantla: Views from South 1, no 1 (2000): 9-32.

Quayson, Ato. Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process? Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000.

 While this book is “pitched at the level of the advanced undergraduate student or the graduate student who has some familiarity with key debates in the field” (20), Quayson does provide overviews of concepts and debates for those who are new to the field. The first three chapters may be especially helpful for students of history: chapter one pertains to postcolonialism and interdisciplinarity; chapter two addresses postcolonial historiography, reviewing subaltern studies in particular; chapter three, “Literature as a Politically Symbolic Act,” deals with the relation between literature and politics.

Moore-Gilbert, Bart, Gareth Stanton, and Willy Maley, eds. Postcolonial Criticism. London, UK: Longman, 1997.

This collection of essays by leading postcolonial critics provides an overview of postcolonial studies. “Introduction” by the editors itself is a succinct survey of major issues and thinkers; especially, summaries of Fanon, Said, Spivak, and Bhabha are helpful. Contributors include Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Homi Bhabha, Helen Tiffin, and Aijaz Ahmad.

Ahmad, Aijaz. “The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality.” Race and Class 36 (1995): 1-20.

McClintock, Anne. “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Post-Colonialism.’” Social Text 31/32 (1992): 1-15.

Shohat, Ella. “Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial.’” Social Text 31/32 (1992): 89-113.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?” Critical Inquiry 17 (1991): 336-57.

Mishra, Vijay, and Bob Hodge. “What Is Post(-)colonialism?” Textual Practice 5 (1991): 199-414.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography.” Pages 3-32 in Selected Subaltern Studies. Edited by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Reprint of “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography.” Pages 330-63 in Subaltern Studies IV: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Edited by Ranajit Guha. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985.Link to the text.

Tiffin, Helen. “Post-Colonialism, Post-Modernism and the Rehabilitation of Post-Colonial History.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 23 (1988): 169-81.

Tiffin, Helen, “Post-Colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse.” Kunapipi 9, no 3 (1987): 17-34.




Hai, Ambreen. Making Words Matter: the Agency of Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2009.

The first chapter reads Rudyard Kipling’s Indian short stories and the second chapter his novel Kim. After a preliminary examination of E. M. Forter’s career in chapter three, chapter four reads his Passage to India. The last two chapters deal with Salman Rushdie’s thoughts and works. Throughout this book the author pays attention to the issue of agency as it is related to the human body as a site of autonomy, instrumentality, and subjection. The author aims to “show how politics inheres in the aesthetics of the writings” examined in this book (11).

Harrison, Nicholas. Postcolonial Criticism: History, Theory and the Work of Fiction. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003.

The subtitle of this book may give a misconception that it deals with the history and theory of postcolonial studies in general. It is more like a collection of case studies followed by two concluding chapters. The first three chapters analyze two essential texts in postcolonial studies, namely, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (chs. 1-2) and The Outsider by Albert Camus (ch. 3). Chapter four discusses The Simple Past by Driss Chraïbi. Notably, against Chinua Achebe’s influential declaration that Conrad was “a bloody racist” (2), the author offers a reading of Heart of Darkness with a focus on its historical context.

Quayson, Ato. Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process? Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000.

Chapter 6 “Parables from the Canon: Postcolonializing Shakespeare” (156-84) attempts to read The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare “as a secular parable by which to resituate issues of race, class, multiculturalism and diaspora in the West today” (20).

Childs, Peter, ed. Post-Colonial Theory and English Literature: A Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999).

An anthology of postcolonial readings of eight literary texts: William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, James Joyce’s Ulysses, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. An introduction and four essays (except Kim for which three essays) are provided for each text.

Walder, Dennis. Post-colonial Literatures in English: History, Language, Theory. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1998.

See, chapter 5 “Indo-Anglican Fiction,” chapter 6 “Caribbean and Black British Poetry,” and chapter 7 “South African Literature in the Interregnum.” One of the unusual strengths of this book is that the three chapters in the first part which address general issues involving history, language, and theory often bring poems into discussion.



Ramone, Jenni. Postcolonial Theories. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

“Annotated Bibliography” (207-10), followed by an unannotated bibliography (211-20), is a brief bibliography intended to present the breadth of postcolonial theories some of which is not addressed in the book. Although the number of annotated books is limited, comments on the works included are longer than usual.

McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. 2nd ed. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2010.

An annotated bibliography (“Selected Reading”) is offered at the end of each chapter. The author provides a classified and annotated bibliography at the end of the book. I highly recommend these bibliographies.

