From the village to the world

Subaltern studies as critical historicism

Authored by: Christopher J. Lee

The Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138718364
eBook ISBN: 9780429438233
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429438233-16

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Abstract

Subaltern studies is a school of historical thought established during the early 1980s. Originally comprised of scholars of South Asia, specifically India, it has since evolved to influence and include different intellectual genealogies and regional configurations around the world. Beginning with a premise of writing history ‘from below’, drawn from the scholarship of social historians based primarily in Great Britain, members of the Subaltern Studies Collective demonstrated equal intellectual facility with and concern for the ideas and approaches of such disparate thinkers as Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Mao Zedong, and, above all, Antonio Gramsci from whom the defining term ‘subaltern’ was adopted. These wide-ranging references informed the eventual appeal of subaltern studies to an international audience. Scholars of Latin America, for example, have embraced the methods and political ethos of subaltern studies as exemplified by the founding of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group in 1992. Similarly, historians, anthropologists, and geographers working in African studies have been attentive to this vein of scholarship, as have specialists on North America and Europe. Consequently, subaltern studies has been viewed as an exemplary case of social theory produced outside the Euro-American academy that profoundly influenced Western thought and historical reason. Yet this common perception overlooks a set of entangled intellectual genealogies that complicates a clear binary between Western and non-Western thought vis-à-vis subaltern studies. Though this school of history continues to be identified principally with South Asia, its origins as well as its impact in other fields has rendered it as a global formation, rather than one delimited to a particular national or regional historiography.

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