Sunday, September 24, 2017

Summary: Orientalism / Chapter 3 : Orientalism Now

The third and final chapter on Edward Said's "Orinetalism" is devoted to exploring the most recent (for Said's time) developments in Orientalism and the manner in which the Orient was perceived and treated by the Occident.

Said opens chapter 3 of "Orientalism" by describing how European colonialism was the geographical basis of Orientalism, both in geo-political and cultural aspects. Orientalism and colonialism were both driven by a quest for knowledge and power and their results and products were knowledge and power (see Foucault on knowledge and power).

Said then moves on to talk about 20th century politics and change in the relationship between East and West. One of the main differences in the 20th century is that Orientalists became much more involved in the everyday lives of Orientals, unlike their predecessors who were uninvolved observers. People studying non-Western cultures attempted to live with them and integrate with them (like Lawrence of Arabia for example). This was not driven by a wish to resemble the Orients but rather by a wish to gain more knowledge about them and to rule them better.

Like in chapter 2 of "Orientalism", Said explores works by important Orientalists (like Massignon and Gibb) that now take on a more liberal position, but without losing their bias and prejudice. The main attempt was to portray Islam as a weak and inferior religion.   

Said holds the center of Orientalism shifted from Europe to the US following World War 1. Orientalsim in the US was related to social sciences (unlike linguistics in Europe). Orientalism as a field of study was aimed to assist the government in finding ways to control non-Western societies. Decolonization processes following World War 2 did not mean the end of Orientalism which was made implicit instead of explicit. Even in the age of globalization and higher interaction between East and West Arabs are all terrorists while all Japanese know Karate.
Said concludes "Orientalism" by arguing that Orientals should get a less passive position in the construction of their own image. He also warns about the practice of making generalizations in human sciences.   

Previous summary: Chapter 2: Orientalist Structures and Restructures

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Summary: Orientalism / Chapter 2: Orientalist Structures and Restructures

In chapter 2 of Orientalism Eward Said describes a shift in Western attitude towards the Orient in modern times. According to Said Orientalism as a field of knowledge romanticized the non-Western world for Western viewers. The shape and content of the Orient was devised by Western eyes for western eyes. The Orient was to become the exotic, a land of sunshine and romantic fantasies.

Said explains that the Orient as the West's "other" in the 19th century  took on a new modern shape which saw it as an "unspoiled" and innocent form of human existence compared with the highly civilized, therefore complicated and even "unnatural" Western world. This does not mean that Westerners saw the Orient as superior to them, on the contrary, the purity of the Orientals made them inferior to the sophisticated West. The Orient's innocence was cause for the West to justify controlling them, even for their own sake.

Another justification provided by Orientalism for the rule of the West over the East was a form of social Darwinism which pointed to the fact that the West developed faster than other parts of the world as proof of the Westerners as biologically superior. The higher development rate of the West led to Westerners "discovering" others and not the other way around. This was seen as additional proof of the West's evolutionary advantage.

Chapter 2 of Orientalism also includes an analysis by Said on the works of dominant Orientalists in the 19th century (like Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan). Said shows the bias and prejudice inherited in their works and offers a genealogy of their development. Finally, in the final part of chapter 2 of Orientsalism Said describes how the image of the Orient was a cause for pilgrimage making excursions to visit and receive inspiration for it while protecting themselves from "its unsetting influences" (Orientalism, p.166)     

Previous summary: Chapter 1:  The Scope of Orientalism 
Next summary: Chapter 3 : Orientalism Now 

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Summary: Orientalsim / Chapter 1: The Scope of Orientalism

Chapter 1 of Edward Said's Oreintalism describes how the science of orientalism developed as a system of knowledge in modern times.  According to Said, the Western Orinetals structured the world as made of two opposing elements, ours and theirs. These were not just geographical divisions but more importantly epistemological ones. The West and East were to be cultural distinctions, differences in civilization or lack of it. In Western eyes orients were incapable of taking care of themselves, they were lazy, lustful, irrational and violent but also exotic and mysterious. The self-proclaimed superiority of the West over the East also led Western scholars to think that they are more apt to understands the orients than the orients themselves, thus "orientalizing" them and subjecting them to Western standards which did not favor them.

According to Edward Said researchers and men of administration took a very Eurocentric and therefore biased and selective approach to understanding the Orient and the orients. All accounts of the Orient according to Said were prone to generalizations, attributing collective significance to acts of individuals. The West also used its own terminology to define and analyze the Orient, applying terms were unknown to their subjects. This is how concepts of the Orient were developed by Western eyes and for Western eyes.

Orientalism for Said was fundamentally a system of self projection. The Orient served as a mirror for the West who wanted to see himself as superior. By describing the oriental as uncivilized the West attempt to proclaim its own civilization. Said also employs the Freudian mechanism of projection, arguing that Europe projected everything it didn't want to acknowledge about itself onto the Orient (including sexual fantasies). The point of Said's chapter 1 of Orientalism is that Western Knowledge of the East was never neutral since it was always involved with a political and cultural agenda.    