Moore-Gilbert, Bart, Gareth Stanton, and Willy Maley, eds. Postcolonial Criticism. London, UK: Longman, 1997.

In “Further Reading” (277-91) resources are classified and presented with introductory annotations. Categories include “Orientations” (defining postcolonial theory), “Negritude,” “Frantz Fanon,” “Anglophone criticism of Africa and the Caribbean,” “Edward W. Said,” “Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,” “Homi K. Bhabha,” “Commonwealth literary studies,” “Women’s and feminist postcolonial criticism,” “Minority discourse and internal colonialism,” “Dissenting Voices.”

Faura, Salvador, and Felicity Hand. “A Selected Annotated Bibliography on Post-Colonial Literature and Theory.” Links & Letters 4 (1997): 79-96.

A classified and briefly annotated bibliography. Sections include “Readers,” “Foundation and Introductory Texts,” “General Post-colonial Theory,” “Specific Areas,” and “Journals.” “Specific Areas” is divided into “Gender Studies” and “Ethnic/Geo-Political Studies”; the latter has three regional categories, namely, Australia, Indian subcontinent, and Africa & Caribbean. While the bibliography does not claim to be exhaustive, it offers a good starting point for those who first enter postcolonial studies. Discussions of anthologies and summaries of classic texts are especially helpful.




ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature

Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies

Journal of Postcolonial Writing (Formerly, World Literature Written in English)

Kunapipi: Journal of Postcolonial Writing and Culture

The Journal of Commonwealth Literature

Third Text


A list of journals by Paul Brians is found here (some links in the list are broken)

In critical theory and postcolonialism, the term subaltern designates the populations which are socially, politically, and geographically outside of the hegemonicpower structure of the colony and of the colonial homeland. In describing "history told from below", subaltern was coined by Antonio Gramsci, notably through his work on cultural hegemony, which identified the groups that are excluded from a society's established institutions and thus denied the means by which people have a voice in their society.

The terms subaltern and Subaltern Studies entered postcolonial studies through the works of the Subaltern Studies Group, a collection of historians of the Indian Subcontinent who explored the political-actor role of the men and women who constitute the mass population, rather than the political roles of the social and economic elites, in the history of the Indian Subcontinent.[citation needed]Marxist historians had already been investigating colonial history as told from the perspective of the proletariat, using the concept of social classes as being determined by economic relations. In the 1970s, subaltern began to denote the colonized peoples of the Indian subcontinent and described a new perspective of the history of an imperial colony as told from the point of view of the colonized rather than that of the colonizers. In the 1980s, the scope of enquiry of Subaltern Studies was applied as an "intervention in South Asian historiography".

As a method of intellectual discourse, the concept of the subaltern is contentious because it originated as a Eurocentric method of historical enquiry for studying the non-Western people of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. From its inception as an historical-research model for studying the colonial experience of the peoples of the Indian Subcontinent, subaltern studies transformed from a model of intellectual discourse into a method of "vigorous post-colonial critique". The term "subaltern" is used in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, human geography, literary criticism,[1]musicology, and art history.


In postcolonial theory, the term subaltern describes the lower classes and the social groups who are at the margins of a society: a subaltern is a person rendered without agency by social status.[2] Nonetheless, the literary critic Gayatri Spivak spoke against an overly broad application of the term in 1992:

...subaltern is not just a classy word for "oppressed", for [the] Other, for somebody who's not getting a piece of the pie.... In post-colonial 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.[3]

In Marxist theory, the civil sense of the term subaltern was first used by the Italian communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). In discussions of the meaning of the "subaltern" in Gramsci's writings, Spivak and others have argued that he used the word as a synonym for the proletariat (a code word to deceive the prison censor to allow his manuscripts out the prison),[4] but that interpretation has been contested, with evidence indicating that it was a novel concept in Gramsci's political theory.[5] In several essays, the postcolonial critic Homi K. Bhabha emphasized the importance of social power relations in defining subaltern social groups as oppressed, racial minorities whose social presence was crucial to the self-definition of the majority group; as such, subaltern social groups, nonetheless, also are in a position to subvert the authority of the social groups who hold hegemonic power.[6]

In Toward a New Legal Common Sense (2002), the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos applies the term subaltern cosmopolitanism to describe the counter-hegemonic practice, social movement, resistance, and struggle against neoliberalglobalization, especially the struggle against social exclusion. Moreover, de Sousa Santos applies subaltern cosmopolitanism as interchangeable with the term cosmopolitan legality to describe the diverse normative framework for an equality of differences in which the term subaltern specifically denotes the oppressed peoples at the margins of a society who are struggling against hegemonic globalization. However, context, time, and place (but perhaps not the Marxist emphasis on the economic relations) determine who, among the peoples at the margins of a society, is a Subaltern; in India women, dalits, rural, tribal, immigrant laborers are part of subaltern; within Punjab, India, the most oppressed are the rural folk, the dalit, and illiterate women.


