What does G. Spivak mean by epistemic violence in her essay "Can the subaltern speak"? Does she mean that intellectuals in Europe and first world countries are prolonging and fixing the neo-colonialism by producing post-colonial studies? Does she mean that the very postcolonial studies by Europe maintains and prolongs imperial control over the subaltern? How is it similar to the what Said wrote in Orientalism?
closed as off-topic by Razie Mah, Mark C. Wallace, Kobunite, Jeroen K, Felix Goldberg Apr 11 '14 at 5:29
This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:
Spivak's term "epistemic violence" means the infliction of harm against subjects though discourse. Spivak's understanding of discourse comes from Foucault.
The Wikipedia page on semiotics is very good. I suggest Saussure as background reading to understanding Foucault.
According to Spivak, epistemic violence occurred through the marginilization of certain voices within Western discourses. These voices belong to the "subaltern."
It is similar to Said's idea of "otherness" in Orientialism.
The opposite of a subaltern would be hegemony.
Further information, useful for historical scholars:
The subaltern are only people of the former colonial possessions. The current usage of the term will denote this meaning. It does not describe Grasci's understanding of the subaltern, which would describe the proletariat. In this case marginilazation occurs through epistemic violence, although other peoples were historically marginilized through discourse, such as the proletariat, women, slaves, and racial, ethnic or religious minorities. If the process is generalized to any group, the term used is cultural hegemony, as first described by Gramsci. Today attention has been paid to describing the unique histories of these groups.
So marginilazation most clearly describes the process where the history of a group is mostly left out of the writing of history all together. But it is not the only process. These groups were written about and described in the past historical records by the dominant and powerful group. This provided a skewed view about who these people were and how they lived, so emphasis is paid to altering this by including the "voice" of these groups themselves. This is why Spivak asks: Can the subaltern speak? The answer to her rhetorical question was "no."
As referenced before, Spivak's paper and Said's book Orientalism describe this specific problem within historical and other discourses related to the people of former colonial possessions. Spivak says that the West imposes a false universal value system on the subaltern. So instead of accepting the values of the unique culture as valid or internally consistent, the practices will be described as barbaric, strange, immoral, and totally harmful or counterproductive to the cultural and social progress of the people. She uses the British ban on Sati (burning widows alive with their dead husbands) as her example.
Morality is a very disputable subject. I'm going to focus on the internal consistency of culture argument. Foucault realized that cultures could be arranged completely differently than the West but still be somehow internally consistent. He describes this idea in The Order of Things (1966). This passage illustrates the idea, without having to describe the philosophy too much.
The power of discourse is coming from what he calls discursive formations, described in this same book, The Archeology of Knowledge. (Razie is obviously a big fan!) Discursive formations were also discussed on philsophy.SE