Edward Said’s Concept of Orientalism

Posted: October 23rd, 2013





Edward Said’s Concept of Orientalism

Orientalism is a term used in historical, literary and cultural circles by academics to describe the representation of elements in East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. These illustrations are normally done by European writers and artists. Since the release of Edward Said’s concept of orientalism in 1978, many academic discussions have started using the expression ‘orientalism’ to talk about a universal condescending Western mind-set towards North African, Asian and Middle Eastern societies (Brown & Pelfrey 25). In Said’s scrutiny, the West categorizes these societies as inert and backward—thereby constructing a perception of Oriental culture that can be analyzed, illustrated, and replicated. Said argues that embedded in this construction is the notion that Western society is urbanized, coherent, flexible, and advanced. Edward Said’s assessment and critique of the set of Orientalism attitudes produced a significant background for post-colonial research (Brown & Pelfrey 65).

Said discusses on the high level of Orientalism in existing Western illustrations of Arab cultures. The representations of an Arab as being illogical, intimidating, unreliable, anti-Western, dishonest, and most importantly, perfectionist, are notions into which Orientalist research has changed. Said’s publication also addressed the tumultuous relationship between Islam and the West. In it, he shies away from proposing the existence of an actual Orient and focuses on the plastic nature of the Orient phenomenon and their destructive effects globally. John Berger’s assertions revolved around the way in which Europeans and Islam societies perceived each other. In his book, “Ways of Seeing”, Berger argues that different people perceived several elements differently. To that extent, the Western and Eastern world were each permitted to make up their assumptions concerning the way of life, norms and other features of any society without undue pressure or opposition.

Although there is a general perception that the ancient civilizations or cultures have vastly transformed into completely different modern version, this is far from the truth. While societies were separated from each other for example the Western world and Islam, their ideas fro survival and coexistence were largely similar in structure. While trade, agriculture and governance developed between the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the same events took place in the New World (Brown & Pelfrey 34).

Several aspects of current events are highly similar to ancient ones. These modern events reflect the ancient ones in terms of structure, practice and occurrence indicating a trend of continuity. The rampant issue of racial discrimination that started in the ancient civilizations has persisted in the modern culture. Societies still perceive people in terms of their skin pigment and ethnic background. This discrimination also leads to economic discrimination that creates subdivisions in societies and countries. Other events that have been adopted from the ancient cultures include gender roles that have still favored male members of the society. There are also many similarities and differences in how these events were expressed publicly. Currently, modern technology and freedom have allowed individuals, states and other organizations to express their stand concerning different issues explicitly. These expressions are more vocal and direct when compared to ancient methods. Another difference is that modern cultures are further segregated along economic and social lines than past civilizations. However, there is a similarity among ancient and modern events as they are both caused by misconceptions, ignorance and poor understanding. For instances, the New World and the eastern civilizations constantly disagree over poor understanding of religious and political ideologies. Other areas where people disagree include over approaches in handling global occurrences.





















Work Cited

Brown, Betty Ann and Pelfrey, Robert. Art & Mass Media. Chicago: Kendall Hunt Publishers. 2013. Print

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