Theories of the Other I: Introduction to Orientalism
Today we will be reflecting on the Other, Finally! This is a topic that will take many posts and –I hope- many discussions, and although I wanted to keep it all in a nice flow of topics, reading the next collaborations we have for you, this must be addressed ASAP.
In my point of view, the Other is an essential concept we have to discuss in Tourism research, and I hope I get thoroughly through it, and that you will enjoy it as much as I do.
The Other according to Orientalism
In 1978, Edward Said studied the cultural representations of the East by the western perspectives, he defined the term “Orientalism” as the studies the western societies had upon the Oriental cultures, who happened to be scholars from imperialist countries, therefore the studies made by them would be biased and intrinsically tied to political ideas and historical relations. His study criticized the western notions of the Exotic Other, and from then on, it influenced the cultural criticism and development theories of Non- Western cultures.
Orientalism supposes the presumption of western superiority and the cliché ideas of the Other, including for example, the Noble Savage, the pristine and the exotic. Said explained that Orientalism is the result of imaginaries in which the Orient, its culture, its people and its traditions, are all a result of the visions that were constructed from a Eurocentric perspective, which in turn has reproduced specific ideas about the people of the East in political discourses made by Westerners (hey, just watch the news!). The imaginaries made about the Orientals were were subtracted from artistic representations, paintings, novels, historical journals that explorers and soldiers recorded under their own vision of Eastern culture.
Therefore, Said argued that studies of the Orient were an extension of imperialism and colonization, that is, that Oriental cultures were viewed as weak, irrational, and feminized; all these terms in those times were attributed as characteristics of inferiority against the power of the West, masculine and psychologically strong. This binary relation between the strong and the weak, the masculine and the feminine, the East and the West, has reinforced the stereotypes we have about the cultures foreign to us. In those times, all that was not West was East, and all East was the same.
All that is not me, is different, so then all the Others are the same.
Orientalism received many critics, it still does; however, Said approach and reflection produced a theoretical tool to understand the way in which non-Western cultures are studied and described, but most importantly, it made the scholars be critic and reflexive about their role in researching the Other, and vice versa, made the "Others" reflect on there Otherness according to the Self. Orientalism is a lens (a very distorted one) through which we understand the people who are different to us; it allows us to approach Identity in an objective manner that acknowledge our own role in the research. Orientalism has contributed to the study of the Self, topic that I will be addressing soon.
Orientalism revolutionised the postcolonial research and studies, and has now led to new studies of the representation and self-representation of the Other. Orientalism still poses questions about the preconceived notions we have of people different to us, not only Orientals and middle-easterners, but also the other countries that where colonies once upon a time.
Said open the Pandora box arguing that the studying and describing of the Other is based on processes that reflect interests, political interests. Although Orientalism was coined many years ago, we can still see the preconceive notions of the different, how the Other is portrait as romantic, exotic, or even worse, feared and dangerous.
Now you see why I have been eager to talk about this? Exiting, debatable and very, very much complex.
Hope you will be waiting for the next posts about Orientalism, the Other and the Self!