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IR2501 – week 6 lectures I - Edward Saids critique of Orientalism Claire Heristchi F43 EWB Consultation Times: Tuesdays 10-noon

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Presentation on theme: "IR2501 – week 6 lectures I - Edward Saids critique of Orientalism Claire Heristchi F43 EWB Consultation Times: Tuesdays 10-noon"— Presentation transcript:

1 IR2501 – week 6 lectures I - Edward Saids critique of Orientalism Claire Heristchi F43 EWB Consultation Times: Tuesdays 10-noon

2 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?

3 Saids 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…

4 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

5 Saids 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 Foucaults 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

6 Ambiguities in Saids 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 Foucaults 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?

7 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?

8 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 Saids injunction to engage in genuine dialogue Birth of a new critical idiom: Postcolonial Studies


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