congress / people

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

Date and place of birth: 1942, Calcutta, India

Living place: New York, United States of America

Theme: philosophy, literature

ECC Participation: panel member

photo: Shih-Lun Chang

World-renowned intellectual and cultural critic, focused on 19th and 20th century literature and globalization. Her biggest influences are Marxism and post-structuralism. One of the biggest names in postcolonial and feminist thought.

“I am viewed by Marxists as too codic, by feminists as too male-identified, by indigenous theorists as too committed to Western Theory. I am uneasily pleased about this.”

In her research she focused on marginalized social groups. Her famous essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, published in 1985”, criticized Western feminism for excluding these marginalized people from its discussions and claimed that women of the Third World don’t really fit Western feminist theories. Spivak claimed that language, when used in defense of minorities and in good faith, becomes in fact a language of violence, pushing minorities towards further oppression.

After graduating from the University of Calcutta in 1959 she left for the United States, where she continued her studies at the University of Cornell, among others. A professor of Columbia University since 2007, she is also the head of the University’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Spivak is an activist, and is engaged in feminist and ecology movements. In 1997, she established a foundation for fostering education in the poorest regions of the world. She works as a trainer of elementary school teachers in West Bengal.

Author of a wide variety of publications, including books such as “The Post-Colonial Critic” (1988), “Righting Wrongs” (2003), “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee and Certain Scenes of Teaching” (2004) and the recent “Rethinking Comparativism”, about the role of languages in the era of globalization.

During the past twenty years, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has experienced a radical reorientation in her thinking. Finding the neat polarities of tradition and modernity, colonial and postcolonial, no longer sufficient for interpreting the globalized present, she turns elsewhere to make her central argument: that aesthetic education is the last available instrument for implementing global justice and democracy. The related concerns are addressed in her newest book of essays, “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization” which will be published in 2012 by Harvard University Press.