Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Horace Craig
Last updated: June 20, 2019
EdwardSaid was an essential 20th Century literary critic, who explored whatnow is known as Post-colonial theory, through the notion of Orientalism(Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001). Since the Publication of Edward Said’s criticalanalysis, titled Orientalism in 1978,Orientalism has developed in to one ofthe most influential sources of literature with in the social science discipline;it’s impact ranging from anthropology to geography to history to name a few, aswell as spreading further afield to inspire many subjects outside of the socialsciences, such as music and Art (Burney, 2012). Barnett (2015) suggests Orientalism to be the ‘most importantreference point for the emergence of postcolonial studies.
‘ Theessay will lead with a brief account of the content found in Said’s book Orientalism, to provide a basic backgroundof knowledge. The essay will then go on to explore how Edward Said’s work Orientalism, has been a significant factorin Social Science research. This shall be explored through three mainparagraphs;TheFirst Paragraph will focus on how Orientalismkick-started a reimagining of geography as a discipline; geography is a subjectsituated within social sciences that has been heavily influenced by Said’s work.Burney (2012; 23), propositions that Orientalismcreated a ‘paradigm shift’ in our way of seeing and in the understanding theEast, or what Said titles it the ‘Orient.
‘ Many academics since reading andstudying Said’s theory of Orientalism, have changed their preconceptions andopinions of colonialism, from what was the prevalent direction of thought, inthe early 20th century. Said (1978; 3) defines orientalism in threeways, the most unusual suggesting ‘Orientalism can be discussed and analysed asthe corporate institution for dealing with the orient,’ this definition oforientalism has attracted the most attention from human geographers (Gregory,2009).Thesecond paragraph will centre around the series of debates that stem from Said’sresearch. There has been much discussion and controversy surrounding the ideasthat Said’s work brings to the table. The significance of Said’s research hasbeen monumental, though generating controversy and debates with in socialscience. Most agree Said’s work is ground breaking, although not everyone concurswith all aspects. Orientalism is an academic theory where the orient is’approached systematically as a topic of learning, discovery and practice’ asdescribed by Said.
Thirdlythe essay will be directed to explore how Orientalism has brought a greatersignificance to the exploration of ‘the Other’ within social science. ‘Theorient was painted as the very antithesis, the binary opposition, thecontrasting image of the occident’ (Burney, 2012; 24). Orientalism presents a critique on the Western perception of theEast, Said tries establish the interplay between the West and the East as animagined perception.
Said’s workupon publication was ground breaking amongst the scholars with in the socialscience discipline, and among the many others whom have read his work. His workbuilt up a prominent significance in a short amount of time with in the domainof social science research and the research today still holds authority. A short Description of Edwards Said’sOrientalismSaid’spublication of Orientalism wasdivided in to three distinct parts.
The first part focuses on the significanceand the breadth the term orientalism covers. Said reviews how Orientalism hasexisted for the last couple of centuries and continues still today. The second section of Said’s work, sees theattention turn to ‘Orientalist Structures and Restructures,’ where Said drawson historical, philosophical and philological writers of the nineteenth century,like Ernest Renan a French philologist. Said explores how the West usedknowledge as a form of power and control to appear superior over the orient, somuch so that the East believed in the superiority of the West.
In the minds ofmany of the people living in the West, the East is romantic and full of a richhistory; Said criticised this image saying that this pretence was incorrect andthe Occidentals in the nineteenth Century who studied the East, had createdthis false history as another manner of the West’s expression of power over theEast (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001). In theThird and final part, titled ‘Oriental Now,’ the focus is turned to Orientalismwith in the modern framework. Said establishes how America developed in to the worldsuperpower taking the place of imperial France and Britain, who had dominatedhistory for centuries. This third dimension of Orientalism illustrates how the theory of Orientalism has been usedto establish domination and control in the East (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001).These three parts to Said’s exploration in toOrientalism are all interconnected and at the core of Said’s argument is a deeprelationship between power and knowledge. ReimaginingGeographyAspreviously mentioned in the introduction, Said’s work has activated people to explorecolonialism from new angles, this is true for geography as a discipline, anexample of new changes is the development of Postcolonial theory.
Burney(2012), acknowledges Orientalism asthe ‘Cornerstone’ of the varied and multidimensional framework of Postcolonialtheory. Said (1994; 21) suggested “we are perhaps now acceding to a new, invigoratedsense of looking at the struggle over geography in interesting and imaginativeways” establishing a new direction and approach to the study of geography. Postcolonialism has become a topic studied rigorously in the last couple of decadessince the publication of Orientalism,Said sought to expose the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised;previously the study of post colonialism was otherwise, neglected.
