originates from Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks

subaltern refers to marginalized or oppressed groups within society, especially those who are socially, politically, or economically subordinate and whose voices are often ignored or suppressed by dominant power structures.

subaltern is not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for The Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie… In postcolonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern—a space of difference. Now, who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern… Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus; they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’… They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse, wanting a piece of the pie, and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

  • Gayathri Spivak