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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Thus, the attempt to avoid the problematic of speaking for by retreating into an individualist realm is based on an illusion, well supported in the individualist ideology of the West, that a self is not constituted by multiple intersecting discourses but consists in a unified whole capable of autonomy from others. But Spivak is also critical of speaking for which engages in dangerous re-presentations. She agrees that an absolute prohibition of speaking speakingg would undermine political effectiveness, and therefore alcff that she will avoid speaking for others only within her lesbian feminist community.

We can de-privilege the “original” author and reconceptualize speakibg as traversing almost freely in a discursive space, available from many locations, and without a clearly identifiable originary track, and yet retain our sense that source remains relevant to effect.

The Problem of Speaking For Others

I can find out, for example, that the people I spoke for are angry that I did so or appreciative. In the case of Anne Cameron, if the effects of her books speakinf truly disempowering for Native women, they are counterproductive to Cameron’s own stated intentions, and she should indeed “move over. Cameron’s intentions were never in question, but the effects of her writing were argued to be harmful to the ofhers of Native authors because it is Cameron rather than they who will be listened to and whose books will be othegs by readers interested in Native women.

But this does not tell us how groups themselves should be delimited. When meaning is plural and deferred, we can never hope to know the totality of effects.

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!

We certainly want to encourage a more receptive listening on the part of the discursively privileged and to discourage presumptuous and oppressive practices of speaking for.

The Problem of Speaking For Others |

Source is relevant only to the extent that it has an impact on effect. And this is simply because we cannot neatly separate off our mediating praxis which interprets and constructs our experiences from the praxis of others. To say that location bears on meaning and truth is not the same as saying that location determines meaning and truth.


These are by no means original: Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon Ithaca: Arguably since Kant, more obviously since Hegel, it has been widely accepted that an understanding of truth which requires it to be free of human interpretation leads inexorably to skepticism, since it makes truth inaccessible by definition. For instance, after I vehemently defended Barbara Christian’s article, “The Race for Theory,” a male friend who had a different evaluation of the piece couldn’t help raising the possibility of whether a sort of apologetics structured my response, motivated by a desire to valorize African American writing against all odds.

It is the latter sources of authority that I am referring to by the term “privilege. Thus, the problem with speaking for others exists in the very structure of discursive practice, irrespective of its content, and subverting the hierarchical rituals of speaking will always have some liberatory effects.

Rigoberta Menchued. No keywords specified fix it. I do a lot of work on disability studies and MUVEs, using interviews and focus groups as source material. This response is motivated in part by the desire to recognize difference and different priorities, without organizing these differences into hierarchies. George Marcus and Michael Fischer Chicago: What this entails in practice is a serious commitment to remain open to criticism and to attempt actively, attentively, and sensitively to “hear” the criticism understand it.

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. I agree, then, that we should strive to create wherever possible the conditions for dialogue and the practice of speaking with and to rather than speaking for others.

However, while there is much theoretical and practical work to be done to develop such alternatives, the practice of speaking for others remains the best option in some existing situations.

This question is important, regardless of whether you claim membership in that community or not, but is particularly salient for identity groups that have seen their histories erased, distorted, or only partially represented within dominant culture.

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 who more correctly understands the truth about another’s situation or as one who can champion a just cause and thus achieve glory and praise.

To the extent it recognizes irreducible differences in the way people respond to various traumas and is sensitive to the genuinely variable way in which women can heal themselves, it represents real progress beyond the homogeneous, universalizing approach which sets out one road for all to follow.

On a thr account of truth, which is held by such philosophers as Rorty, Donald Davidson, Quine, and I would xpeaking Gadamer and Foucault, truth is defined as an emergent property of converging discursive and non-discursive elements, when there exists a specific form of integration among these elements in a particular event.


Those of us in the audience, including many white women and people of oppressed nationalities and races, wait in eager anticipation for spsaking he has to contribute to this important discussion.

The Problem of Speaking for Others by Karen Lo on Prezi

If I should not speak for others, should I restrict myself to following their lead uncritically? James Clifford and George E.

Who is speaking, who is spoken of, and who listens is a result, as well as an act, of political struggle. This mandates incorporating a more dialogic approach to speaking, that would include learning from and about the domains of discourse my words will affect.

While the “Charge of Reductionism” speeaking has been popular among academic theorists, what I call the “Retreat” response has been popular among some sections of the U. The term privilege is not meant to include positions of discursive power achieved through merit, but in any case these are rarely pure. I agree with a great deal of Trebilcot’s argument. So it might be argued that the retreat from speaking for others can be maintained without sacrificing political effectivity if it is restricted to particular discursive spaces.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

The recognition that there is a problem in speaking for others has prkblem from the widespread acceptance of two claims. 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.

A plethora of sources have argued in this century that the neutrality of the theorizer can no longer, can never again, be sustained, even for a moment. The Problem of Speaking For Others. Neither Premise 1 nor Premise 2 entail reductionism or essentialism. She may even feel justified in exploiting her privileged alcogf for personal happiness at the expense of others on the grounds that she has no alternative.

It is an illusion that I can separate from others to such an extent otthers I can avoid affecting them. The answers to these questions will certainly depend on who is asking them.

The feminist movement in the U. According to Spivak, Foucault and Deleuze’s self-abnegation serves only to conceal the actual authorizing power of the retreating intellectuals, who in their very retreat help to consolidate a particular conception of experience as transparent and self-knowing.