Define the term Orientalism coined by Edward Said. 

2 Answers

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Edward Said describes "orientalism" as a process in which the Western and European countries have (through literary and scientific/anthropological texts and discourses) not discovered but "invented" the culture and people of the East ("Orient"). In so doing, the West has created biased depictions of Eastern people and culture. The West (Occident) has described the East not as it is but as it is from the West's perspective. Thus, the East has been described by the West in its orientation to the West. 

I shall be calling Orientalism, a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience. 

Said describes the Orient (the East) as Western European's "Other." To differ itself from the Orient, the West has focused on generalizing, stereotyping, and inventing depictions of the Orient that conform to this opposition of West and East. 

Said writes that anyone who researches the Orient is doing orientalism. So, orientalism is a process. Said notes that the history of orientalism has been done, by the West, to establish the West's position of authority over the East (Orient); "in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." 

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Edward Said used the term "Orientalism" to refer to the way in which westerners regarded the culture and people of the Middle East. According to Said, westerners used the concept of Orientalism during the period of colonization as a rationale for colonizing Arab lands, whose cultures they saw as decidedly backward.

The term originally referred to the scholarly study of the Middle East during the 19th century, when the region was known as the Orient. Said claimed that the scholars were in the service of colonialism and imposed stereotypes on the area that they studied. According to Said, western scholars and literary people characterized the whole region as exotic, picturesque, sensuous, feminized, ignorant, and backward. The narratives the scholars created served the interests of European imperial powers because the west was seen as superior to the backward Orient, and the Orient was regarded as requiring western influence to elevate it from its inferior state.