Spivak and her work against Intellectual Colonialism0
KYOTO, JAPAN — June 22, 2012 — The Inamori Foundation today announced that Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak*, 70, has been selected to receive the 28th annual Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in the field of Thought and Ethics. Professor Spivak is an Indian intellectual, activist, and University Professor at Columbia University, the school’s highest honor for professors, where she is also a founder of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. She exemplifies the modern intellectual through her theoretical work for the humanities based on comparative literature and her devotion to multifaceted educational activities, especially in developing regions.
The Work of Professor Spivak
A prolific author, Professor Spivak is perhaps best known for her 1988 essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In this article, she spotlights the “subalterns” — those who are economically dispossessed, forcibly marginalized and rendered without agency by their social status. She listens carefully to the subaltern voice and sounds a warning against its newly-formed identity made in the process of representation by others. Epitomizing her concept is the approach of “unlearning” — undermining one’s own privileged position and learning in the face of the geopolitical situation of knowledge. Her approach has strongly influenced the development of postcolonialism, which criticizes the politics, economy and culture of our global society — the very forces that were once envisioned to surmount the framework of nation states, but that have since instead come to function as a form of renewed colonialism in them.
Retaining her Indian citizenship, she lives and teaches in the U.S.A. and attends discussions and gatherings around the world. She also works to promote literacy in rural villages and to translate local literature from India and Bangladesh. Professor Spivak is committed to fulfilling what she regards as a profound and ethical responsibility toward minorities who have been deprived of language and history through an invisible structure of oppression, and her social work in this regard has earned her respect around the world.
Professor Spivak joins Dr. Ivan Sutherland (Advanced Technology) and Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi (Basic Sciences) as this year’s honorees of the prestigious Kyoto Prize. Each laureate will receive a diploma, a 20-karat gold Kyoto Prize medal and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately US$630,000) in recognition of lifelong contributions to society at a ceremony in Kyoto, Japan on November 10, 2012.