Week Five: Subaltern, Criminals and Others

Section on Staging the Subaltern as Self and Other

Facilitators, Radhika Gajjala, Anca Birzescu and Olivia Samerdyke – Bowling Green State University



As we start off Week Five accompanied by the Wikipedia primer on the Subaltern as well as all the other reading materials, we are going to look at and analyze selfie production practices that somehow impact or intersect with subaltern social groups and individuals, those outside of the hegemonic power and discourse. As you proceed to work on the assignments and do the readings we want you to think about the following:

1] Is it possible to identify a  selfie “genre” for  way that people present themselves online? Does this way of presenting one’s self garner more attention from the young people of the world, thus making it an effective marketing format? If so – what would you say are the practices that are unique to how such a selfie genre functions?

2] How might particular selfie practices subvert or reinforce stereotypes about the people on the periphery (economically, socially, culturally) ? Might selfie practices be understood as tokens of agency and discourse production?


Readings – 

Definition of  Subaltern

Definition of Western GazeSee – The Western Gaze: On Photography in the Two-Thirds World

Articles to help think through the theory/practice of selfies in relation to the Subaltern sphere, inclusion, access, and impossibility:

Sites of Playful Engagement: Twitter Hashtags as Spaces of Leisure and Development in Kenya

Microfinance in Online Space: A Visual Analysis of Kiva.org

Reconstructing Gendered Narratives Online: Nudity for Popularity on Digital Platforms

Ruddy Roye: Photography as Voice for the Voiceless  +  Can the subaltern take a selfie?

InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism



Can the Subaltern Speak ?

Cyberculture and the Subaltern

“From Haverstock Hill Flat to U.S. Classroom, What’s Left of Theory?” What’s Left of Theory? Ed. Judith Butler, John Guillory, and Kendall Thomas. New York: Routledge, 20001-39. – (digital version unavailable but you can find this in a library)


Activity –

Kiva is a non-profit organization that aims to alleviate poverty through online microlending: “Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.” (see http://www.kiva.org/about/how)

Kiva Fellows are volunteers who perform a variety of tasks including interview and present prospective borrowers for the program, contribute to the blog, conduct field research and other tasks. For more detailed information see this article from the website (http://www.kiva.org/fellows).

Once you read up and find out what the Kiva Fellows do, you are going to play the role of kiva fellows. Your task is to create a plan about how you are going to represent a specific borrower online and how creatively using Web 2.0 tools will persuade Kiva users to lend to this borrower.

In this assignment, the prospective borrower is Grace, a woman from Lusaka, Zambia, whose brief information is outlined below. You are kiva fellows, located in the capital city of Zambia. How would you tell her story, how would you represent her to lenders?

Information about the prospective borrower:

  •   Grace, a woman from Lusaka, Zambia
  •   49 year old
  •   married to a college teacher and has six children (two are grown up, two are attending

college, and two are in secondary school)

  •   very entrepreneurial spirit, good listener, forgiving, welcoming, loves her family
  •   hardworking grocery shop owner (opened the shop 3 years ago, after running a

“katemba” (makeshift) street shop for many years)

  •   needs a loan to buy a stock of cooking stoves and biomass pellets to sell in her grocery

shop, which will increase and stabilize her income

  •   hopes to develop her business more
  •   her dream is too see her children do well and retire in a farm of her own


Discussion (Case Studies)


1) You might have heard by now about the “Selfies with Homeless” trend (Selfies With Homeless People). However, people have reacted to these particular selfie practices in an attempt to subvert and hijack their outcomes. The following youtube clip shows one such instance: Homeless Selfie Surprise

Please watch the clip and contrast and compare it with the “Selfies with Homeless” trend, making connections and reflecting on themes addressed in this week’s study materials (particularly themes such as inclusion, access, and impossibility).

2) Discuss the ideas and activities promoted by the selfiepolice.org, where selfie practices are linked to philanthropy in unexpected ways. In your analysis, please draw connections to the readings from this week.


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