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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History of Western Philosophy. Interview with Andrew Feenberg. University of Illinois Press, It is not always the case that when others unlike me speak for me I have ended up worse off, or that when flr speak for others they end up worse off. Request removal from index. I do a lot of work on disability studies and MUVEs, using interviews and focus groups as source material.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

Location and positionality should not be conceived as one-dimensional or static, but as multiple and with varying degrees of mobility. There is an ambiguity in the two phrases: In rejecting a general retreat from speaking for, I am not advocating a return to an unself-conscious appropriation of the other, but rather that anyone who speaks for others should only do so out of a concrete analysis of the particular power relations and discursive effects involved.

The Problem of Speaking For Others. Dennett – – Prlblem 9: Rituals of speaking are constitutive of meaning, the meaning of the words spoken as well as the meaning of the event. It leaves for the listeners all the real work that needs to be done.

Freedom, Identity, and Rights.

The Problem of Speaking For Others

This loss of control may be taken by some speakers to mean that no speaker can be held accountable for her discursive yhe. And the effect of the practice of speaking for others is often, though not always, erasure and a reinscription of sexual, national, and other kinds of hierarchies.

Our ability to assess the effects of a given discursive event is limited; our ability to predict apeaking effects is even more difficult. Two elements within these rituals will deserve our attention: At the International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, a group of Native Canadian writers ask Cameron to, in their words, “move over” on the grounds that her writings are disempowering for Native authors. The phrase “bears on” here should indicate some variable amount of influence short of determination or fixing.


Persons from dominant groups who speak for others are often treated as authenticating presences that confer legitimacy and credibility on the demands of subjugated speakers; such speaking for others does nothing to disrupt the discursive hierarchies that operate in public spaces.

Though the speaker may be trying to materially improve the situation of some lesser-privileged group, one of the effects of her discourse is to reenforce racist, imperialist conceptions and perhaps also to further silence the lesser-privileged group’s own ability to speak and be heard.

I agree with her on this point but I would emphasize also that ignoring the subaltern’s or oppressed person’s speech is, as she herself notes, “to continue the imperialist project. In feminist magazines such as Sojournerit is common to find articles and letters in which the author states that she can only speak for herself.

I shall explore this issue further in the next section.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others – Hook & Eye

If ideas arise in such a configuration of forces, does it make sense to ask for an speakint Others have been taught the opposite and will speak haltingly, with apologies, if they speak at all. Given that truth is connected to politics, these political differences between locations will produce epistemic differences as well. An absolute retreat weakens political effectivity, is based on a metaphysical illusion, and often effects only prolem obscuring of the intellectual’s power.

In other words, a speaker’s location which I take here to refer to her social location or social identity has an epistemically significant impact on that speaker’s claims, and can serve either to authorize or dis-authorize one’s speech.

The answers to these questions will certainly depend on who is asking them. But spesking it is both morally and politically objectionable to structure one’s actions around the desire to avoid criticism, especially if this outweighs other questions of effectivity.

One of the things your post reminds me of is that the ethics of self- representation are always context-specific and shift around constantly. If I don’t speak for those less privileged than myself, am I abandoning my political responsibility to speak out against oppression, a responsibility incurred by the very fact of my privilege?

I agree with a great deal of Trebilcot’s argument. In other words, the claim that I can speak only for myself assumes the autonomous conception of the self in Classical Liberal theory–that I am unconnected to others in my authentic self or that I can achieve an autonomy from others given certain conditions.

Simple unanalyzed disclaimers do not improve on this familiar situation and may even make it worse to the extent that by offering such information the speaker may feel even more authorized to speak and be accorded more authority by his peers. In her important paper, “Dyke Methods,” Joyce Trebilcot offers a philosophical articulation of this view.


By learning as much as possible about the context of reception I can increase my ability to discern at least some of the possible effects.

The Problem of Speaking For Others |

In the history of Western philosophy, there have existed multiple, competing definitions and ontologies of truth: The pursuit of an absolute means to avoid making errors comes perhaps not from a desire to advance collective goals but a desire for personal mastery, to establish a privileged discursive position wherein one cannot be undermined or challenged and thus is master of the situation.

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.

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. In particular, it assumes that one can retreat into one’s discrete location and make claims entirely and singularly within that location that do not range over others, and therefore that one can disentangle oneself from the implicating networks between one’s discursive practices and others’ locations, situations, and practices.

First of all, it can be limiting to make it necessary for people to belong to certain groups in order to permit them to speak; secondly, I think it is dangerous to demand a coherence between academic and personal life; third, self-identification can be dangerous for some people so ‘outing’ others or ourselves can have serious consequences.

Moreover, making the decision for oneself whether or not to retreat is an extension or application of privilege, not an abdication of it.

There is one final point I want to make before we can pursue this analysis. Previous Post Faster Feminist Spotlight: New York University Press. We otherw to be careful to do justice to the people who are entrusting us with their experiences. Why might one advocate such a partial retreat?

Edited by Linda L.