Jodi A. Byrd and Michael Rothberg, “Between Subalternity and Indigeneity”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

posted under , , by Unit for Criticism
[The Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory has a long history of publishing edited books and special issues derived from events. In the latest of these, Michael Rothberg, former Director of the Unit, and Jodi Byrd, on the faculty of English and American Indian Studies, collaborated to produce a special issue of Interventions: International Journal of Postocolonial Studies from the Unit's 2008 conference, “Decolonizations: Subaltern Studies and Indigenous Critical Theory.”]

We are pleased to announce the publication of "Between Subalternity and Indigeneity," a special issue of Interventions: International Journal of Postocolonial Studies (13.1, 2011). This special issue, which we have edited together, derives from the spring 2008 conference “Decolonizations: Subaltern Studies and Indigenous Critical Theory,” co-organized by the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and the American Indian Studies Program. The special issue features an introduction by the co-editors and essays by Elizbeth A. Povinelli, Jodi A. Byrd, Gaurav Desai, Maria Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, and Robert Warrior. This event was one of the first ever to explore the relation between postcolonial studies, American Indian Studies, and indigenous studies. We hope the publication of this special issue will contribute to an ongoing dialogue.

Below is the opening paragraph of our introduction, “Between Subalternity and Indigeneity: Critical Categories for Postcolonial Studies.” The remainder of the introduction and the special issue essays can be found here (log in required).

In bringing together the categories of "subalternity" and "indigeneity" this special section of Interventions seeks to inaugurate a conversation that has been waiting to happen for at least two decades--at least since the definitive entry of subaltern studies and postcolonial theory into the North American academy around 1988. In that year alone, Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published their co-edited anthology Selected Subaltern Studies, Spivak put out her own essay collection In Other Worlds, which included her first translations of Mahasveta Devi’s stories as well as her influential essay on Devi, "A Literary Representation of the Subaltern", and, perhaps most consequentially, Spivak’s "Can the Subaltern Speak?" appeared in the collection Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Lawrence Grossberg and Cary Nelson. Some critics cynically read the inclusion of a school of historiography dedicated to the non-elite histories of the Indian subcontinent within the very different context of the Reagan/Bush I-era American academy as the expression of a depoliticized appropriation of radical thought, yet the travels of the subaltern concept have been very much a part of its history from the beginning. Drawing inspiration from Antonio Gramsci’s writings on the "Southern Question" in Italy, which adapted the military term "subaltern" to describe uneven national development, as well as from structuralist and poststructuralist theories of discourse, subaltern studies took shape in the 1980s as a project for rewriting the history of South Asia outside the bounds of colonialist, elite nationalist, and Marxist frameworks. The subaltern studies scholars sought to bring attention to peasant insurrections that had remained invisible in dominant and even much leftist historiography by developing alternative models of history and politics attuned to the agency of subordinated social groups. Spivak’s appreciative but critical engagement with the subaltern studies project brought the work of the collective to the attention first of postcolonial scholars and soon thereafter to scholars and activists engaged with ethnic and minority critique on a global scale.


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