Home 603Seminar in the Anthropology of Power


Week 2 Vincent, Focault, Marx

Week 3 Vincent II

Week 4 Kertzer-Anderson

Week 4 Essay 1

Week 5 Kertzer

Week 6 Anderson

Week 7 Scott

Week 8 Vincent III

Week 9 Said

Week 10 Crehan

Week 10 Essay 2

Week 11 Vincent IV

Week 12 Vincent IVb

Week 14 Swartz

Week 14 Mohanty Analytic Summary

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
Anthropology 583: Politics and Power
Instr: Dr. Ramona Pérez
October 27, 2005

Week 9: Edward Said: Orientalism

Chapter 2, Part II: Imaginative Geography and Its Representations: Orientalizing the Oriental. In Orientalism by Edward Said

Orientalism is an academic discipline that began, according to Said (50-51) in Vienna in 1312 and manifested in chairs of various departments. The Orientalist studies the Orient: a geographic location to the East of Europe, with cultural qualities that distinguish it as such. Orientalism is a huge and all encompassing field with many sub-specialties. Said objects to the ending saying that all other academic fields that study something are ologies, as in Orientology.

The Orient was recorded for the enjoyment of western culture. The west, through writing and discourse on Oriental cultures, has in fact created Oriental culture (at least has defined it). So different is eastern culture from our own, that we have the tendency to exoticize it. With western centers of academia focusing on Oriental culture, a wave of experts has been created, each building on the work of the others, to make a definition of Oriental culture that is believed by Orientals.

Said was definitely a scholar. A literary critic by training, he had command of the discourse of literary criticism as well as ability to talk the talk. 

Philology – the study of literary texts, for the purpose of authentication

Question: Geography seems to pretty well describe where the other population is. With new mapping technology one can get a better handle on the distribution of various faiths, economic status, and even habits like smoking or drinking than at any other time. How is geography imaginative in its representations? To me, geography is a fact of distribution. How are things, and people arranged spatially? How rich is the soil around areas chosen for habitation? 

Academia and repeating ideas become facts: this is how we learn so it is an effective method of making an argument. Said uses it in his book by continually hammering home the same ideas in slightly different ways.

Question: Then should not all academic experts be questioned as to the way their subjects are presented? Aren’t we much more likely to believe an expert? Said seems to be questioning the building of scientific knowledge. How does one become an expert?  

Essay by Stefan Krause: An absolutely beautifully done overview and analysis of the book. From this one essay I get the picture of the whole book. From the one reader chapter we got a taste of the writing style and the gist of Said’s argument. Krause was able to fill this out with his excellent summarization and commentary.

Krause points out the obscurity of some of the texts that are cited by Said saying they are inaccessible to most people. Said can do this with authority as he has proven to the reader his good intent and his trustworthiness through writing about other more readily available texts.

The film: Said talks about the way we (EuroAmericans) look at other countries through a lens that distorts reality. This would be the lens of Western culture and cultural stereotyping. Isn’t there an Eastern cultural lens also?

Said says that Western culture demonizes Islam in the way that it picks certain events to show the viewing public (which is a major portion of the population) over and over. These images get talked about over and over again in small talk conversation.

Question: Why would we call another country backward? Like it is less of a lifestyle if it isn’t western? There is this notion of the new, the first, and the latest being status symbol. If you have the newest and most unusual, that puts you in a higher position (even though that position lasts all of two seconds).

Question: When we (westerners) hear about a third world leader that shuns western culture we are shocked. What is it about western culture that would be objectionable to non-western cultures? We think we are free thinking. We think that everyone has a right to freedoms of expression, social movement, bettering of life situations. This is what we can see that does not happen in the backward, despotic, eastern cultures.

Edward Said was a scholar with an agenda: to fight for the rights of Palestinians where Israelis where placed in the forefront through the backing of US policy. 

This is not the first time that I have heard this argument, that the people who go to other countries for the purpose of studying have the great responsibility of the literate nation. Those studies, descriptions, and analyses get written and talked about and become part of our body of knowledge. It is interesting to note that Said would like to see a separation of education and state. That state funding for academia leads to “problems” of interpretation. The problems: those of the other, less powerful nations that are being described. “Help” for less fortunate countries usually comes with even greater payback in the form of extracted benefit. This is why we keep asking about altruism and asking if any act is truly altruistic.


Edward Said on Orientalism
1998    Videocassette. Instructional Technology Services.

Krause, Stefan
2005    Orientalism by Edward W. Said: A Critical Analysis. Analytic Summary of Orientalism by Edward W. Said. Class Assignment SDSU: Professor R. Perez, Anthropology 583, Fall 2005.

Said, Edward W.
1979    Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

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last updated on October 9, 2010