Strategic Essentialism

Gayatri Spivak, in Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography, posits that although essentialism is highly problematic for the knowledge it creates about the “other”, there is sometimes a political and social need for what she calls “strategic essentialism.” Spivak uses this term to refer to the strategy that nationalities, ethnic groups or minority groups can use to present themselves.

Spivak-swedish-still-759x500.jpegAccording to Spivak, this temporary essentialisation helps create solidarity, sense of belonging and identity to a group/ race/ ethnicity, for a social action, although strong differences may exist within/ among themselves. It is also a temporary, strategic approach against the appropriation of the idea of anti-essentialism upheld by poststructuralist critics. An example of strategic essentialism could be the bringing together of diverse agendas of various women’s groups to work for a common cause.  Thus, strategic essentialism is about the need to accept temporarily, an “essentialist” position in order to be able to act.

However, Spivak has mentioned that since her introduction of the term, she has been unhappy with the ways the concept has been taken up and used. In interviews, she has disavowed the term, although she has not completely deserted the concept itself. The idea also comes up regularly in Queer theory and Feminist theory, especially in the works of Luce Irigaray, where it is termed “mimesis.”

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