The Chain

RADHIKA GAJJALA

Bowling  Green State University

Who is the “we” who writes together?

This question was/is very hard because I feel that as activist oriented feminists we sometimes feel inclined (at least I do) to say the “we” includes even the historically marginalised populations we either write about or whose presence we bypass. But do we ever really write “together”? And what does our choice about writing with people we are socially comfortable with say about us – if that’s what we do? Indeed who can be part of this “we”?

Clearly, in contemporary academic settings we may write about marginality but we are hardly ever writing together with, or even for the historically marginalised populations anywhere in the world. Here, I mean those who struggle with stigma and access historically, but also those who experience layers of marginalisation as a consequence of neocolonial globalisation processes.

I find myself often returning to Linda Alcoff’s article ‘The Problem of Speaking for Others’ (1991/92) in engaging with the current academic calls for inclusion, diversity and intersectionality.  These calls don’t actually seem to require us to be contextual, or to reveal one’s positionality and stakes around being or not being “intersectional.” Nor do they even take up Haraway’s call for situated knowledges seriously. So, in responding to such calls, have we as critical feminists become adept at rearticulating our seeming “writing together with-ness”?

For instance, in my very recent research writing around gendered Indian digital diasporas, 

I encounter my ignorance of Dalit histories but also of the various other historically marginalised groups in India such as the Adivasis. It is the academics, activists and influencers from these communities that work to educate people like myself on these histories and not history books or contemporary news reports.

I am not compelled to study them, nor do I feel I have the authority to do so in a traditional academic sense, but the digital publics that I inhabit and research include them. I am faced with needing yet again to unlearn the majoritarian academic methodologies. Often I reach for the work from indigenous scholars and African American scholars in the global north in this struggle to engage the core problematics of neocolonial methodologies which we repeatedly reinforce, even as feminists.

As an upper caste woman who has lived in the USA for 32 years – and has been in US academia for 30 of those 32 years – I have gaps. Despite my regular visits to India for family – cocooned in upper caste and class privilege while there – even if I encountered gender issues on a personal level that I could easily run away from by coming back home to Bowling Green, I did not get an intersubjective understanding of the generations of young people who now emerge in my research space (which is the digital terrain) in my offline encounters. I was not in school with them either as a fellow student, a teacher or as a student of a Dalit professor.

So now, when the issue of caste comes into transnational digital spaces through a mostly Dalit activist history (which is where any person studying digital cultures in transnationalised South Asia / India would and should go), returning to Alcoff, I cannot say I lack experience of Dalitness and then go back and write about the labour of white appearing and upper caste seeming diasporic women spinning and knitting. A space, actually – ironically where African American women, #BIPOC and some longer term immigrants from locations like Asia and South Asia are clearly experiencing racism too.

As I investigate the ruptures through the digital there are also the Adivasi activists with the visibility of their digital voices also being a product of them receiving access to education – such as it is – through the much contested Indian equivalent of affirmative action “reservations”.  These activists are telling me that the world hears only of Dalit issues or Queer and Trans issues from India on social media, and  that their voice is comparatively less noticed even in critical academic spaces in India.

Intersectionality is integrally tied to the questioning and unravelling of layered hierarchies – historical, material and discursive. What would be the point of claiming to do “intersectional” research if we are not willing to be critically self-reflective with regard to both our writing and our everyday practices? How might we pause and consider how we repeatedly reinforce structural hierarchies of oppression through the very academic process of who belongs here and who does not?

But all these issues I’m grappling with, when I write within the academic – a western one – I don’t have reviewers who can be helpful. All I’m asked is why I’m not citing enough token brown scholars who are situated in the elite institutions – whether western or Indian. These are good scholars in their own right but they don’t and wouldn’t even claim to represent all marginalised South Asian or academic voices. The process of peer review even in critical feminist circles reproduces matrices of domination/oppression.

So in this layering of tokenising – who am I writing with?

I often write together with people willing to educate me on these issues, tentatively acknowledging their labour and grateful that they are willing to engage, hoping there is something they gain from it as well.

So while the next question in the chain asks “who” should we collaborate with – I think an epistemically significant question is also HOW do we collaborate?


Who should we collaborate with?

References

Acloff, L (1991/92) ‘The Problem of Speaking for Others’ Cultural Critique, 20 pp 5-32

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07/05/2021

07/05/2021