Postcolonial theory studies the power and the continued dominance of Western ways of knowing, of intellectual enquiry. The work of Edward Said in the book Orientalism conceptually addresses oppressed subaltern peoples, to explain how the Eurocentric perspective of Orientalism produced the foundations and the justifications for the domination of the Other, by means of colonialism. Before their explorations of The Orient, the Europeans had created an imagined geography of the Orient, predefined images of savage and monstrous places that lay beyond the horizon of the known world. During their initial Oriental explorations, the Europeans' mythologies were reinforced, when the travellers returned to Europe with reports of monsters and savage lands. The concepts of the "difference" and the "strangeness" of the Orient were perpetuated through the mass communications media of the time and through discourse that created an "Us" and "Them" binary social relation with which the Europeans defined themselves by defining the differences of the Orient from the Occident, the European West. The Us-and-Them binary social relation was a foundation of colonialism, because it represented the Orient as backward and irrational lands, and, therefore, in need of European help to become modern, in the Western sense. Hence, the discourse of Orientalism is Eurocentric, and does not seek to include the voices of the Oriental peoples, the subalterns, themselves.[7][8]

The cultural theorist Stuart Hall argued that the power of discourse created and reinforced Western dominance. The discourses on how Europe described differences between itself (The West) and others, used European cultural categories, languages, and ideas to represent "The Other." The knowledge produced by such a discourse becomes praxis, which then becomes reality; by producing a discourse of "difference" Europe was able to maintain its dominance over "The Other", with a binary social relation between the European and The Other, thereby creating and establishing the Subaltern, made possible by excluding The Other from the production of the discourse.[9]

The voice of the subaltern[edit]

Gayatri Spivak's line of reasoning was developed in Joanne Sharp's Geographies of Post colonialism (2008), who proposed that Western intellectuals relegate other, non-Western (African, Asian, Middle Eastern) forms of "knowing", of acquiring knowledge of the world, to the margins of intellectual discourse, by re-formulating these forms of knowing as myth and as folklore. To be heard and known, the subaltern must adopt Western ways of knowing, of thought, reasoning, and language; because of such Westernization, a subaltern people can never express their ways of knowing (thought, reasoning, language) and instead must conform expression of their non-Western knowledge of colonial life to Western ways of knowing the world.[10] Subalterns' abandonment of culturally customary ways of thinking and the subsequent adoption of Western ways of thinking are necessary in many situations. The subordinated can be heard by oppressors only by speaking the language of the rulers; thus, intellectual and cultural filters of conformity muddle the true voice of the subaltern. For example, in Colonial Latin America, non-elites must conform to the colonial culture and use the filters of religion and servitude, in the language, when addressing the Spanish Imperial rulers. To make their appeals to the crown effective, slaves and natives would address the rulers in ways that might mask their own ways of speaking.

Early modern historian Fernando Coronil said that the goal of the investigator must be "to listen to the subaltern subjects, and to interpret what I hear" and to engage them and interact with their voices. We cannot ascend to a position of dominance over the voice, subjugating its words to the meanings we desire to attribute to them. That is simply another form of discrimination. The power to narrate somebody's story is a heavy task, and we must be cautious and aware of the complications involved.[11] Spivak and bell hooks question the academic's engagement with the Other, and argue that, to truly engage with the subaltern, the academic would have to remove him or herself as "the expert" at the center of the Us-and-Them binary social relation. Traditionally, the academic wants to know about the subaltern's experiences of colonialism, but does not want to know the subaltern's (own) explanation of his or her experiences of colonial domination. According to the received view in Western knowledge, hooks argued that a true explanation can come only from the expertise of the academic, thus, the subordinated subject, the subaltern surrender knowledge of colonialism for the use of the Western academic; hooks describes the relationship between the academic and the subaltern:

[There is] no need to hear your voice, when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.

