Ranajit Guha and the Subaltern School

Ranajit Guha was a historian who revolutionized the study of South Asian history through the Subaltern School. Guha passed away in May at his residence in Vienna Woods, Austria. His work focused on understanding the voices of underclasses in South Asian society, and his approach challenged the traditional narratives of Indian history.

Challenging Traditional Narratives of Indian History

According to Guha, the conventional historical accounts about India were extremely inadequate in exploring the intricacies of its past. These narratives were either shaped by colonial perspectives or were influenced by the agendas of the ruling classes, which were themselves a product of colonial frameworks. Guha observed that these narratives ignored the voices of the marginalized and oppressed sections of society. He asserted that subordination could only be comprehended in relation to dominance, which was the other essential element in the binary equation.

The Birth of the Subaltern School

Guha’s work focused on studying peasant insurgency in colonial India from the perspective of the peasant. Through his research and observations, Ranajit Guha enabled peasant insurgents to establish their own political agency, rather than relying on the support of the local elites. Guha and his colleagues, such as Gayatri Spivak and Dipesh Chakrabarty, coined the term “subaltern” to describe these underclasses. The Subaltern School is a post-colonial, post-Marxist school of historical study that focuses on the voices of underclasses in South Asian society.

Criticism of the Subaltern School

Although the Subaltern School has played a significant role in directing academic research on post-colonial societies and South Asia for decades since the 1980s, it is not exempt from criticism. It is criticised for its prioritization of the agency and its ignorance to the structure’s importance. Vivek Chibber, one critic of the Subaltern School, argues that its approach to politics tends to be overly romanticized.




1 Comment

  1. Dr.Cajetan Coelho

    May 3, 2023 at 3:33 pm

    Respectful farewell to historian Ranajit Guha.


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