IR2501 – week 6 lectures I - Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism Claire Heristchi F43 EWB Consultation Times: Tuesdays 10-noon email@example.com
Orientalism in a historical context • Orientalism: academic and artistic discourse on the Middle East from a European perspective. • Developed over centuries: • Steeped in violent encounter during the crusades, Islamic invasion in Europe, era of exploration, and later colonialism • Formally involving academic books, fiction, poetry, art, travel logs… - production of a corpus of knowledge about the region • In principle: a major push toward better understanding of different cultures, languages, religion, etc. • But can we assume that this knowledge was unbiased, politically neutral?
Said’s Critique of the Tradition of Orientalism • Edward W. Said: Palestinian-American cultural critic who used his skills in literary analysis to deconstruct key texts in the Orientalist tradition • Key texts: Orientalism, Culture and Imperialism, Covering Islam • Traditional images of the Orient always emphasise violence, barbarism, mystery, sensuality of the hidden woman (fantasies of the harem) • These ideas have permeated centuries of novels, paintings, newspaper reports, but also academic knowledge by specialists…
Major Claims of Orientalism: • The Orient is a homogeneous entity geographically • Its features do not fundamentally change over time • Defined by lack of progress/modernisation • Emphasis on how the Islamic civilisation is in decline because Islam is flawed (- anti modern) • Bound to be despotic (and violent) because Islam cannot adapt to the modern world
Said’s theoretical and methodological approach • Questioning of assumptions underpinning academic scholarship, especially objectivity • Connection between power requirements (domination) and the production of the academic discourse on the Orient: • Orientalism is: “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient… by making statements about it, authorizing views on it…teaching it, settling it, ruling over it” • Connection to Foucault’s post-structuralism • Discourse is based on ‘Othering’ - defining difference as threatening and inferior • ultimately says a lot more about ourselves than the Middle East: a map of colonialism? • This applies historically and in the contemporary setting
Ambiguities in Said’s Analysis • Is it realistic to ever overcome the problem of assumptions, or essentialism? What are the alternatives when talking of other cultures? • Aijaz Ahmad: can one use Foucault’s deconstruction and wanting be a humanist… • Getting too caught up personal feuds (with Bernard Lewis) • Does this open the door to nativism? • Misreading of Said • Nativism posits that Oriental/native voices are more objective and thus more reliable • Can Westerners contribute at all? Is this reverse ‘Orientalism’?
What relevance to IR Theory? • Neither the ‘Islamic World’ nor the ‘West’ are monolithic entities or ‘civilisations’, so why are we using them as categories in IR? • A politics of space is core to IR? • Failure to historicise ‘difference’? • Complexity of Empire as a mode for regulating power relationships: has its own legitimising discourse, and legitimising agents • Is there a current discourse of Empire: ‘failed states’, the ‘developing’ world, ‘rogues’… • Do we assume that rationality is a Western virtue? • Do we assume a linear path to (liberal capitalist) development? Was there ever a level-playing field? • Is the ‘postcolonial’ world one of genuine independence?
The Legacy • Said was extremely influential to literary theorists… But most IR and ME studies scholars continue to proceed in the same way • Sadowski shows how analyses on the supposed incompatibility between Islam and democracy reflect Orientalist assumptions • Nativists have rejected the validity of all Western scholarship – some have not followed Said’s injunction to engage in genuine dialogue • Birth of a new critical idiom: Postcolonial Studies