Almost every major discipline under the Humanities is strongly engaged in understanding the causes of human oppression and offering solutions for its alleviation. Major fields of scholarly inquiry, including psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, literature and linguistics, have a strong focus on the issue of human oppression.
Imperialism is often condemned for its inherently oppressive effects on the subjects of the colonies. In the field of postcolonial theory, scholars such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said have expressed the far-reaching negative consequences of imperialism on human welfare. In her seminal essay titled ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Spivak questions the idea of the colonial ‘subject’. She criticizes European intellectuals for their presumption in ‘knowing’ the ‘other’, and in the manner in which they construct narratives of the oppressed. Through this “act of epistemic knowing/violence, the essentialization of the other is always the reinforcement of the menace of empire.” (Maggio, 2007, p.419) This can prove to be a dangerous exercise, for this sort of transcendental cultural logic amounts to an apology for imperialism. Spivak’s objection also extends to the manner in which literature is often co-opted by the intellectual elite into a form of political propaganda. While appearing to keep a distance from politics, literature is complicit with imperial oppression through its omissions. Spivak is at pains to explain how silence in the face of injustice leads to acute human oppression. To quote,
“Western thought masquerades as disinterested history, even when the critic presumes to touch its unconscious. The academy is both part of the problem and part of the solution. I think it is important to acknowledge our complicity in the muting, in order precisely to be more effective in the long run. Hence, the intellectual Western scholar is almost in a Derridean paradox, setting the limits of discourse as well as expelling the nondiscourse.” (Maggio, 2007, p.419)
Just as multiculturalism has its share of issues, liberalism, the school of political thought in vogue today, creates equally bizarre outcomes for social groups. For instance, although liberalism seeks neutrality, it actually destroys all difference. The narrative of the oppressed “will be part of the history of [liberalism’s capacity to absorb all difference] and will reinforce the capacity itself. In fact, even the radically postmodern “subject” is still colonial. “(Maggio, 2007, p.420)
Another realm where oppression is often manifests is with regards to gender. Women are sometimes referred to as the world’s largest minority group. Despite the equality in the gender ratio, the tagging of women as a minority group speaks volumes of the oppression that they have suffered throughout human history. Pioneering feminists considered oppression in subjective and experiential terms. In this framework, the measure of any ideology, theory or generalization was based on how exactly it matched women’s experiences. This way of looking at oppression has its drawbacks, for “experience is impossible to discern authentically, and that experience leaves some women out. The concern here is that “experience” is linked to the universalistic category “Woman,” assuming that all women share common experiences.” (Grant, 1995, p. 56) Nevertheless, despite these flaws, one cannot evade from grounding feminist politics, theory and action upon anything other than women’s experiences. It is important to note that women’s experience is modulated and regulated by ‘personal politics’, whereby it is acknowledged that “the things women experienced as profoundly personal in fact came directly from political relations between men and women in a system of male domination — patriarchy. And since the oppression of Woman was transcultural and transhistorical, patriarchy had also to exist across cultures and across time.” (Grant, 1995, p. 56)