theory #10: Hybridity and Postcolonial Feminism

Updated: Jan 11


"Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference. (…) You don’t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity." – Chakravorty Spivak

The question of who the subalterns are and by whom they are represented concerned us in our last meeting. Nikita Dhawan’s writes in “Can the Subaltern Speak German? And Other Risky Questions”, about Chakravorty Spivak’s notion that the discourse is occupied by elite women of the third world or ethnic minorities within the West. In “A Critique of Postcolonial Reason” Spivak first asked the question whether the global subaltern actually have a voice and by whom they are represented in the West. There is a great divergence between the elite South Asian bourgeoisie for example and the rural poor. However, it is majorly the former who claims the subaltern space in the postcolonial discourse, while the latter does not have a voice. Dhawan translates this into the German context, where she finds intellectual migrants from “subaltern groups” who become the representatives for the margins. Spivak and Dhawan both explain that, in the discourse about subalternity, it is the “gendered subaltern” that is “once again silent for us”. This led us to the second text which focused on feminism and coloniality. In “Zur Aktualität des postkolonialen Feminismus für die Schweiz”, Jovita dos Santos Pinto and Patricia Purtschert posed the question whether feminist discourse takes place within colonial discourses. In their critique of eurocentric feminism, Purtschert and dos Santos Pinto show that the Western experience and critique of patriarchy is adopted for the Global South without questioning. It was particularly interesting to compare this reading to the one of Nikita Dhawan, as both point out that the voices of suppression – whether in a colonial context of subalternity or one of global feminism – remain located in the West. The question that becomes urgently relevant once again was once expressed by the African American Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 – “Ain’t I a woman?”

To put on your decolonial reading list:

Nikita Dhawan, Can the Subaltern Speak German? And Other Risky Questions. Migrant Hybridism versus Subalternity, 2015.

Jovita dos Santos and Patricia Purtschert, Zur Aktualität des postkolonialen Feminismus für die Schweiz, in: Postkoloniale Verstrickungen der globalen Schweiz, p. 35-44.


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