Define the term Orientalism coined by Edward Said. 

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edward Said uses orientalism to mean the way that people in Western cultures imagine and interpret the differences between themselves and people of Eastern cultures. They often see the Eastern culture as backward or not modern, which can lead to certain assumptions. He says that "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."

A lot of the issues of Orientalism stem from the way Eastern cultures are displayed in representative media. Said says:

Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between "the Orient" and (most of the time) "the occident." Thus a very large mass of writers, among whom are poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, "mind," destiny, and so on.

Said says that Orientalism began when Enlightenment Europeans colonized eastern parts of the world. They needed a reason to go in, take the land and change the culture -- and so they painted the people and culture as inferior and in need of outside intervention. 

One example of this is France's colonization of Algeria from 1830 to 1962. A popular item that was sold at the turn of the century were photographic postcards of Algerian woman in exotic scenes that looked as if they'd been shot naturally. They hadn't been. Rather, they were staged by a photographer. These photos were used as evidence that Algeria and the parts of the world like it were exotic and strange. 

The attitude that Said sees people who practice Orientalism take is a patronizing one. They look down on and instruct people that have a different history and way of life than they themselves do. They represent them differently in media, which influences the way people in the West imagine and interpret those cultures.


amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.