Edward most attention from human geographers (Gregory, 2009).

Edward
Said was an essential 20th Century literary critic, who explored what
now is known as Post-colonial theory, through the notion of Orientalism
(Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001). Since the Publication of Edward Said’s critical
analysis, titled Orientalism in 1978,
Orientalism has developed in to one of
the 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, as
well as spreading further afield to inspire many subjects outside of the social
sciences, such as music and Art (Burney, 2012). Barnett (2015) suggests Orientalism to be the ‘most important
reference point for the emergence of postcolonial studies.’

 

The
essay will lead with a brief account of the content found in Said’s book Orientalism, to provide a basic background
of knowledge. The essay will then go on to explore how Edward Said’s work Orientalism, has been a significant factor
in Social Science research. This shall be explored through three main
paragraphs;

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The
First Paragraph will focus on how Orientalism
kick-started a reimagining of geography as a discipline; geography is a subject
situated within social sciences that has been heavily influenced by Said’s work.
Burney (2012; 23), propositions that Orientalism
created a ‘paradigm shift’ in our way of seeing and in the understanding the
East, or what Said titles it the ‘Orient.’ Many academics since reading and
studying Said’s theory of Orientalism, have changed their preconceptions and
opinions of colonialism, from what was the prevalent direction of thought, in
the early 20th century. Said (1978; 3) defines orientalism in three
ways, the most unusual suggesting ‘Orientalism can be discussed and analysed as
the corporate institution for dealing with the orient,’ this definition of
orientalism has attracted the most attention from human geographers (Gregory,
2009).

The
second paragraph will centre around the series of debates that stem from Said’s
research. There has been much discussion and controversy surrounding the ideas
that Said’s work brings to the table. The significance of Said’s research has
been monumental, though generating controversy and debates with in social
science. Most agree Said’s work is ground breaking, although not everyone concurs
with all aspects. Orientalism is an academic theory where the orient is
‘approached systematically as a topic of learning, discovery and practice’ as
described by Said.

Thirdly
the essay will be directed to explore how Orientalism has brought a greater
significance to the exploration of ‘the Other’ within social science. ‘The
orient was painted as the very antithesis, the binary opposition, the
contrasting image of the occident’ (Burney, 2012; 24). Orientalism presents a critique on the Western perception of the
East, Said tries establish the interplay between the West and the East as an
imagined perception.

                                                       

Said’s work
upon publication was ground breaking amongst the scholars with in the social
science discipline, and among the many others whom have read his work. His work
built up a prominent significance in a short amount of time with in the domain
of social science research and the research today still holds authority.

 

A short Description of Edwards Said’s
Orientalism

Said’s
publication of Orientalism was
divided in to three distinct parts. The first part focuses on the significance
and the breadth the term orientalism covers. Said reviews how Orientalism has
existed for the last couple of centuries and continues still today.

 The second section of Said’s work, sees the
attention turn to ‘Orientalist Structures and Restructures,’ where Said draws
on historical, philosophical and philological writers of the nineteenth century,
like Ernest Renan a French philologist. Said explores how the West used
knowledge as a form of power and control to appear superior over the orient, so
much so that the East believed in the superiority of the West. In the minds of
many of the people living in the West, the East is romantic and full of a rich
history; Said criticised this image saying that this pretence was incorrect and
the Occidentals in the nineteenth Century who studied the East, had created
this false history as another manner of the West’s expression of power over the
East (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001).

In the
Third and final part, titled ‘Oriental Now,’ the focus is turned to Orientalism
with in the modern framework. Said establishes how America developed in to the world
superpower taking the place of imperial France and Britain, who had dominated
history for centuries. This third dimension of Orientalism illustrates how the theory of Orientalism has been used
to establish domination and control in the East (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001).

These three parts to Said’s exploration in to
Orientalism are all interconnected and at the core of Said’s argument is a deep
relationship between power and knowledge.

 

