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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 97 | volume XVII | July-August, 2014



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 97July-August, 2014

The Silence of the Subaltern and the Epistemic Violence of Imperialism

p. 1
Trajanka Kortova

“Imperialism’s epistemic violence … constituted/effaced the subject that was obliged to cathect … the space of the Imperialists’ self-consolidating other. The clearest available example of … epistemic violence is the remotely orchestrated, far-flung, and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other”[1].
    “Europe … consolidated itself as sovereign subject by defining its colonies as ‘Others,’ even as it constituted them, for purposes of administration and the expansion of markets, into programmed near-images of that very sovereign self”[2].
    By constituting the colonial subject as the Other, colonialism/imperialism performs epistemic violence. What does this violence consist of? Within the context of the theory of Gayatri Charkravorty Spivak, it represents using the knowledge, i.e. epistemology of the West in order to justify the political and cultural domination over the non-West; foreclosing the colonial Other from any valid discourse of knowing and feeling; preventing the appearance in this Other of any awareness of self, his situation and the manner of seeking a way out of it; causing his existence in conditions of marginality and fragmentation, inability to achieve unification with others who share his lot and, consequently, forcing him to play merely an episodic role in history. A result of the epistemic violence of imperialism is the absence of almost any valid knowledge coming from the non-West that can exist only by virtue of its intrinsic value, without having to be compared to what comes from the West or to be benevolently “adopted” by it. The epistemic violence of imperialism has also brought about the destruction and degradation of nonwestern cultures and worldviews, which, in turn, has installed European epistemology in a position of universality and an entelechy of universal values.
     The word “episteme” is derived from the Greek ἐπιστήμη, meaning ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’; the corresponding verb ἐπίσταμαι signifies ‘to know, to understand’. The episteme is different from τέχνη = skill, knowledge or art. In Plato’s theory, episteme refers to “true knowledge”, as opposed to doxa, which connotes ‘common belief or opinion’[3]. Epistemology is thus the study of knowledge. In the philosophy of Michel Foucault, episteme is the corpus of knowledge and ideas current in a certain period. However, the term refers not only to the corpus of knowledge defining a certain period, but also that which conditions the possibility for the appearance of that knowledge, that which determines what is actually possible to know in a certain period. In other words, the episteme is an


1. Gayatri Spivak, quoted in Benita Parry. “The Postcolonial: Conceptual Category or Chimera?” The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 27, The Politics of Postcolonial Criticism. (1997), pp. 3-21. JSTOR, p.9.
2. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. „The Rani of Sirmur: An Essay in Reading the Archives“. History and Theory, Vol. 24, No. 3, (October, 1995), p. 247. Blackwell Publishing,

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