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The Problem of Speaking for Others

The Problem of Speaking for Others

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Published by M. L. Landers
Alcoff, Linda, Cultural Critique, No. 20 (Winter, 1991-1992), pp. 5-32.
Alcoff, Linda, Cultural Critique, No. 20 (Winter, 1991-1992), pp. 5-32.

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Published by: M. L. Landers on Nov 08, 2011
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The Problem of Speaking for OthersAuthor(s): Linda AlcoffSource:
Cultural Critique,
No. 20 (Winter, 1991-1992), pp. 5-32Published by: University of Minnesota PressStable URL:
Accessed: 27/09/2008 05:32
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The ProblemofSpeakingforOthersLindaAlcoffConsider
thefollowingtruestories:
1.AnneCameron,avery giftedwhiteCanadianauthor,writes severalsemi-fictionalaccountsofthelivesofNativeCana-dianwomen. She writes them in firstpersonandassumes aNativeidentity.Atthe 1988 InternationalFeminist BookFairinMontrealagroupof Native Canadian writersdecided toaskCameronto,intheirwords,"moveover" on thegroundsthat herwritingsaredisempoweringforNative authors. Sheagrees.'2.Afterthe 1989electionsinPanama areoverturnedbyManuelNoriega,PresidentBushof theUnited Statesdeclaresinapublicaddress thatNoriega'sactionsconstitute an"outrageousfraud" and that"the voice of thePanamanianpeoplehasspoken.""ThePanamanianpeople,"he tellsus,"wantdemocracyandnottyranny,andwantNoriegaout."Heproceedstoplanthe invasionof Panama.3. At a recentsymposiumatmyuniversity,aprestigioustheoristwasinvited togivealectureonthepoliticalproblemsofpostmodernism.Thoseofusin theaudience,including manywhitewomen andpeopleofoppressednationalities andraces,
?1991byCulturalCritique.0882-4371(Winter 1991-92).Allrightsreserved.
5
 
6LindaAlcoff
waitedineager anticipationfor what he has to contribute tothisimportantdiscussion.To ourdisappointment,heintroduced hislecturebyexplainingthat he could not covertheassignedtopic,becauseasa white male hedid not feelthat he couldspeakforthefeministandpostcolonial perspectivesthat have launched thecrit-icalinterrogationofpostmodernism'spolitics.Hewent on togiveusa lectureon architecture.Theseexamplesdemonstrate some of thecurrentpracticesanddiscussionsaroundspeakingforothersinoursociety.As atypeofdiscursivepractice, speakingfor others hascomeunderincreasingcriticism,and insomecommunities it isbeing rejected.Thereisastrong,albeitcontested,current withinfeminismwhichholds thatspeakingfor othersisarrogant,vain,unethical,andpoliticallyillegitimate.In feministmagazinessuchasSojournertiscommonto find articlesand lettersinwhich the authorstates thatshe canonly speakfor herself.In herimportantpaper, "DykeMethods,"JoyceTrebilcotoffers aphilosophicalarticulationofthisview. She renouncesfor herself thepracticeofspeakingforotherswithin a lesbian feministcommunityandarguesfurtherthat she"willnottrytogetother wimmin toacceptmybeliefsinplaceof their own"on thegroundsthat todo sowould be topracticea kind ofdiscursive coercion andeven aviolence(1).2Inanthropologythere is alsomuchdiscussiongoingonaboutwheth-eritispossibletoadequatelyorjustifiably speakforothers. TrinhT. Minh-haexplainsthegroundsforskepticismwhenshesaysthatanthropologyis"mainlyaconversation of'us' with'us'about'them,'of the white manwiththewhite man abouttheprimitive-nature man ...in which'them'issilenced.'Them'alwaysstandson theother side of thehill,nakedandspeechless. .'them'isonlyadmittedamong'us,'thediscussingsubjects,whenaccom-paniedor introducedbyan 'us'..."(65,67).3Giventhisanaly-sis,evenethnographieswrittenbyprogressiveanthropologistsareaprioriregressivebecause of thestructuralfeaturesofanthropo-logicaldiscursivepractice.Therecognitionthatthere is aprobleminspeakingforoth-ers hasarisen fromtwosources.First,there is agrowingrecogni-tionthatwhere onespeaksfromaffectsthemeaningandtruthofwhat onesays,andthus thatonecannotassumeanabilityto

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