The discipline of geography isentwined with a rich history of colonialism and imperialism (Clayton, 2011); withthe discipline having a deeply ingrained involvement with the colonisation of numerouscountries and the charting of the Near and Far East, it is significant andimportant for geographers to have an awareness in the background of thediscipline and knowledge of where geography originates from. Orientalism isheavily reliant on geographical knowledge as the orient is a vast spatiallyrepresented area. Said looks at the theory of Orientalism through animaginative lens and Orientalism should be understood as a form of ‘imaginativegeography’ (Barnett, 2015 ;169), with Part I section II of Orientalism being named ImaginativeGeography (Said, 1978). Said saw theOrient as a product of the many centuries where the West has staged the East. Theauthentic and truthful image of East has been reconfigured by the Occident, toportray a romanticised image; novels, in particular, would depict countrieslike India in the Far east and Egypt in the Near East this way.
As well aspositive imaginings, depictions of the Orient can be derogatory, full ofclichés and stereotypes, these portrayals of the Orient are based off thewritings of known and famous scholars, who supposedly had all the accurateknowledge and information, what they wrote was perceived as the truth byreaders and not questioned (Barnett, 2014). The general image European’s haveof the orient is the ‘placeof Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of itscivilizations and languages, its cultural contestant’ (Said, 1978; 1).Said’swork has been significant for scholars using arguments from Orientalism as an attempt and change theWestern ideology of the East. To portray the Orient in a way as close to thetruth as possible. Academics use Said’s work as a base and study Orientalism withthe aim to alter and reverse the gaze of the discourse of Orientalism, othershave started to analyse the orientalism from the perspective of the Orient (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001).Said’s writing on orientalismhas been ground breaking for the reconceptualising of the discipline ofgeography, Imaginative geographies are a now heavily researched discourse ingeography with the East and the West used as a common example of imaginativegeographies. Preconceptions of the Orient are no longer the go to ideal; imperialismand colonialism are not looked upon with a fulfilling sense of pride, the darkaspects of imperialism and colonialism are now written and thought about bysocial scientists and exposed to the rest of the world.
Said’s research has alteredthe preconceptions of the imagined image of the Orient. Imaginings that havebeen deeply rooted with in the Occident’s mind set for centuries this has createdroom for the West to see a more realistic representation of countries in theEast, such as India and China located in Asia and countries that lie in theMiddle East, like Palestine and Pakistan. The Controversy of Orientalism- A Sourceof debate within Social SciencesEdward Said himself, is one of the most widely knowncontroversial intellectuals of the late 1900s (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001). Orientalism has received considerablesupport, it’s content has been a source of debate and heavy discussion amongstacademics with in social sciences. Since the publication of the theory, therehas been a wide breadth of backlash and critique on Orientalism from scholars in Social Sciences. This is to beexpected as Said’s effort shed light on topics previously brushed over, theseinclude; the structures of power, culture, imperialism and knowledge (Burney,2012), topics which hadn’t been fixed with major attention before. Said’sreconfigurations of ideas, was and still is, an archive for critique for socialscientists, due to the subjectivity of the ideas behind Orientalism (Barnett,2015).
Controversially, Said didn’t cover the countrieswith in the orient with breadth, predominantly the focus was aimed at theMiddle East, principally concentrating on Egypt and Palestine. This focus onthe Middle Eastern countries meant that Asia, spatially a sizeable fragment ofthe Orient, was mentioned little in comparison, the orient is a large area andSaid’s channelled focus on the Middle East meant the continent of Asia was comparablyneglected. Gregory (1998; 193), indicates that Said says ‘little about theeffects of orientalism on the people who were its object, his primary concernis with the effect of discourse in Europe.
‘ In addition to this, Boer (2003)questions whether the binary of the East and the West has led to too strong afocus on the Occident and not enough thought is given to the heterogeneity ofthe Orient.Perhaps the most significant thing to emerge from Orientalism was the surfacing ofpost-colonial Studies (Burney, 2012). Saidwas not the first to write about the theory of Orientalism, with his mostinfluential source calling upon Michel Foucault’s work. Neither did Said cointhe term Orientalism. The familiar argument of colonialism creating orientalismruns though the book, however, ‘To say simply that Orientalism was a rationalizationof colonial rule,’ Said asserts, ‘is to ignore the extent to which colonialrule was justified in advance byOrientalism, rather than after thefact,’ (Said, 1978;). Said is saying that orientalism wasn’t caused bycolonialism, he implied that Orientalism has been around before the modern era;the culturing of the East as vibrant and unfamiliar, laid the foundations forthe Occident to embark on its mission of colonialism (Chibber, 2018).
‘Orientalism operated both in advance and in conjunction with colonialism,'(Gregory, 2009), this change from the traditional ideas, is controversial within social science and is a heated debate amongst academics. Postcolonial studies owe its emergence toSaid’s work. At the time of Orientalism’spublication ‘theoretical debates over concepts of representation,discourse, identity and power’ were rising, Said references these conceptsconsistently throughout the duration of Orientalism(Barnett, 2015; 168).
Gregory (1995; 453), points out that some critics ‘aretroubled by the traces of poststructuralism’ that has been identified in Said’swriting, several scholars object to Said’s distance from ‘historicalmaterialism.’ Gregory disagrees with these critics stating that they readSaid’s work from an ‘obdurately conventional’ angle. To Gregory, Said’s theoryof Orientalism arises from a ‘deep sense of spatial figuration’ (Gregory, 1995;453). This displays the disagreements between academics working in the field ofsocial science, Orientalism has been a crucial starting point for an academicdebate.
