Alcoff’s widely-cited article titled, exactly: “The problem of speaking for others.” Alcoff’s essay is a review of the arguments that have been presented by. ; revised and reprinted in Who Can Speak? Authority and Critical Identity edited by Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman, University of Illinois Press, ; and . The Problem of Speaking for Others. Author(s): Linda Alcoff. Source: Cultural Critique, No. 20 (Winter, ), pp. Published by: University of.

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If I speak only for myself it may appear that I am immune from criticism because I am not making any claims that describe others or prescribe actions for ithers. At a recent symposium at my university, a prestigious theorist was invited to give a lecture on the political problems of post-modernism. When I speak for myself, I am constructing a possible self, a way to be in the world, and am offering that, whether I intend to or not, to others, as one possible way to be.

I agree with a great deal of Trebilcot’s argument.

The Problem of Speaking For Others |

For this reason, the work of privileged authors who speak on behalf of the oppressed fod becoming increasingly criticized by members of those oppressed otheds themselves. And they would be right that acknowledging the effect of location on meaning and even on whether something is taken as true within a particular discursive context does not entail that the “actual” truth of the claim is contingent upon its context. President George Bush declares in a public address that Noriega’s actions constitute an “outrageous fraud” and that “the voice of the Panamanian people have spoken.

If ideas arise in such a configuration of forces, does it make sense to ask for an author? Reflection on such problems quickly reveals that no easy solution to the problem of speaking for others can be found by simply restricting the practice to speaking for groups of which one is a member.

The remainder of this paper will try to contribute toward developing that possibility. The complexity and multiplicity of group identifications could result in “communities” composed of single individuals. There orhers one final point I want to make before we can pursue this analysis. In order to evaluate attempts to speak for others in particular instances, we need to analyze the probable or actual alcogf of the words on the discursive and material context.

When I acknowledge that the listener’s social location will affect the meaning of my words, I can more effectively generate the meaning I intend. Thus I would maintain that if the practice of speaking for others is problematic, so too must be the practice of speaking about provlem. I agree with her on this point but I would emphasize also that ignoring the subaltern’s or oppressed person’s speech is, as she herself notes, “to continue the imperialist project.

In list form they may appear to resemble an algorithm, as if we could plug speakiing an instance of speaking for ohters factor out an analysis and evaluation. The source of a claim or discursive practice in suspect motives or maneuvers or in privileged social locations, I have argued, though it is always relevant, cannot be sufficient to repudiate it.


The discursive style in which speakinv European post-structuralists have made the claim that all writing is political marks it as important and likely to be true for a certain powerful milieu; whereas the style in which African-American writers made the same claim marked their speech as dismissable dor the eyes of the same milieu.

However, they are meant only to suggest the questions that should be asked concerning any such discursive practice. However, it is an illusion to think that, even in the safe space of a support group, a member of the group can, for example, trivialize brother-sister incest as “sex play” without profoundly harming someone else in the group who is trying to maintain her realistic assessment speakung her brother’s sexual activities with her as a harmful assault against his adult rationalization that “well, for me it was just harmless fun.

And we have to be careful about the language used and how these experiences are being characterized; however, the chief investigator and myself have close relatives impacted by the illness experienced by the people in the study. One of the things your post reminds me of is that the ethics of self- representation are always context-specific and shift around constantly.

Rigoberta Menchued. Since no embodied speaker can produce more than a partial account, and since the process of producing meaning is necessarily collective, everyone’s account within a specified community needs to be encouraged. The problem of speaking for others is a social one, the options available to us are socially constructed, and the practices we engage in cannot be understood as simply the results of autonomous individual choice.

Another problem concerns how specific an identity needs to be to confer epistemic authority.

I certainly agree that in some instances speaking for others constitutes a violence and should be stopped. This created an impetus to reconfigure the ontology of truth, from a locus outside human interpretation to one within it. Now let me turn to the example of George Bush. Anne Cameron, a very gifted white Canadian author, writes several first person accounts of the lives of Native Canadian women. Yet to replace both “I” and “we” with a passive voice that erases agency results in an erasure of responsibility and accountability for one’s speech, an erasure I would strenuously argue against there is too little responsibility-taking already in Western practice!

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

In conclusion, I would stress that the practice of speaking for others is often born of a desire for mastery, to privilege oneself as the one pseaking more correctly understands the truth about another’s situation or as one who can champion a just cause and thus achieve glory and praise. Some have come forward as former workers, but I wonder what impact that has on their careers and on their conceptualizations of their spaces as safe.

When the president of allcoff United States stands before the world passing judgement on a Third World government, and criticizing it on the basis of corruption and a lack of democracy, the immediate effect of this statement, as opposed to the Opposition’s, is to reenforce the prominent Anglo view that Latin American corruption is the primary cause of the region’s poverty and lack of democracy, that the U.


The unspoken premise here is simply that a speaker’s location is peoblem salient. On another view, the original speaker or writer is no more privileged than any other person who articulates these views, and in fact the “author” alcooff be identified in a strict sense because the concept of author is an ideological construction many abstractions removed from the way in which ideas emerge and become material forces.

The Problem of Speaking For Others

Looking merely at the content of a set of claims without looking at their effects cannot produce an adequate or even meaningful evaluation of it, and this is partly because the notion of a content separate from effects does not hold up.

I don’t have answers to any of the questions that you’ve raised, but I really love these spaces for dwelling with the complexities of the ethics of self- representation. Even a complete retreat from speech is of course not neutral since it allows the continued dominance of current discourses and acts by omission to reenforce their dominance. This procedure would be most successful if engaged in collectively with others, by which aspects of our location less obvious to us might be revealed.

Sign in to use this feature. In this sense, a genealogy involves asking how a position or view is mediated and constituted through and within the conjunction and conflict of historical, cultural, economic, psychological, and sexual practices. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon Ithaca: To our disappointment, he introduces his lecture by explaining that he can not cover the assigned topic, because as a white male he does not feel that he can speak for the feminist and post-colonial perspectives which have launched the critical interrogation of postmodernism’s politics.

Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg Chicago: For example, can a white woman speak for all women simply by virtue of being a woman? Dennett – – Raritan 9: For examples of anthropologist’s concern with this issue see Writing Culture: Simply put, the discursive context is a political arena.

But it seems to me that the importance of the source of a view, and the importance of doing a genealogy, should be subsumed within an overall speakimg of effects, making the central question what the effects are of the view on material and discursive practices through which it traverses and the particular configuration of power relations emergent from these.

Elliot Yale Neaman – – Critical Review 2 Rituals of speaking are politically constituted by power relations of domination, exploitation, and subordination. How one evaluates a particular effect is left open; 4 argues simply that effects must always be taken into account. I do a lot of speaming on disability studies and MUVEs, using interviews and focus groups as source material. To answer this, we must become clearer on the epistemological and metaphysical speakinf which are implicit in the spsaking of the problem.

It is the latter sources of authority that I am referring to by the term “privilege.

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