Saturday, August 25, 2007

Critiques of Subaltern Studies

Critiques of Subaltern Studies within the Indian Historiography

Historian Sumit Sarkar, a founding member of the Subaltern Studies Group who some would argue has been shut out of the recent scholarship due to his dissident beliefs, forcefully argues that the move of the Subaltern Studies Group from social history towards cultural history and thus the displacement of Marxist influence in favor of Postmodernism and a Post-Orientalist critique has resulted in a kind of homogenization of its own, resulting in a flight from the traditional material basis of history.

As evidence of this Foucaudian "flight from fact," Sarkar refers to the portrayal by Guha and others of Indian historiography as being unified in its emphasis on politics and economics as the main focus, when in reality, according to Sarkar, no such homogeneity ever existed. Others have pointed to the trappings of Foucadian analysis within the Subalternist studies. One criticism frequently made is that Guha and others tend to assume that discourse existed almost independently of the actual Orientalizing drives of which they speak, discourse as having an existence prior to the intervention over which it is supposed to have.

Another important criticism of the SSG scholarship, according to O' Hanlon, is the personage of the Subaltern who makes "a reappearance in the form of a classic unitary self-constituting subject-agent of liberal-humanism" in their work. In other words, by eschewing the many relevant tenets of western historiography, the SSG have engaged in the very same kind of essentialist humanism which they have disavowed earlier, given their insistence in arguing for an independent consciousness and agency of the Subalterns. For, as many have mentioned, if the subaltern consciousness developed independently of both Indian and colonial elite political formulations, then one must also believe that such consciousness is a necessary part of all beings, a notion firmly rooted within the Enlightenment tradition.

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