Orientalism’screation of the OtherSaid sets out to expose how the structure of colonialismgenerates what is considered the one of the ‘deepest’ and most frequently ‘recurringimages of the other’ (Said, 1978; 1); The theory of Orientalism could beconsidered the quintessential ‘other’. Otherness, in brief terms, is the applicationof two hierarchical groups; ‘them and us’ (Staszak, 2008;2). The Westrepresents the ‘us’ and the East embodies the ‘them’ aspect of the hierarchy,the other in this context of orientalism and colonialism is caused by thepremise of dissimilarity and unknown.
One of the central reasons the Occident could Orientalisethe East, was because of the process of ‘othering’ (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia,2001). The idea of ‘the other’ is a concept that is significant with in socialsciences not just with in the realm of the oriental research. The idea of the ‘Other’took the development of post-modern and post-colonial analyses, beforeotherness become an acutely studied issue in the early 1980s; Edward Said’sanalysis of Orientalism played a significant role in this development (Staszak,2008). The ‘other’ has become a crucial aspect to many disciplines of socialsciences; to social geography and political geography and within anthropology,to give examples. Barnett (2015), indicates that geographers particularly findthe concept of othering significant, because identity-formation is presented asprocedure of maintaining territory and the control of borders. TheWest has created a dichotomy in Said’s observations, with a creation of a senseof otherness towards the Orient.
Said casts the Occident and the Orient as twocivilisations that are entwined and interdependent on each other. Kipling (1889)wrote in his poem, The Ballad of the Eastand the West; ‘The East is the East the West is the West and never twainthey shall meet,’ suggesting that the Occident and the Orient in some ways,will never be able to adapt to the ways of each other. Europe controlled 85% ofthe globe between 1815 and 1914, demonstrating the Occident’s sense of superiorityand need to dominate (Willette, 2013). The West’s need to have power anddominance over the East, stems perhaps from fear of the unknown and thestruggle to understand the dissimilarities between the two ‘different’civilisations. Barnett (2015), reflects that the misinterpretations of thereality of the East have been effective for the Occident in terms ofadministration and colonial power. Said indicates the Orient to be amisrepresented, which is the cause of the anxiety felt by the West, what theWest imagined had little relation to the complex reality Eastern society(Barnett, 2015).
The otherness of the East now days is used as anarchetypal example of otherness in social science. Construction of ‘the other’and an acceptance and realisation that we do this in countless everydaycircumstances, has been significantly realised by social scientists.Geographers take a notice of otherness and not just when considering the orientversus the occident, but also at smaller scales; for example, how we treatimmigrants with in a country or homelessness within a city or town, these casesare often treated with an atmosphere of the ‘other.’ Said uses the example ofArthur Balfour’s speech the House of Commons in 1910 to demonstrate how theWests knowledge about the East is not generated originally from reality (Said,1978). Attention is brought to how the Western imperial Britain considered itselfsuperior; ‘England knows Egypt… Egypt requires, indeed insists upon, Britishoccupation’ (Said, 1978; 34). The themeof the Occident’s style and need for domination and authority is implied bythis statement written by Said about Balfour’s speech.
Otherness has beendeveloped by history, literature and poetry. Geographical distance and theinaccessibility for the West, for the majority of people, in to the East meantthat historical texts accounts were the main source of information about theorient, before accessibility became easier. This reliance on texts and accountsfrom explorers, created a world that contrasted so differently from the West,that the divide between the two only grew until it became difficult to see howthe two had similarities. The differences created a need to dominate the Westand therefore orientalism is what brought about colonialism.
Conclusion After the publication of Orientalism in 1978, social scientists responded with writing a wealthof literature and papers in answer to the theory of Orientalism, many academicstoday, still base their research around Orientalism. Debateand controversy surrounds Said’s theory, for many social scientists, Said’swork is ground breaking, however there is a minority who disagree with what is written,this is what makes his work significant and worthy of studying, theories aremeant to be contended and not just out rightly accepted as the whole truth. Geographyitself has changed drastically as a subject, with post colonialism becoming anew focus and direction for many researchers and has grown to be a key point ofstudy, rather than an area which was overlooked; Said’s research demonstratedthat there is depth to this area. Imaginative geographies similarly, have grownin prominence and have been used in connection to other topics like therapeuticlandscapes.
EdwardSaid’s study led to a development in the rise of interest and importance in tostudying ‘the other’ in social science. Finally,Edward Said has been a significant figure with in developing Social scienceresearch, his work in to Orientalism has formed new areas of study, controversywhich has opened a debated with in social science and an attempt to bringattention to the otherness the West direct towards the East to try and stopthis act of prejudice in the future. These are but a few of the significantareas that Edward Said’s book Orientalismhas influenced in social science research. Orientalism is well establishedwith in social science research, Said’s work is highly significant with in manyother areas of research and will continue to be so.