Reimagining
Geography

As
previously mentioned in the introduction, Said’s work has activated people to explore
colonialism from new angles, this is true for geography as a discipline, an
example of new changes is the development of Postcolonial theory. Burney
(2012), acknowledges Orientalism as
the ‘Cornerstone’ of the varied and multidimensional framework of Postcolonial
theory. Said (1994; 21) suggested “we are perhaps now acceding to a new, invigorated
sense of looking at the struggle over geography in interesting and imaginative
ways” establishing a new direction and approach to the study of geography. Post
colonialism has become a topic studied rigorously in the last couple of decades
since 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 is
entwined with a rich history of colonialism and imperialism (Clayton, 2011); with
the discipline having a deeply ingrained involvement with the colonisation of numerous
countries and the charting of the Near and Far East, it is significant and
important for geographers to have an awareness in the background of the
discipline and knowledge of where geography originates from. Orientalism is
heavily reliant on geographical knowledge as the orient is a vast spatially
represented area. Said looks at the theory of Orientalism through an
imaginative lens and Orientalism should be understood as a form of ‘imaginative
geography’ (Barnett, 2015 ;169), with Part I section II of Orientalism being named Imaginative
Geography (Said, 1978).  Said saw the
Orient as a product of the many centuries where the West has staged the East. The
authentic and truthful image of East has been reconfigured by the Occident, to
portray a romanticised image; novels, in particular, would depict countries
like India in the Far east and Egypt in the Near East this way. As well as
positive imaginings, depictions of the Orient can be derogatory, full of
clichés and stereotypes, these portrayals of the Orient are based off the
writings of known and famous scholars, who supposedly had all the accurate
knowledge and information, what they wrote was perceived as the truth by
readers and not questioned (Barnett, 2014). The general image European’s have
of the orient is the ‘place
of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its
civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant’ (Said, 1978; 1).
Said’s
work has been significant for scholars using arguments from Orientalism as an attempt and change the
Western ideology of the East. To portray the Orient in a way as close to the
truth as possible. Academics use Said’s work as a base and study Orientalism with
the aim to alter and reverse the gaze of the discourse of Orientalism, others
have started to analyse the orientalism from the perspective of the Orient (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001).

Said’s writing on orientalism
has been ground breaking for the reconceptualising of the discipline of
geography, Imaginative geographies are a now heavily researched discourse in
geography with the East and the West used as a common example of imaginative
geographies. Preconceptions of the Orient are no longer the go to ideal; imperialism
and colonialism are not looked upon with a fulfilling sense of pride, the dark
aspects of imperialism and colonialism are now written and thought about by
social scientists and exposed to the rest of the world. Said’s research has altered
the preconceptions of the imagined image of the Orient. Imaginings that have
been deeply rooted with in the Occident’s mind set for centuries this has created
room for the West to see a more realistic representation of countries in the
East, such as India and China located in Asia and countries that lie in the
Middle East, like Palestine and Pakistan.

The Controversy of Orientalism- A Source
of debate within Social Sciences

Edward Said himself, is one of the most widely known
controversial intellectuals of the late 1900s (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia, 2001). Orientalism has received considerable
support, it’s content has been a source of debate and heavy discussion amongst
academics with in social sciences. Since the publication of the theory, there
has been a wide breadth of backlash and critique on Orientalism from scholars in Social Sciences. This is to be
expected as Said’s effort shed light on topics previously brushed over, these
include; the structures of power, culture, imperialism and knowledge (Burney,
2012), topics which hadn’t been fixed with major attention before. Said’s
reconfigurations of ideas, was and still is, an archive for critique for social
scientists, due to the subjectivity of the ideas behind Orientalism (Barnett,
2015).

Controversially, Said didn’t cover the countries
with in the orient with breadth, predominantly the focus was aimed at the
Middle East, principally concentrating on Egypt and Palestine. This focus on
the Middle Eastern countries meant that Asia, spatially a sizeable fragment of
the Orient, was mentioned little in comparison, the orient is a large area and
Said’s channelled focus on the Middle East meant the continent of Asia was comparably
neglected. Gregory (1998; 193), indicates that Said says ‘little about the
effects of orientalism on the people who were its object, his primary concern
is 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 a
focus on the Occident and not enough thought is given to the heterogeneity of
the Orient.

Perhaps the most significant thing to emerge from Orientalism was the surfacing of
post-colonial Studies (Burney, 2012).  Said
was not the first to write about the theory of Orientalism, with his most
influential source calling upon Michel Foucault’s work. Neither did Said coin
the term Orientalism. The familiar argument of colonialism creating orientalism
runs though the book, however, ‘To say simply that Orientalism was a rationalization
of colonial rule,’ Said asserts, ‘is to ignore the extent to which colonial
rule was justified in advance by
Orientalism, rather than after the
fact,’ (Said, 1978;). Said is saying that orientalism wasn’t caused by
colonialism, he implied that Orientalism has been around before the modern era;
the culturing of the East as vibrant and unfamiliar, laid the foundations for
the 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 with
in social science and is a heated debate amongst academics.  Postcolonial studies owe its emergence to
Said’s work. At the time of Orientalism’s
publication ‘theoretical debates over concepts of representation,
discourse, identity and power’ were rising, Said references these concepts
consistently throughout the duration of Orientalism
(Barnett, 2015; 168).

