Sample Communications Essays on The Problem of Speaking for Others

Praxis is defined as the process by which a theory becomes a lived experience and empowers individuals to become critically conscious beings (O’leary 2). According to Carl Marx, the goal of praxis is to go beyond interpreting the world to bridging the gap between knowledge and action (O’leary 2). Praxis, being the creativity activity that helps to construct an individual’s world is seen as being fundamental to human liberation. As such, Marxists have argued that praxis should be the ultimate goal of all philosophy.  Praxis is particularly useful in accomplishing educative purposes, as it goes beyond memorization and simple comprehension of concepts to actual lived experiences. Educational praxis also makes it possible to reflect upon theory and to modify concepts in continuous cycles. Based on this understanding, it is possible to dissect the relevance of relying on one’s own praxis to express oneself rather than speaking for others.

Linda Alcoff’s article, The Problem of Speaking for Others, discusses the problems that emerge from relying on one’s own understanding to explain the situation of others. The author begins her essay by providing different real-life scenarios that demonstrate the problem of speaking for others. Having posited that there is a problem in speaking for others, Alcoff attempts to illustrate the factors that make speaking for others problematic. The first reason is that “where one speaks from affects the meaning and truth of what one says, and thus one cannot assume the ability to transcend one’s location” (Alcoff 6). Here, the author explains that the social context in which one is positioned plays an important part in determining the meaning and truth of what they say. For this reason, one cannot transcend their own situation and accurately explain another person’s situation. The second reason is that “not only is location n epistemically salient, but certain privileged locations are discursively dangerous” (Alcoff 7). The meaning here is that, by attempting to speak for the populations, privileged persons serve to increase or reinforce the oppression of the group spoken for. It is for this reason that texts written by privileged persons on behalf of oppressed persons has attracted criticism from the latter.

Using the abovementioned arguments, the author posits that while it is fundamental for social theorists and philosophers to develop theories that express the ideas, needs and goals of others, it is also important for these individuals to question the legitimacy of their authority (Alcoff 7). Alcoff adds that while speaking of others should not necessarily be condemned, it is relevant to determine when speaking for others is not the right call.

One of the three premises that Alcoff (24) presents is that her idea of rejecting speaking for others should not be aimed at looking down upon the other, but that anyone who speaks for others should have a proper understanding of the situation of others. Such an understanding should be derived from a thorough analysis of the power relations and discursive effects involved. Relying on my own praxis, this arguments gives me the meaning that I cannot use my position as an economically privileged individual to speak for those in a lower socioeconomic status. The best I can do is to conduct thorough research to gain a proper understanding of these people’s experiences and engage in the debate by advocating for their interests, without identifying as one of them.

Secondly, relying on my own praxis helps me to lower my expectations on the urgency with which racism can be eradicated. I base this argument on the logic that I have never been a victim of the racial discrimination that people from underprivileged ethnic communities experience, so I am in no position to determine what qualifies as sufficient justice for these communities. As such, any measures applied by people like me may never be sufficient in eradicating racial discrimination. Indeed, it is essential to involve people who have been victimized in finding solutions for the problems they encounter.



Work cited

Alcoff, Linda. “The problem of speaking for others.” Cultural critique 20 (1991): 5-32.

O’leary, Zina. The social science jargon buster: