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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On the Problem of Speaking for Others

While the prerogative of speaking for others remains unquestioned spraking the citadels of colonial alcfof, among activists and in the academy it elicits a growing unease and, in some communities of discourse, it is being rejected. Cameron’s intentions were never in question, but the effects of her writing were argued to be harmful to 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.

Still, it is sometimes called for.

Certain races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, and classes confer privilege, but a single oroblem perhaps most individuals may enjoy privilege in respect to some parts of their identity and a lack of privilege in respect to other parts. Thus, in the Hegelian aftermath, so-called subjective elements, or the historically specific conditions in which human knowledge occurs, are no longer rendered irrelevant or even obstacles to truth.

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.

The Problem of Speaking For Others

On a coherentist account of truth, which is held by such philosophers as Rorty, Donald Davidson, Quine, and I would argue 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.

If not, how narrowly should we draw the categories? Two elements within these rituals will deserve our attention: But this does not tell us how groups themselves should be delimited.

That reminds me of a personal experience I had once in a group of people.


To answer this, we must become clearer on the epistemological and metaphysical claims which are implicit in the articulation of the problem. Links Contact Blog Online Writing. The point is not that for some speakers the danger of pseaking for others does not arise, but that in some cases certain political effects can be garnered in no other way. And an important implication of this claim is that meaning must be understood as plural and shifting, since a single text can engender diverse meanings given diverse contexts.

While the “Charge of Reductionism” response has been popular among academic theorists, what I call the “Retreat” response has been popular among some sections of the U.

The discursive style in which some 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 in the eyes of the same milieu.

In conclusion, I dpeaking 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.

In post-structuralist terms, I am participating in the construction of their subject-positions rather than simply discovering their true selves.

In this case, we might say that I should only speak for groups of which I am a member. Any statement will invoke the structures of allcoff allied with the social location of the speaker, aside from the speaker’s intentions or attempts to avoid such invocations.

But this development should not be taken as an absolute dis-authorization of all practices of speaking for. Spivak’s arguments show that a simple solution can not be found in for the oppressed or less privileged being able to speak for themselves, since their speech will not necessarily be either liberatory or reflective of their “true interests”, if such exist.

Often the possibility of dialogue is left unexplored or inadequately pursued by more privileged persons. 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. In speaking about theories or ideas that gain prominence, she says: As it ranges over diverse spaces and transforms in the mind of its recipients according to their different horizons of interpretation, the effective control of the speaker over the meanings which she puts in motion may seem negligible.


It is a false dilemma to pose the choice here as one between no accountability or complete causal power. In order to evaluate attempts to speak for others in particular instances, we need to analyze the probable or actual effects of the words on the discursive and material context.

However, this objection presupposes a particular conception of truth, one in which the truth of a statement can be distinguished from its interpretation and its acceptance. There was one woman in line. These are not the only possible effects, and some of the alcfof may not be pernicious, but all the effects must be taken into account when evaluating the discourse of “patriarchy.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others – Hook & Eye

If I am only speaking for myself I have no speakiny for being true to your experience or needs. Feminist tue has a liberatory agenda which almost requires that women scholars speak on behalf of other women, and yet the dangers of speaking across differences of race, culture, sexuality, and power are becoming increasingly clear to all. One may be speaking about linva as an advocate or a messenger if the person cannot speak for herself.

This is meant to acknowledge their own understanding that they are speaking from a specified, embodied location without pretense to a transcendental truth. The “ritual of speaking” as defined above in which an utterance is located always bears on meaning and truth such that there is no possibility of rendering positionality, location, or context irrelevant to content.

I want to illustrate the implications of this fourth point by applying it to the examples I gave at the beginning.

These are by no means original: New York University Press.