Gregory (1995; 453), points out that some critics ‘are
troubled by the traces of poststructuralism’ that has been identified in Said’s
writing, several scholars object to Said’s distance from ‘historical
materialism.’ Gregory disagrees with these critics stating that they read
Said’s work from an ‘obdurately conventional’ angle. To Gregory, Said’s theory
of Orientalism arises from a ‘deep sense of spatial figuration’ (Gregory, 1995;
453). This displays the disagreements between academics working in the field of
social science, Orientalism has been a crucial starting point for an academic
debate.

Orientalism’s
creation of the Other

Said sets out to expose how the structure of colonialism
generates what is considered the one of the ‘deepest’ and most frequently ‘recurring
images of the other’ (Said, 1978; 1); The theory of Orientalism could be
considered the quintessential ‘other’. Otherness, in brief terms, is the application
of two hierarchical groups; ‘them and us’ (Staszak, 2008;2). The West
represents the ‘us’ and the East embodies the ‘them’ aspect of the hierarchy,
the other in this context of orientalism and colonialism is caused by the
premise of dissimilarity and unknown. 

One of the central reasons the Occident could Orientalise
the 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 social
sciences 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, before
otherness become an acutely studied issue in the early 1980s; Edward Said’s
analysis of Orientalism played a significant role in this development (Staszak,
2008). The ‘other’ has become a crucial aspect to many disciplines of social
sciences; to social geography and political geography and within anthropology,
to give examples. Barnett (2015), indicates that geographers particularly find
the concept of othering significant, because identity-formation is presented as
procedure of maintaining territory and the control of borders.

            The
West has created a dichotomy in Said’s observations, with a creation of a sense
of otherness towards the Orient. Said casts the Occident and the Orient as two
civilisations that are entwined and interdependent on each other. Kipling (1889)
wrote in his poem, The Ballad of the East
and the West; ‘The East is the East the West is the West and never twain
they 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% of
the globe between 1815 and 1914, demonstrating the Occident’s sense of superiority
and need to dominate (Willette, 2013). The West’s need to have power and
dominance over the East, stems perhaps from fear of the unknown and the
struggle to understand the dissimilarities between the two ‘different’
civilisations. Barnett (2015), reflects that the misinterpretations of the
reality of the East have been effective for the Occident in terms of
administration and colonial power. Said indicates the Orient to be a
misrepresented, which is the cause of the anxiety felt by the West, what the
West imagined had little relation to the complex reality Eastern society
(Barnett, 2015). 

The otherness of the East now days is used as an
archetypal example of otherness in social science. Construction of ‘the other’
and an acceptance and realisation that we do this in countless everyday
circumstances, has been significantly realised by social scientists.
Geographers take a notice of otherness and not just when considering the orient
versus the occident, but also at smaller scales; for example, how we treat
immigrants with in a country or homelessness within a city or town, these cases
are often treated with an atmosphere of the ‘other.’ Said uses the example of
Arthur Balfour’s speech the House of Commons in 1910 to demonstrate how the
Wests knowledge about the East is not generated originally from reality (Said,
1978). Attention is brought to how the Western imperial Britain considered itself
superior; ‘England knows Egypt… Egypt requires, indeed insists upon, British
occupation’ (Said, 1978; 34).  The theme
of the Occident’s style and need for domination and authority is implied by
this statement written by Said about Balfour’s speech. Otherness has been
developed by history, literature and poetry. Geographical distance and the
inaccessibility for the West, for the majority of people, in to the East meant
that historical texts accounts were the main source of information about the
orient, before accessibility became easier. This reliance on texts and accounts
from 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 how
the two had similarities. The differences created a need to dominate the West
and therefore orientalism is what brought about colonialism.

Conclusion

 After the publication of Orientalism in 1978, social scientists responded with writing a wealth
of literature and papers in answer to the theory of Orientalism, many academics
today, still base their research around Orientalism.

Debate
and controversy surrounds Said’s theory, for many social scientists, Said’s
work 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 are
meant to be contended and not just out rightly accepted as the whole truth.  

Geography
itself has changed drastically as a subject, with post colonialism becoming a
new focus and direction for many researchers and has grown to be a key point of
study, rather than an area which was overlooked; Said’s research demonstrated
that there is depth to this area. Imaginative geographies similarly, have grown
in prominence and have been used in connection to other topics like therapeutic
landscapes.

            Edward
Said’s study led to a development in the rise of interest and importance in to
studying ‘the other’ in social science.

            Finally,
Edward Said has been a significant figure with in developing Social science
research, his work in to Orientalism has formed new areas of study, controversy
which has opened a debated with in social science and an attempt to bring
attention to the otherness the West direct towards the East to try and stop
this act of prejudice in the future. These are but a few of the significant
areas that Edward Said’s book Orientalism
has influenced in social science research. Orientalism is well established
with in social science research, Said’s work is highly significant with in many
other areas of research and will continue to be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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