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“Subalternity” and “Transnational Literacy”: The Significance of Gayatri Spivak’s Scholarship for Rhetoric and Communication Studies

Workshop Leader:

Raka Shome, New York

This workshop is designed for scholars who wish to explore the significance of postcolonial feminist theorist Gayatri Spivak’s work for rhetorical studies—especially issues of “voice,” representation, and (gendered) agency as they remain caught between colliding and colluding structures of patriarchy, nationalism and imperialism. This workshop will particularly focus on two very influential concepts for which Spivak is renowned and which informs her work: “subalternity” (as a condition of impossibility of representation) and ‘transnational literacy” (what does it mean to be transnationally “literate” and how does this question intersect with broader issues of global translation—of subjectivity, otherness, “authorship,” ethics, and the very idea of the “human”—that increasingly challenge our “planetary” lives?) Scholars participating in this workshop should be able to come away equipped with ideas, thoughts, and questions about re-engaging the field of rhetorical studies through a complex transnational and postcolonial lens that constructively invites us to re-evaluate many of the (west-centric) liberal logics upon which our understanding of rhetoric—as a field and a cultural practice—may have been based. This workshop recognizes the potential of rhetorical studies to productively engage and respond to the various challenges that confront our various “postcolonial” presents and futures.

A few significant readings will be circulated prior to the institute. It will be helpful if participants have some prior exposure to cultural theory (if not postcolonial studies) to maximize the intellectual benefits that this seminar may offer.The first three (of the four three hour sessions) will take up the two concepts “subalternity” and “transnational literacy” and unpack them through readings as much as possible. The final session will be one in which participants will (in groups or solo) exclusively address the significance of “subalternity” and “transnational literacy” for rhetorical studies—both as a field and for rhetoric as a cultural practice.

Questions should be directed to Raka Shome,

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