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The word 'subaltern' describes a bearer of social relations of subordination or dependence, and subalternity is the corresponding state of subjection. Neither should be understood in a positivistic manner as an intrinsic property of subjects. Academic interest in questions of subalternity, sparked by the 'history-from-below' approach of English New Left scholars in the 1960s, exploded in the 1980s through the interventions of Indian Subaltern Studies historiography. Building on the writings of Antonio Gramsci, early Subaltern Studies emphasized the 'independent initiatives' of rural subaltern classes - peasants and tribals - whose contributions as subjects of history were effaced in dominant colonial and nationalist historiographies of India. In its critique of imperial and capital-centered teleologies, the nation-form, and the historical enterprise itself, Subaltern Studies displaced and radically advanced the contrapuntal approach of English Marxist historiography. These differences became increasingly salient after 1988 as postcolonial studies took up the problem of subalternity. Foregrounding the politics of representation, postcolonial criticism gave the name 'subaltern' to that marginalized subject who supplements yet defies dialectical integration by Enlightenment reason.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Human Geography
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 1-12
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780080449104
ISBN (Print)9780080449111
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Capital
  • Dialectic
  • Geopolitics
  • Gramsci
  • Hegemony
  • Modernity
  • Nation
  • Postcolonial
  • Representation
  • Subaltern


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