In my research of the subaltern, I have found and read a lot of resources ranging from the traditional (by Gramci), structural (by Focoult) to post structural (by Spivak) theories of subaltern. According to Spivak, there is a fine line between the oppressed and the subaltern. All subaltern are oppressed but not all oppressed are subalterns. I will explain this in a bit but there is concept that is worth noting. Revisionist history. Revisionist history “is the the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event.”(Wikipedia)
Spivak defines subaltern as “the lower classes and the social groups who are at the margins of a society — a subaltern is a person rendered without human agency by his or her own status.” (Spivak). To connect this to revisionist history, subaltern cannot access the established orthodoxy influencing and driving the hegemonic ideologies and therefore cannot seek the revisionist transformation of their history. Real subaltern do not even have the conduit in which there is a means of recognition of their conditions.
In a way, the reading of Spivak, can subaltern speak? refutes Focult ideas saying that he uses equivocacy and misunderstands the concept of subjectivity in relation to ‘united’ desires and interests.
On the other hand, the oppressed are those that have entered the phase of voicing their pleas and in one-way or another, they have access to the orthodoxy and they have some form of recognition. They have access to revisionist history and are able to make their cases heard.
The subject in the traditional vs. the post-structuralism system
Spivak refutes that all subjects have the same desires and interests. This is part of where she refutes Focult and the traditional Marxist who ‘equivocated’ unity of individual desires to unity of the group. I guess this is what we would call in GS, positionality of every individual. In a way, this division of interests and desires within the subjects (though united) is the condition for the possibility of subjectivity. So, if all subjects had perfect similar desires and interest their, political identity in the macro structure could be united and their struggle as a class will be perfectly united.
The study of Egypt’s subjects as subalterns is very interesting because there it is more of subaltern cosmopolitanism, which has complex aspects of neo-liberal globalization. Women as an oppressed group in the Egyptian society is composed of educated and non-educated individuals with varying complexities of needs. To say that all women are subalterns (which is extreme for post-structuralists too) is an overstatement. Some women in Egyptian society are very educated, liberated and are able to escape the many other oppressive structures that the uneducated class fall prey to.
The dislocation of the subjects along the lines of class has therefore given the hegemonic orthodoxy a chance to make subjects out of individuals.