— "Marginality as a Site of Resistance" (1990)[12]

As a means of constructing a greater historical picture of society, the Subaltern's story is a revealing examination of society; the perspective of the subaltern man and woman, the most powerless people who live within colonial confines; therefore, the investigator of post-colonialism must not assume a lumbering cultural superiority in the course of studying the voices of the oppressed subalterns.

Development discourse[edit]

Mainstream development discourse, which is based upon knowledge of colonialism and Orientalism, concentrates upon modernization theory, wherein the modernization of an underdeveloped country should follow the path to modernization taken (and established) by the developed countries of the West. As such, modernization is characterized by free trade, open markets, capitalist economic systems, and democratic systems of governance, as the means by which a nation should modernize their country en route to becoming a developed country in the Western style. Therefore, mainstream development discourse concentrates upon the application of universal social and political, economic and cultural policies that would nationally establish such modernization.[13]

In Making Development Geography (2007), Victoria Lawson presents a critique of mainstream development discourse as mere recreation of the Subaltern, which is effected by means of the subaltern being disengaged from other social scales, such as the locale and the community; not considering regional, social class, ethnic group, sexual- and gender-class differences among the peoples and countries being modernized; the continuation of the socio-cultural treatment of the subaltern as a subject of development, as a subordinate who is ignorant of what to do and how to do it; and by excluding the voices of the subject peoples from the formulations of policy and practice used to effect the modernization.[13]

As such, the subaltern are peoples who have been silenced in the administration of the colonial states they constitute, they can be heard by means of their political actions, effected in protest against the discourse of mainstream development, and, thereby, create their own, proper forms of modernization and development. Hence do subaltern social groups create social, political, and cultural movements that contest and disassemble the exclusive claims to power of the Western imperialist powers, and so establish the use and application of local knowledge to create new spaces of opposition and alternative, non-imperialist futures.[13]


  1. ^Prakash, Gyan. "Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism", The American Historical Review, December, 1994, Vol. 99, No. 5, 1475–1490, 1476.
  2. ^Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  3. ^de Kock, Leon. "Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in South Africa." ARIEL: A Review of International English LiteratureArchived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine.. 23(3) 1992: 29-47. ARIEL
  4. ^Morton, Stephen. "The Subaltern: Genealogy of a Concept", in Gayatri Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Malden, MA: Polity, 2007: pp. 96-97; and Hoare, Quintin, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. "Terminology", in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers, pp. xiii-xiv
  5. ^Green, Marcus E. "Rethinking the Subaltern and the Question of Censorship in Gramsci's Prison Notebooks," Postcolonial Studies, Volume 14, Number 4 (2011): 385-402.
  6. ^Garcia-Morena, Laura and Pfeiffer, Peter C. Eds. "Unsatisfied: Notes on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism", Text and Nation: Cross-Disciplinary Essays on Cultural and National Identities. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996: pp. 191–207 and "Unpacking my library... again", The Post-colonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons. Iain Chambers, Lidia Curti, eds. New York: Routledge, 1996: 210.
  7. ^Race and Racialization: Essential Readings by T. Das Gupta, et al. (eds). Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. 2007.
  8. ^Sharp, Joanne. Geographies of Postcolonialism, chapter 1, On Orientalism. SAGE Publications. 2008.
  9. ^Hall, S. "The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power". Race and Racialization: Essential Readings. Das Gupta, T. et al (eds). Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. 2007.
  10. ^Sharp, Joanne Geographies of Postcolonialism, Chapter 6: Can the Subaltern Speak? SAGE Publications, 2008.
  11. ^Coronil, Fernando (1994). "Listening to the Subaltern: The Poetics of Neocolonial States". Poetics Today. 4. 15: 645. doi:10.2307/1773104. JSTOR 1773104. 
  12. ^hooks, bell. "Marginality as a Site of Resistance", in R. Ferguson et al. (eds), Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1990: pp. 241-43.
  13. ^ abcLawson, Victoria. Making Development Geography. UK: Hodder Education, 2007.


  • Bhabha, Homi K. "Unsatisfied: notes on vernacular cosmopolitanism." Text and Nation: Cross-Disciplinary Essays on Cultural and National Identities. Ed. Laura Garcia-Moreno and Peter C. Pfeiffer. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1996: 191-207.
  • Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (2002) Toward a New Legal Common Sense, 2nd ed. (London: LexisNexis Butterworths), particularly pp. 458–493
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988: 271-313.

External links[edit]

The subaltern identity is conceptually derived from the cultural-hegemony work of the Italian Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci.
Engaging the Subaltern voice: the philosopher and theorist Gayatri Spivak.

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