Orientalism

In his ground-breaking book, Orientalism, Edward Said not only put forward a thorough-going critique of the discipline of Oriental Studies, but he opened up the question of the production of knowledge from a global perspective. While he was not the first to address such a question, his positioning of it in the context of interrogating the Orient / Occident divide was novel. He unsettled the terrain of any argument concerned with the ‘universal’ by demonstrating how the idea of the universal was based both on an analytic bifurcation of the world and an elision of that bifurcation. In so doing, it also naturalised and justified the West’s material domination of the ‘other’ and in this way suggested the complicity between Orientalism as scholarly discourse and as imperial institution. It was no accident then, as Said suggests, that the movements for decolonisation from the early twentieth century onwards should provoke a fundamental crisis within Orientalist thought; a crisis that fractured the complacent rendering of the ‘other’ as passive and docile and which challenged the assumptive conceptual framework underpinning such depictions.

 

Essential Reading:

Said, Edward W. 1995 [1978]. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient with a new afterword. London: Penguin.

 

Further Readings:

Bhambra, Gurminder K. 2014. ‘Postcolonial and Decolonial Reconstructions’ in Connected Sociologies. Bloomsbury Academic.

Said, Edward W. 1994. Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus.

 

Video:

Watch Edward Said talking about Orientalism

 

Questions:

To what extent does Edward Said’s Orientalism maintain the division between East and West that is otherwise being criticised?

Does Orientalism require an understanding of ‘Occidentalism’? Why? Why not?

Is Orientalism the same as Eurocentrism?

What are the key challenges posed by Said to standard social theory?

 

 

Submitted by Gurminder K Bhambra 

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