Subalternity and Representation

Arguments in Cultural Theory

Subalternity and Representation

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: Published: December 1999

Author: John Beverley

Latin American Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

The term “subalternity” refers to a condition of subordination brought about by colonization or other forms of economic, social, racial, linguistic, and/or cultural dominance. Subaltern studies is, therefore, a study of power. Who has it and who does not. Who is gaining it and who is losing it. Power is intimately related to questions of representation—to which representations have cognitive authority and can secure hegemony and which do not and cannot. In this book John Beverley examines the relationship between subalternity and representation by analyzing the ways in which that relationship has been played out in the domain of Latin American studies.

Dismissed by some as simply another new fashion in the critique of culture and by others as a postmarxist heresy, subaltern studies began with the work of Ranajit Guha and the South Asian Subaltern Studies collective in the 1980s. Beverley’s focus on Latin America, however, is evidence of the growing province of this field. In assessing subaltern studies’ purposes and methods, the potential dangers it presents, and its interactions with deconstruction, poststructuralism, cultural studies, Marxism, and political theory, Beverley builds his discussion around a single, provocative question: How can academic knowledge seek to represent the subaltern when that knowledge is itself implicated in the practices that construct the subaltern as such? In his search for answers, he grapples with a number of issues, notably the 1998 debate between David Stoll and Rigoberta Menchú over her award-winning testimonial narrative, I, Rigoberta Menchú. Other topics explored include the concept of civil society, Florencia Mallon’s influential Peasant and Nation, the relationship between the Latin American “lettered city” and the Túpac Amaru rebellion of 1780–1783, the ideas of transculturation and hybridity in postcolonial studies and Latin American cultural studies, multiculturalism, and the relationship between populism, popular culture, and the “national-popular” in conditions of globalization.

This critique and defense of subaltern studies offers a compendium of insights into a new form of knowledge and knowledge production. It will interest those studying postcolonialism, political science, cultural studies, and Latin American culture, history, and literature.


“A brilliant discussion of current debates in cultural studies and subaltern studies. Beverley’s style is vibrant, irreverent, subversive, and a pleasure to read. This is clearly one of the most interesting contributions to subaltern studies since Ranajit Guha’s definition of the field in the early 1980s.” — José Rabasa, University of California, Berkeley

“An excellent, compelling overview and mise en question of subaltern studies. At once clear and conceptually sophisticated, this book engagingly rehearses many of the basic issues, texts and problems of the field but is in no way derivative. It is an intelligent, thorough, thoughtful ‘reading’ of an increasingly important area of study.” — Brad Epps, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Beverley is Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the coauthor of Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions, author of Against Literature and Una Modernidad Obsoleta: Estudios sobre el Barroco, and coeditor of The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Writing in Reverse: The Subaltern and the Limits of Academic Knowledge 25

2 Transculturation and Subalternity: The "Lettered CIty" and the Tupac Amaru Rebellion 41

3 Our Rigoberta? I, Rigoberta Menchu, Cultural Authority, and the Problem of Subaltern Agency 65

4 Hybrid or Binary? On the Category of "the people" in Subaltern and Cultural Studies 85

5 Civil Society, Hybridity, and the " ' Political' Aspect of Cultural Studies" (on Canclini) 115

6 Territoriality, Multiculturalism, and Hegemony: The Question of the Nation 133

Notes 169

Index 195
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2416-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2382-2
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