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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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There are two premises implied by the articulation of the problem, and unpacking these should advance our understanding of the issues involved. This view works only up to a point.

Thus, the question of 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. All such evaluations produced in this way will be of necessity indexed. That is, they will obtain for a very specific location and cannot be taken as universal.

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

The Problem of Speaking For Others |

lroblem At the International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, ohters group of Native Canadian writers ask Cameron to, in their words, “move over” on the grounds that her writings are disempowering for Native authors.

President George Bush declares in a public address that Noriega’s actions constitute an “outrageous fraud” and that “the voice of the Panamanian people have spoken.

It is a false dilemma to pose the choice here as one between no accountability or complete causal power. This created an impetus to reconfigure the ontology of truth, from a locus outside human interpretation to one within it.

In the case of Anne Cameron, if the effects of her books are truly disempowering for Native women, they are counterproductive to Cameron’s own stated intentions, and she should indeed “move acoff. Sara Ruddick – – Hypatia 21 2: Adequate research will be a necessary but insufficient criterion of evaluation.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others – Hook & Eye

We must ask further questions about its effects, questions which amount to the following: We might try to delimit this problem as only arising when a more privileged person speaks for pproblem less privileged one. To say that location bears on meaning and truth is othdrs the same as saying that location determines meaning and truth. The dominant modernist view has been that truth represents a relationship of correspondence between a proposition and an extra-discursive reality.


Neither Premise 1 nor Premise 2 entail reductionism or essentialism. Given that interpretations and meanings are discursive constructions made by embodied speakers, Trebilcot worries that attempting to persuade or speak for another will cut off that person’s ability or willingness to engage in the constructive act of developing meaning. Thus, in the Hegelian aftermath, so-called subjective elements, or the historically specific conditions in which human knowledge occurs, are no longer rendered irrelevant or even obstacles to truth.

Interview with Andrew Feenberg. Ultimately, the question of speaking for others bears crucially on the possibility of political effectivity. She renounces for herself the practice of speaking for others within a lesbian feminist community, arguing that she “will not try to get other wimmin to accept my beliefs in place of their own” on the grounds that to do so would be to practice a kind of discursive coercion and even a violence.

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. At a recent symposium at my university, a prestigious theorist was invited to give a lecture on the political problems of post-modernism. 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 and the experience of individual doubt, we are denying a reality of our experiential lives.

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.

In particular, is it ever valid to speak for others who are unlike me or who are less privileged than me? This conflation was intentional on my part, because it is difficult to distinguish speaking about from speaking for in all cases.

In some cases, the motivation is perhaps not so much to avoid criticism as to avoid errors, and the person believes that the only way to avoid errors is to avoid all speaking for others. Others have been taught the opposite and will speak haltingly, with apologies, if they speak at all.


In the examples used above, there may appear to be a conflation between the issue of speaking for others and spekaing issue of speaking about others. And moreover, the better we understand the trajectories by alcofd meanings proliferate, the ov likely we can increase, though always only partially, our ability to direct the interpretations and transformations our speech undergoes. Given that the context of hearers is partially determinant, the speaker is not the master or mistress of the situation.

In conclusion, I would stress that the practice of speaking for others is often born of a desire for mastery, to privilege oneself as the one who more correctly understands the truth about another’s situation or as one who can speqking a just cause and thus achieve glory and praise. 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.

One may be speaking about another as an advocate or a messenger if the person cannot speak for herself. That reminds me of a personal experience I had once in a group of people.

On the Problem of Speaking for Others

For instance, after I vehemently defended Barbara Christian’s article, “The Race for Theory,” a male friend who had a different evaluation of the piece couldn’t help raising the possibility of whether a sort of apologetics structured my response, motivated by a desire to valorize African American writing against all odds. When I acknowledge that the listener’s social location will affect the meaning of my words, I can more effectively generate the meaning I intend.

I do wonder who gets to speak and of what—what stories and personal experiences are told particularly as studied and discussed in academic environments and which are relegated to the dark recesses of oblivion or pop-culture. Elliot Yale Neaman – – Critical Review 2