The silences in dominant discourses

Kalpana Ram*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Subaltern Studies continues to be generative for understanding the present, provided we expand our evaluation beyond the question of 'who is subaltern?'. This paper considers instead underlying methodological orientations that outlive their original empirical context, lending themselves to fresh applications. The original method trained us to notice gaps in governmental discourse, silences that underlie its claims to know and administer all within its domain. Based on ethnographic work in rural south India, the paper argues that despite the radical expansion of governmental discourse, it still does not coincide with the everyday practices people continue to inhabit. These practices shape, for example, rural women's everyday poesis in the stories they tell of injustices they have suffered, and the way these injustices erupt as disorder in the body's relationship to the world. To be able to write about these silences minimally requires, however, a second orientation, also present in early Subaltern Studies. This is the underlying epistemic confidence that it is possible, despite the odds, to understand better the meanings and workings of practices that may no longer constitute coherent or self-sufficient worlds-but which nevertheless continue to enjoy a vital and lively presence for subalterns, and for us all.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-130
Number of pages12
JournalSouth Asia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • ethnography
  • bodily orientations
  • post-structuralism
  • epistemology
  • India
  • Subaltern Studies
  • Ranajit Guha


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