April 25, 2018
The Giving Voice Project: Origins and Outcomes
By Dr. Julie McCormick Weng
The Giving Voice Project is a series of digital essays composed by undergraduate students at Georgia Institute of Technology. These essays tackle research questions about subaltern women. They ask:
- What is the effect of education on subaltern women’s agency?
- What is the relationship between class/economic status and the subalternity of women?
- How does “othering” affect subaltern women’s subject formation and self-representation?
To respond, the students draw on a range of creative and critical texts from postcolonial literature and theory, including Gayatri Spivak’s essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” As the students demonstrate, Spivak’s essay helps us to see more clearly the manner through which gender is tied up in the cultural, political, and other ideological institutions (underlying the research questions above) that obstruct representation, that impede hearing and speaking.
The students pair their essays with multimodal features—such as images, videos, and maps—media afforded by our digital space. They also embed dramatic readings into their essays. These recordings of key passages of literature and theory help to contextualize the students’ sources in an interactive format; they do not simply type quotations into their essays but also offer the reader an opportunity to hear and absorb the fuller content and context out of which the quotations were drawn. Furthermore, the use of their voices allows the students to interpret the texts through performance. These dramatic choices are particularly apparent in the students’ readings of postcolonial fiction and poetry. In effect, these audio files shorten the distance between the students’ academic research—the final product—and their literary and critical sources as they showcase and take ownership of their supporting evidence in an unconventional fashion, affirming in a new way these sources’ significance in advancing insight into subalternity. The combined effect of this multimodal research is an engaging study of subaltern women—women whose experiences, as Spivak shows, “are not a special case but can represent” and enliven our study of “the human, with the asymmetries attendant upon any such representation” (“Collectivities,” Death of Discipline, 70).
Altogether, these multimodal essays seek, in some small measure, to give voice; not to ventriloquize the subaltern but—by questioning, listening, reading, writing, and speaking—to open a digital space for postcolonial writers and theorists to vivify our understanding of subalternity and to amplify our own call to action; for academic research has the capacity to transform us as we see and advocate on behalf of ourselves and others with more conscientious eyes. Drucilla Cornell describes this reciprocal and transformative potential of the humanities in Spivak’s work: “For Spivak, the role of the humanities can be crucial in helping us to negotiate” issues of human rights, and by doing so, “to pursue freedom with the subaltern, transforming ourselves and not just demanding change of the other” (“The Ethical Affirmation of Human Rights” 110).
The Giving Voice Project is intended to take part in this “pursu[it] of freedom with the subaltern” by sparking a communal journey, one that does not stop at the level of the printed page. By publishing these essays online, the students “step outside of [themselves]” in the effort to generate and contribute to public conversation, and they affirm their commitment to participate in overturning the forces of oppression (Spivak, “In Response,” 235). Spivak argues that the subaltern still await liberation, a liberation that will only be made possible through an “uncoercive rearrangement of desires”—her expression for a shared, renewed inclination, one that willingly topples, subverts, and redresses the very structures of oppression; the cultural, political, and ideological institutions that uphold injustice. And the formation of this new will in part, as Spivak submits, is “a teacher’s work” (“In Response” 230).
The essays below demonstrate how instructors and students can play a central role in instigating a turnabout in values. As we use this digital “classroom” here to investigate subalternity, we are at the same time reflexively checking our own impulses and instincts that reinforce rather than repudiate the powers of oppression. And we endeavor to instead take part in the subaltern’s liberation.
by Veda Agarwal, Maggie Salazar, and Nicole Tansey
by Rylie Geohegan and Jessica Copenhaver
by Evi Salguero and Melody Shellman