Previous summary: Introduction to Orientalism
Next summary: Chapter 2: Orientalist Structures and Restructures

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Summary: Introduction to Orientalism by Edward Said

Edward Said opens his introduction to Orientalism by arguing that "The Orient was almost a European invention" (Orientalism, p.1). He goes on to explain that "the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience" (ibid, p.1-2). Said claims that Orientalism is a man-made discourse, alluding to the Foucaultian influence on his book. The fact that Orientalism is a discourse does not mean it is a lie that would simply disappear by pointing out the truth. It is rather a construction of reality which is embedded in very factual mechanism of reality ranging from politics and military through law and economics all the way to literature and cinema. All these rely on what Said calls "an ontological and epistemological distinction made between "the Orient" and  (most of the time) "the Occident" (ibid, p.2)

Said's Orientalism analyses mostly texts, but he strongly holds that there is no separation between ideas, images and representations and actual material reality. Therefore he uses his analysis of texts to show how Orientalism has formed as a highly powerful system of control due to the combination of actual institutions of power and discursive ones. Both military and literary excursions, both political and cultural endeavors, both administrative and anthropological practices and theories all served together to establish Europe's superiority over the Orient.

Said continues to blame contemporary research in being Eurocentric by not recognizing its own bias position and the political nature of its so called "pure" knowledge. Said demonstrates how a "canon" of knowledge was crystallized to serve as the basis for everything that could be written by the West about the East (and even if an Eastern person were to write about himself, he would also have the abide by these premises in order to be heard and considered).

In the final part of his introduction to Orientalism Said states his own personal dimension and biographical interest in his subject of study, acknowledging their political influence on his research.  

Next summary: Chapter 1:  The Scope of Orientalism 

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Great summary of Orientalism by Edward Said

When Edward Said's "Orientalism" was first published in 1978 it drew heavy attention and controversy due to its attack on not only the ground assumptions of the academic field of oriental studies, but on the whole manner in which East and West are portrayed. Said's Orientalism deals with the Western structuring of the orient as "other". Said analyses central Western texts in order to account for the way the conception of The East was crystallized. This conception, according to Said, prepared the ground for the political and cultural occupation of the non-Western regions by the West.

Said's analysis in Orientalism relies heavily on the thought of Michel Foucault and especially his thoughts on the concept of discourse and the knowledge/power equation. Another intellectual influence found in Orientalism is the concept of hegemony derived from the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci. Using this terminology Said shows how Orientalism served as a system of representations which served to consolidate the West's authority and supremacy over the East, and not just to reflect or describe it. Like Foucault, Said ties images, ideas and texts to actual practices of government and subjection employed in order to control millions of people in the non-white world.

One of the main implications of Said's work is that even and maybe especially scholarly research about the orient (naively called Oreintalism before Said) is in fact deeply political in being an essential part of the imperialist mechanism of control and exploitation.

The main importance of Said's Orientalism is in pointing out the even though colonialism is allegedly over, the systems of thinking, talking and representing which form the basis of colonial power relations still persist. Said's book became a central text of post colonialism since it seeks to expose the fundamental principles and structures of colonialism embedded within different systems of knowledge and representation.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Clash of Civilizations explained

Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (1996, based on a lecture from 1992) argues that after the age of big ideologies (Liberalism, Marxism, Fascism etc.) contemporary international relations will be determined by cultural and religious identities. Huntington argues (in the mid 90's) that future great wars will be fought not between countries but cultures or civilizations, starting with the clash between The western civilization and the Islamic world.

Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is a response to Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" where he argued, based on Hegel, that the fall of the Berlin Wall marks the last stage of human development and conflict with the victory of western liberalism. Huntington agrees that ideology indeed reached its end as the power that drives global politics but argues that it is only replaced by the cultural, not ideological, aspects of identity. This, according to Huntington, will make civilizations the most important factor in analyzing contemporary historical events and processes.       

In "The Clash of Civilizations" Huntington divides the world into several civilizations:

The Western civilization. Christian Europe, North America and Australia.

The Muslim civilization. The Islamic Middle east, North Africa, parts of Asia, parts of the Balkans, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

Latin American civilization. Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The Orthodox civilization. Former Soviet union and parts of Eastern Europe.

The Eastern civilization. Southeast Asia including China, India and Japan.

The Sub-Saharan civilization. Most of Africa south of the Sahara.

(Note that this is a summary, Huntington goes into greater detail and specification of the regions and countries that belong to each civilization.

According to Huntington these civilizations differ fundamentally in almost every aspect of life and culture, with religion being a key factor. People in the modern era are uprooted from their local, even national, communities and this is why civilizations plays a bigger role in identity.  

According to Huntington globalization is bringing these civilizations into closer contact, a process that will result in clashes. The Western civilization is pivotal here, since its power is actually what drives other civilizations (and the western civilization itself) to seek ways to consolidate their identity against globalization pressures originating in the west.  Huntington  therefore thought that the next big global clash will be between the Western and Islamic civilizations, making "Clash of Civilizations" a prophecy fulfilled only 5 year after it was given.          

