Subaltern Voices Series

Speaking & Theorizing from the Disciplinary Margins


Series Overview

Subaltern Studies

The Department of Political Science’s 2006–2007 Speaker Series will draw on some of the most exciting scholars in politics, and the social sciences and humanities generally, in order to facilitate us critically thinking through, talking about, and theorizing important but inadequately explored areas of research in the disciplines. The scholars have direct experiences in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Canada. Subaltern studies build on the use of the term ‘subaltern’ by the Italian social theorist Antonio Gramsci in his works, The Modern Prince and The Prison Notebooks. Broadly speaking, Gramsci used the term to refer to groups of people who, because of a variety of factors, often are unable to speak to and for their own interests. A central factor for Gramsci was the hegemony of the dominant class, which paradoxically was achieved through the consent of the dominated rather than force and violence. Although reflecting on the politics of a different era, Gramsci’s work, nonetheless, raised critical and enduring questions about the importance of ideas in both underwriting relations of subordination and imagining alternative futures.

A subaltern studies group emerged in India among radical historians in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and these scholars drew upon poststructuralist and postcolonial interventions to expose the ways in which anticolonial narratives were also ‘grand narratives’ of bourgeois nationalists. These narratives also appropriated the voices and perspectives of the marginalized, and were deeply implicated in the project of modernity and notions of progress which led to support for an oppressive national state. These radical scholars drew on the critical theory of Gramsci, particularly the notions of subaltern, hegemony, and organic intellectuals, as well as E.P. Thompson’s ideas of ‘history from below’ and ‘politics from below’, to prioritize a focus on social justice and grassroots movements. They drew on critical social theory to foreground subaltern histories, perspectives, experiences and voices, and to recognize radically different ways of seeing, speaking and representing the ‘wretched’ and neglected peoples of the earth, those at the margins of power – whether working class, peasants, tribal peoples, racialized others, women, queers – the taboo topics and the suppressed voices. Subaltern studies calls on critical scholars to think, write and speak against the grain; to be attentive to elite appropriations of the voices and struggles of those neglected and silenced, those whose popular interests too frequently are betrayed by elite compromises; and the importance of excavating the submerged historical experiences of subalterns, to reflect upon how consciousness may be reconstituted under hegemony in order to effect a more socially just world order.

Two of the cross-cutting themes of this Speakers’ Series are “Rac-ing the Disciplines” and “Engendering the Disciplines”. The speakers will explore how the disciplines of political science, philosophy, and the social sciences and humanities more generally take up or fail to take up questions of ‘race’ and processes of racialization, preferring instead to elide these with concepts such as ethnicity and culture, as well as the ways in which women and gender continue to be add-ons. One of the aims of the Series is to make the evasions, occlusions and silences on questions of ‘race’ and gender, as well as intersectionality more visible and to develop capacities for the social sciences and humanities to engage with some of the most pressing political and ethical questions of our times. This Speaker Series also will pay close attention to the complex interplay of race, Aboriginality, gender, class and their representations in International and Comparative Development, International Relations, Area Studies, Political Theory, and Public and Social Policies.

Subaltern Voices Series - Integrating Research and Teaching

This multi-faceted Series was designed to integrate research, teaching and technology, as well as to produce free learning objects that could be made available through the Internet and used for teaching, learning and public education worldwide. The concept for the Series was developed by Dr. Malinda S. Smith in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, and implemented with the generous assistance and financial support of a number of people, University, Faculty and departmental units, as well as a core partnership with the Department of Political Science, Arts Resource Centre and Athabasca University.