Writing Out Loud: Go’s Postcolonial Thought and Social Theory

Go argues for a subaltern approach to studying the social world--that is, one rooted in the experiences of people who’ve been oppressed and marginalized. After reading through Go’s argument, please respond to the following:

Theme: Shifting the Paradigm


  1. Go points toward three examples—vision, astronomical observation, and mapmaking—to demonstrate that even seemingly objective physical science is really simultaneously reflective of an objective world and of a subjective standpoint. In your own words, explain perspectival realism. Can you think of additional examples? Please explain one.
  2. Many of the most celebrated classical sociological theorists—particularly Marx, Durkheim, and Weber—were white, European, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled men. Choose one of these scholars’ central theoretical ideas (anomy, collective effervescence, alienation, historical materialism, rationality, authority/legitimacy, etc.) and consider what it might look like from a subaltern perspective. Whose perspectives (e.g., women, people of color, colonial subjects, LGBTQ+ folks, people with disabilities, etc.) did your chosen theorist make invisible, and what experiences might someone from a subaltern group centralize in thinking about the concept that you’ve chosen? 
  3. Go critiques the tendency of social scientists to universalize metrocentric social science, arguing that we should recognize that all science is created from particular standpoints. Yet there’s a tendency among social scientists to universalize some scholars—like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber—while treating others as scholars of “x” (e.g., Du Bois is a “scholar of race”; Butler is a “scholar of gender”; but Marx is a “social theorist,” and Durkheim is the “father of sociology”). Based on your experience, whose scholarship tends to be universalized in the social sciences, and what does that tendency indicate about the biases and priorities of the social sciences? Put differently, whose standpoints do the social sciences tend to privilege, and whose tend to be backgrounded? How might we better incorporate subaltern perspectives into our social scientific training?
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