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 question spaking whether location bears simply on what is taken to be true or what is really true, and whether such a distinction can be upheld, involves the very difficult problem of the meaning of truth. Any statement will invoke the structures of power allied with the social location of the speaker, aside from the speaker’s intentions or attempts to avoid such invocations. To say that location bears on meaning and truth is not the same as saying that location determines meaning and truth.

Looking merely at the content of a aocoff of claims without looking at their effects cannot produce an adequate or even meaningful evaluation of it, and this is partly because the notion of a content separate from effects does not hold up. For example, in many situations when a woman speaks the presumption is against her; when a man speaks he is usually taken seriously unless his speech patterns mark him otbers socially inferior by dominant standards.

There were two microphones set up in the aisles for audience members to line up behind to ask questions. 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. 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, the problem of speaking for others is more specific than the problem of representation generally, and requires its own particular analysis.

Not sure if I’m contributing, but I think you bring up some lf important points in you review, Liz. Both collective action and coalitions would seem to require the possibility of speaking for.

Thanks so much for this amazing reflection! Fog a recent symposium at my university, a prestigious theorist was invited to give a lecture on the political problems of post-modernism.

The Problem of Speaking For Others |

However, they are meant only to suggest the questions that should be asked concerning any such discursive practice. This created an impetus to reconfigure the ontology of truth, from a locus outside human interpretation to one within it. University of Illinois Press, I will attempt to make these issues clear before turning to discuss some of the possible responses to the problem and advancing a provisional, procedural solution of my own. This latter examination might be called a kind of genealogy.


Let me alcofv an illustration of this. Thus, how what is said gets heard depends on who says it, and who says it will affect the style and language in which it is stated.

The Problem of Speaking For Others

In my own research in life writing, the subjects have passed on but that does not release me from an ethical responsibility in my handling of their experiences. These are feminist texts, and yet I write in ways that are frequently critical of them.

For examples of anthropologist’s concern with this issue see Writing Culture: Often the possibility of dialogue is left unexplored or inadequately pursued by more privileged persons.

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.

Dennett – – Raritan 9: Moreover, making the decision for oneself whether spesking not to retreat is an extension or application of privilege, not an abdication of it. On one view, the author of a text is its “owner” and “originator” otherw with creating its ideas and with being their authoritative interpreter.

While some of us may want to undermine, for example, the U. Cameron’s intentions were never in question, but the otheds 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. He lectures instead on architecture.

On the one hand, a theory which explains this experience as involving autonomous choices free of material structures would be false and ideological, but on the other hand, if we do not acknowledge the activity of choice otheers the experience of individual doubt, we are denying a reality of our experiential lives.

Source is relevant only to othhers extent that it has an impact on effect. Rituals of speaking are constitutive of meaning, the meaning of the words spoken as well as the meaning of the event.

The problem of speaking for others is a social one, the options available to us are socially constructed, and the practices we engage in cannot be understood as simply the results of autonomous individual choice.

For example, if a middle class white man were to begin a speech by sharing with us this autobiographical information and then using it as a kind of apologetics for any limitations of his speech, this would leave to those of us in the audience who do not share his social location all the work of translating his terms into our own, apprising the applicability of his analysis to our diverse situation, and determining the substantive relevance of his location on his claims.

Jason Wyckoff – – Philosophical Quarterly 65 She agrees that an absolute prohibition of speaking for would undermine political effectiveness, and therefore says that she will avoid speaking for others only within her lesbian feminist community. But as Maria Lugones and others have forcefully argued, such an act serves no good end when it is used as a disclaimer against one’s ignorance or errors and is made without critical interrogation of the bearing of such an autobiography on what is about to be said.


It comes up in research, teaching, and activist contexts.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

Such a reductionist theory might, for example, reduce evaluation to a political assessment of speakong speaker’s location where that location is seen as an insurmountable essence that fixes one, as if one’s feet are superglued to a spot on the sidewalk. Although we cannot maintain a neutral voice, according to the first premise we may at least all claim the right and legitimacy to speak.

Such a concept would require truth to be independent of the speakers’ or listeners’ embodied and perspectival location. It is a false dilemma to pose the th here as one between no accountability probkem complete causal power.

For this reason, the work of privileged authors who speak on behalf of the oppressed is becoming increasingly criticized by members of those oppressed groups themselves.

Interview with Andrew Feenberg. Previous Post Faster Feminist Spotlight: However, errors are unavoidable in theoretical inquiry as well as political struggle, and they usually make contributions. But it is also worth noting that there are contexts in which other aside might be appropriate. This loss of control may be taken by some speakers to mean that no speaker can be held accountable for her discursive actions.

The Problem of Speaking for Others by Karen Lo on Prezi

In particular, is it ever valid to speak for others who are unlike me or who are less privileged than me? I will not address the possible differences that arise from these different practices, and will address myself to the fictional “generic” practice of speaking for.

Spivak’s arguments show that a simple solution can not be found in for the oppressed or less privileged spexking able to lf for themselves, since their speech will not necessarily be either liberatory or reflective of their “true interests”, if such exist.

Those who are not in a position of speaking at all cannot retreat from an action they do not employ.

To answer this, we must become clearer on the epistemological and metaphysical claims which are implicit in the articulation of the problem. The final response to the problem of speaking for others that I will xlcoff occurs in Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s rich essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?

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