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Subaltern Studies

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The Subaltern Studies Group (SSG) or Subaltern Studies Collective is a group of South Asian scholars interested in postcolonial and post-imperial societies.[1] The term Subaltern Studies is sometimes also applied more broadly to others who share many of their views and they are often considered to be "exemplary of postcolonial studies" and as one of the most influential movements in the field.[2] Their anti-essentialist approach[3] 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). The term's semantic range has evolved from its first usage by Ranajit Guha, following Gramsci, to refer solely to peasants who had not been integrated into the industrial capitalist system. It now refers to any person or group of inferior rank or 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, then continued and traveled, mainly through Guha's students.[4] This narrative strategy was 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.[5] Even Gayatri Spivak, one of the most prominent names associated with the movement, has called herself a critic of "metropolitan post-colonialism".[6]

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.[7] 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. According to Chibber, subaltern scholars tend to recreate the Orient as a place where cultural differences negate analyses based on Western experience.

Bibliography of Subaltern Studies[edit]

Edition Publication date Editors Title Pages Publisher
1 1982 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 231 Delhi: Oxford University Press
2 1983 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 358 Delhi: Oxford University Press
3 1984 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 327 Delhi: Oxford University Press
4 1985 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 383 Delhi: Oxford University Press
5 1987 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 296 Delhi: Oxford University Press
6 1989 Ranajit Guha Writings on South Asian History and Society 335 Delhi: Oxford University Press
7 1993 Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey Writings on South Asian History and Society 272 Delhi: Oxford University Press
8 1994 David Arnold and David Hardiman Writings on South Asian History and Society 240 Delhi: Oxford University Press
9 1996 Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakrabarty Writings on South Asian History and Society 248 Delhi: Oxford University Press
10 1999 Gautam Bhadra, Gyan Prakash, and Susie Tharu Writings on South Asian History and Society 252 Delhi: Oxford University Press
11 2000 Partha Chatterjee and Pradeep Jeganathan Community, Gender and Violence 347 New York: Columbia University Press
12 2005 Shail Mayaram, M. S. S. Pandian, and Ajay Skaria Muslims, Dalits, and the Fabrications of History 322 New Delhi: Permanent Black and Ravi Dayal Publisher

Note: [8]

People associated with Subaltern Studies[edit]

Scholars associated with Subaltern Studies include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Subaltern Studies : The Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies : Blackwell Reference Online". Archived from the original on 2018-05-19. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
  2. ^ Connell, Raewyn (2005). Southern Theory.
  3. ^ Atabaki, Touraj (2003). Beyond Essentialism: Who Writes Whose Past in the Middle East and Central Asia? Inaugural lecture, 13 December 2002 (PDF). Amsterdam. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 29 April 2013.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/students/modules/hi323/lectures/ranajit_guha_and_subaltern_studies_sakar_2016.pdf Archived 2018-05-19 at the Wayback Machine [bare URL PDF]
  5. ^ Sumit Sarkar, "The Decline of the. Subaltern in Subaltern Studies" in his Writing Sggial History. Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  6. ^ Gayatri_Chakravorty_Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonialism, Harvard University Press
  7. ^ "How does the subaltern speak?". jacobinmag. Archived from the original on 2016-02-08. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  8. ^ "Subaltern Studies: Bibliography of articles and reviews and listing of table of contents of the series of books". asianstudies.github.io. Archived from the original on 2018-12-01. Retrieved 2019-10-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]