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Colonial difference and subalternity for a crosscultural analysis of violence against women and children

The contexts where this research is being developed have political and cultural differences but at the basis, even with some variations, we can observe a patriarchal, capitalist and colonialist system of power relations.

The “cultural encounters” are framed in theoretical boundaries that intertwin the nomadic experiences of women, either immigrant or not, who for whatever reason had or have encountered national intervention systems working against violence.
From a feminist and postcolonialist localization there are important issues that we must take in consideration in the analysis of the findings and in the methods applied.

First it’s important to reflect upon the subaltern position of women in the contexts of the research as well as the intertwined relations between sexual difference and colonial difference (Chatterjee, 1993). As we mentioned above the patriarchal, capitalist and colonialist system of power relations is perceived in the four countries besides some variations in spite of the historical, cultural and political differences of these contexts. So we propose the concept of subalternity of Gramsci developed by Spivak (1988) to a better understand the experineces of women and the causes of the violence against women and children. We consider that women have different levels of subalternity considering the differences of race/ethnicity, sexuality and other’s. So it’s important to avoid an essentialist notion of woman and feminility.

The theoretical basis of our analysis encompasses a heterogenous however fragmented collective subject women, in the materiality of  their (our) own collective and personal histories and trajectories, refusing any constructed “Woman” as a “cultural and ideological composite Other” (Mohanty 1988: 334). The liberal discourse pressupposes a citizen as free from economic, physical and emotional depondency (James, 1992), and the widespread victimization of women as well as the gender inequality have evidenced that women are differently positioned in face of the citizenship. As Chandra Mohanty states, Western feminist scholarship sometimes have implicit notion of Woman as a homogeneous group:

“The assuption of women as an already constituted, coherent group with identical interests and desires, regardless of class, ethnic or racial locations or contradictions implies a notion of gender or sexual difference or even patriarchy (as male dominance — men as a correspondingly coherent group) which can be applied universally and cross-culturally.” (1988: 336-7)

However, Western feminist discourses sometimes emphasizes a social constructed notion of woman as “educated, modern, as having control over their own bodies and sexualities, and the freedom to make their own choices” (Mohanty 1988: 337). But this ideal model of woman served to construct the other woman - 3rd World Woman - in an oppositional and hierarchical relation that describes them as “(...) sexually constrained, ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, domestic, famili-oriented (...)” (ibid.). These process of subjectivation of women provokes different levels of victimizatization

The researchers in all the four countries are producing theoretical working papers that are exploring these crucial issues to provide tools and build strategies for an intersectional postcolonial and feminist analysis with the final aim to erradicate violence against women and children.


Chatterjee, Partha (1993) “Whose imagined community” in Chatterjee (1993) The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton Universtiy Press, cap One, pp 3-13.
James, Susan (1992) “The good-enough citizen: citizenship and independence”, in Bock & James (eds.) (1992) Beyond Equality and Difference: Citizenship, Feminist Politics and Female Subjectivity, pp 43-60.
Mignolo, Water D.; Schiwy, Freya (2003) “Transculturation and the Colonial Difference. Double Translation”, in  Tullio Maranhão and Bernard Streck (eds.) (2003) Translation and Ethnography: The Anthropological Challenge of Intercultural Understanding, Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Mohanty, Chandra (1988) “Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses”, pp 332-358.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988) “Can the subaltern speak?”, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (1988) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp 271-313.


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