Said and Orientalism

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Nicole Wineland-Thomson
Short Essay #2
Edward W. Said
November 12, 2009

Edward Said’s Critique of Orientalism
Examining the Pacific Studies discipline in New Zealand as Orientalist

Edward Said's critique of the set of beliefs known as Orientalism forms an important background for anthropological studies. His work highlights the inaccuracies of a wide variety of assumptions as it questions various models of thought, which are accepted on individual, academic, and political levels. Said’s theoretical framework in his book Orientalism argues how the hegemonic discourse of Orientalists has “othered” and “exoticized” the East as a way for power and control. With this theoretical analysis in mind, Said focuses his work on the interplay between the Occident and the Orient, the Occident representing the Western civilizations such as Europe and France, and the Orient being the term for the misrepresented Middle East and Far East. Said states “Orientalism [is] a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (Said, 1978:1). In other words, according to Said, the West has created a dichotomy between the realities of the East and the imaginative, fictional realities of the Orient. Most importantly, he goes on to mention that the “relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, [and] of varying degrees of complex hegemony” (Said, 1978:5). This relationship is exemplified through, and comes to be known as, imaginative geographical boundaries distinguishing the fictional reality of “ours” and “theirs”.

Said critiques the concept of separating the world into two distinguished parts. It is clear that by doing this it is giving power and control to one part while defeating and weakening the other. He states that it is not until after things are assigned roles and given meanings that they acquire objective validity (Said, 1978:54). The distinctions made...
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