Subaltern Approach and the “Sense” of History in Global Studies
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In the 1980s, the scope of enquiry of Subaltern Studies was applied as a corrective to the dominant Eurocentric history writing, particularly in the South Asian postcolonial historiography. In its early commitment to social history, Subaltern Studies re-invented ‘subalternity’ by divorcing itself from Engel and Gramsci to invent a distinctive subalternity in which the nation was being re-configured, re-imagined, and re-theorised, exposing the breach between popular and national history. Subaltern Studies became an original site for a new kind of history from below, a people’s history free of national constraints, a post-nationalist re-imagining of the Indian nation on the underside, at the margins, and outside nationalism. Additionally, the intellectual efficacy of the term “Subaltern” enabled its adoption in fields such as anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and literary criticism. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, as the Cold War came to an end, critical attacks on the public sector under Reagan and Thatcher widened what many scholars began to see as a permanent rift between people and states. In more contemporary times, the gulf between the peoples and states has been widening worldwide as global capitalism fights states for power over national resources; through the emergence of the processes of globalization and the concentration of capital on a new level that is apparently outside the effective control of the state machinery; and the emergence of a new plurality of sites of resistance, social groupings, movements, regions, and subcultures. In this milieu, the paper will explore if the social history approach of early Subaltern Studies could enrich the texture and interpretation of contemporary global history? In particular, it will explore the usefulness of engaging with our interconnected global experience through individual historical narratives such as those provided by The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill, 2007), Kiss of the Fur Queen (Tomson Highway, 1998) and Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958).