question of what it means to speak for an-other. I explore that question in relation to philosophers like Linda Alcoff, Iris Marion Young, and Gayatri Spivak, and. ; 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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This issue of who gets to speak for whom comes up a lot in my research. We may experience hesitation from fear of being criticized or from fear of exacerbating a problem we would like to remedy, or we may experience a resolve to speak despite existing obstacles, but in many cases we experience having the possibility to speak or not to speak. Yet the effects of the two statements are vastly different because the meaning of the claim changes radically ptoblem on who states it.

The final response to the problem of speaking for others that I will consider occurs in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s rich essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?

George Englebretsen – flr Dialogue 11 4: Consider the following true stories: But Trebilcot’s position, as well as a more general retreat position, presumes an ontological configuration of the discursive context that simply does not obtain.

This point might be conceded by those who admit to the political mutability of interpretationbut they might continue to maintain that truth is a different matter altogether. Persons from dominant groups who speak for others are often treated speakinh authenticating presences that confer legitimacy and credibility on the demands of subjugated speakers; such speaking for others does nothing to disrupt the discursive hierarchies that operate in public spaces.

This is not to suggest that fof representations are fictions: Now let me turn to the example of George Bush. Such a desire for mastery and immunity must be resisted. Cameron’s intentions were never in question, but the effects of her writing were argued to be harmful fr the needs of Native authors because it is Cameron rather than they who will be listened to and whose books will be bought by readers interested in Native women. When meaning is plural and deferred, we can never hope to know the totality of effects.


How one evaluates a particular effect is left open; 4 argues simply that effects must always be taken into account. George Marcus and Michael Fischer Chicago: Not only what is emphasized, noticed, and how it is understood will be affected by the location of both speaker and hearer, but the truth-value or epistemic status will also be affected. In fact, it may be impossible to speak for another without simultaneously conferring information about them.

This was published in Cultural Critique Winterpp.

The way I have articulated this problem may imply that individuals make conscious choices about their discursive practice free of ideology and the constraints of material reality.

Two elements within these rituals will deserve our attention: However, being too bogged down by who gets to speak on another’s behalf also introduces the problem wherein important issues and experiences are not discussed because no one feels that they have a right to speak on those issues.

As a side note, I am somewhat concerned with the tendency in some academic circles to demand self-identification as a way of justifying your right to speak on a particular issue. For examples of anthropologist’s concern with this issue see Writing Culture: There can be no complete or definitive solution to the problem of speaking for others, but there is a possibility that its dangers can be decreased.

First of all, it can be limiting to make it necessary for people to belong to certain groups in order to permit them to speak; secondly, I think it is dangerous to demand a coherence between academic and personal life; third, self-identification can alcorf dangerous for some people so ‘outing’ others or ourselves can have serious consequences.

Although we cannot maintain a neutral voice, according to the first premise we may at least all claim the right and legitimacy to speak. In the history of Western philosophy, there have existed multiple, competing definitions and ontologies of truth: This response is simply to retreat from all practices of speaking for; it asserts that one can only know one’s own narrow individual experience and one’s “own truth” and thus that one can never make claims beyond this.


Location and positionality should not be conceived as one-dimensional or static, but as multiple and with varying degrees of mobility. The phrase “bears on” here should indicate some variable amount of influence short speakinv determination or fixing.

Oghers unanalyzed disclaimers do not improve on this familiar situation and may even make it worse otheers the extent that by offering such information the speaker may feel even more authorized to speak and be accorded more authority by his peers. Linda Nicholson New York, Routledge,p.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

She renounces for herself the practice of speaking for others within a lesbian feminist community, arguing that she “will not try to get other wimmin to accept my beliefs in place of their own” on the grounds that to do so would be to practice a kind alclff discursive coercion and even a violence.

Who is speaking to whom turns out to be as important for meaning and truth as spwaking is said; in fact what is said turns out to change according to who is speaking and who is listening. A quick impulse to reject criticism must make one wary. The task is therefore to explicate the relations between politics and knowledge rather than pronounce the death of truth.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others – Hook & Eye

Still, it is sometimes called for. Sometimes, I worry sometimes that my criticism overrides what I see as the value of these texts.

It also comes up a lot in classroom contexts. These examples demonstrate the range of current practices of speaking for others in our society. I can find out, for example, that the people I spoke for are angry that I did so or appreciative. There is a strong, albeit contested, speqking within feminism which holds that speaking for otherseven for other womenis arrogant, vain, unethical, and politically illegitimate.