Subaltern Studies

The Subaltern Studies Group (SSG) or Subaltern Studies Collective is a group of South Asian scholars interested in the postcolonial and post-imperial societies which started at the University of Sussex in 1979–80.[1] The term Subaltern Studies is sometimes also applied more broadly to others who share many of their views. Their anti-essentialist approach[2] is one of history from below, focused more on what happens among the masses at the base levels of society than among the elite.


The term "subaltern" in this context is an allusion to the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). It refers to any person or group of inferior rank and station, whether because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion.

The SSG arose in the 1980s, influenced by the scholarship of Eric Stokes and Ranajit Guha, to attempt to formulate a new narrative of the history of India and South Asia. The group started at the University of Sussex and then continued and traveled, mainly through guha's students.[3] This narrative strategy most clearly inspired by the writings of Gramsci was explicated in the writings of their "mentor" Ranajit Guha, most clearly in his "manifesto" in Subaltern Studies I and also in his classic monograph The Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency. Although they are, in a sense, on the left, they are very critical of the traditional Marxist narrative of Indian history, in which semi-feudal India was colonized by the British, became politicized, and earned its independence. In particular, they are critical of the focus of this narrative on the political consciousness of elites, who in turn inspire the masses to resistance and rebellion against the British.

Instead, they focus on non-elites — subalterns — as agents of political and social change. They have had a particular interest in the discourses and rhetoric of emerging political and social movements, as against only highly visible actions like demonstrations and uprisings.


One of the group's early contributors, Sumit Sarkar, later began to critique it. He entitled one of his essays "Decline of the Subaltern in Subaltern Studies", criticizing the turn to Foucauldian studies of power-knowledge that left behind many of the empiricist and Marxist efforts of the first two volumes of Subaltern Studies. He writes that the socialist inspiration behind the early volumes led to a greater impact in India itself, while the later volumes' focus on western discourse reified the subaltern-colonizer divide and then rose in prominence mainly in western academia.[4] Even Gayatri Spivak, one of the most prominent names associated with the movement, has called herself a critic of "metropolitan post-colonialism".[5]

Indian sociologist Vivek Chibber has criticized the premise of Subaltern Studies for its obfuscation of class struggle and class formation in its analysis, and accused it of excising class exploitation from the story of the oppression of the subaltern. [6] His critique, explained in his book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital, is focused on the works of two Indian scholars: Ranajit Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty.

People associated with Subaltern Studies

Scholars associated with Subaltern Studies include:

See also


  2. Atabaki, Touraj (2003). Beyond Essentialism: Who Writes Whose Past in the Middle East and Central Asia? Inaugural lecture, 13 December 2002 (PDF). Amsterdam.
  4. Sumit Sarkar, “The Decline of the. Subaltern in Subaltern Studies” in his Writing Sggial History. Delhi,. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  5. Gayatri_Chakravorty_Spivak, A_Critique_of_Postcolonialism, Harvard University Press
  6. "How does the subaltern speak?". jacobinmag.

Further reading

  • Young, Robert, White Mythologies. Routledge, 1990, reissued 2004. Several associated ISBNs, including ISBN 0-415-31181-0, ISBN 0-415-31180-2.
  • Ludden, David, ed., Reading Subaltern Studies. Critical History, Contested Meaning and the Globalization of South Asia, London 2001.
  • Chaturvedi, Vinayak, ed., Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial. London and New York 2000.
  • Cronin, Stephanie, ed., "Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa". Routledge, 2008. US & Canada.
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