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

End of History vs. Clash of Civilizations debate - analysis

"The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama (1992) and  "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel Huntington (1996) famously differ not only in their interpretation of the historical event of the end of the Cold-War, but also in their interpretation of history itself.
Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union Fukuyama claimed that the "end of history" has arrived not in the sense of no more events but in the sense of no more opposing historical forces which drive history forward through conflict. Fukuyama utilizes Hegel's philosophy which saw human progress as driven my its internal ideological contradictions. Following Kojeve's interpretation of Hegel, Fukuyama thought that the final victory of the West in the Cold-War marks the final victory of liberal democracy which will remain as the one universal ideology.
Shortly after Fukuyama published his "The End of History and the Last Man" he was criticized by Samuel Huntington who argued that the ideological conflicts which characterized the 20th Century will be replaced by cultural ones. In "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" Huntington held that culture in its broad sense of religion, language, heritage and tradition is becoming the most important factor in human identity. He therefore offered an analysis of global politics as comprised by several civilizations (like the Western, Islamic, Latin American, Orthodox, Eastern Asian and the Sub-Saharan civilization) which clash between one another.
The theoretical debate between "The End of History" and "The Clash of Civilization" was eventually decided by history itself which shows no intention of ending in the near future. Fukuyama was definitely over-optimistic in thinking that the end of the Cold-War marks the end of human conflict. Huntington on the other hand has been so far proved correct in his prediction of the next big battle being fought between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.
But there is still a deeper philosophical sense to the Huntington/Fukuyama debate since it demonstrates the problematic nature of our understanding of historical dialectics. Fukuyama proclaimed "The End of History" since, like many before him, he was unable to see past the constrains of his own position in History, unable to imagine a different meaning to politics. Huntington, very much within the lines of the Hegelian thesis, was only able to see a different current directing history by means of his critique on Fukuyama. In that sense "The Clash of Civilizations" is born out of "The End of History" in perfect line with Hegelian dialectics.                 

Some related books to consider:   

Short summary: The End of History by Fukuyama - explanation

"The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama is a book published in 1992 (expanding on an essay published in 1989) arguing that the end of the Cold-War marks the endpoint of the development of human history.
Fukuyama draws heavily on the Philosophy of Hegel and its interpretation by Kojeve. Hegel, to summarize, saw history as evolving through conflict between opposing ideas (Hegelian dialectics of thesis, antithesis and synthesis). Kojeve translated this highly influential line of thought into an argument holding that the final condition of humanity's socio-political order is a homogeneous state ruled by a single victorious ideology. This will mark the end of ideology (and therefore of history) since such a society will be, according to Kojeve, a "post-political" society which won't be divided by ideological differences.  
In "The End of History and the Last Man" Fukuyama sees the end of the Cold-War and the fall of the Berlin Wall as marking the end of ideological conflict with the unchallenged establishment of Western liberal democracy as the final ideological stage of human evolution. After the opposition between the liberal West and the communist world was resolved Fukuyama sees no further direction in which history can go. Hence the end of history is not to be understood as no more events happening and no more people born of die, but rather as the final resolution of the tensions which drive history forwards. The end of history for Fukuyama is the end of the making of history and human progress in its Hegelian understanding (and by that denying Marx's view of history which saw the endpoint of history in a global communist society, see for example The Communist Manifesto).  
Fukuyama's thesis in "The End of History and the Last Man" was heavily criticized by both other historical thinkers and history itself. Most notable among Fukuyama's critiques is Samuel Huntington in his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order"  (1996) where he explains that cultural forces will take over ideological forces in shaping global history. Since September 11th 2001 Huntington's critique of Fukuyama's "The End of History" is proved painfully right, history did not come to its end (see End of History vs. Clash of Civilizations debate

Related summaries:

The End of History and the Last Man / Francis Fukuyama

Some related books to consider:   

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Short summary of The Clash of Civilizations by S. Huntington

"The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" (1996) by Samuel Huntington sets forth a hypothesis regarding the nature of global politics in the post Cold-War era. According to Huntington, wars in the 21st century will not be thought between countries (nationalism) not between ideologies (such as Liberalism, Marxism, Fascism etc.) as they did in the 20th century but rather between civilizations. In the "The Clash of Civilizations" Huntington listed several different civilizations comprising the world today (see detail below), and argued that after the end of the Cold-War the next battles will be thought between the Western civilization and the Islamic world (and it took history only 5 years to prove him right).

The philosophical backdrop to Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" is the Hegel inspired thought (like Fukuyama's "End of History") that the fall of the Berlin Wall marks the end of human conflict with the eventual victory of Western Liberalism, Huntington opposes this by suggesting that conflicts are only about to take on a different shape, a cultural one. According to his hypothesis, when local and even national identities are being eroded by globalization culture in its broadest sense is becoming more and more important in defining who people are. A common religion, language, history, heritage and traditions is what groups people into sects that oppose one another.

Huntington's analysis also holds that globalization brings civilizations into closer interaction, resulting in higher tensions. The victory won by the West in the Cold-War and the global spread of its Capitalism actually prompted these processes and pitted the West against "the rest". The spread of Western ideology and economy actually drives other cultures into fundamentalism in an attempt to protect their cultural identity.

Huntington lists several civilizations and sub-civilizations including: the Western civilization, the Muslim world, Latin American civilization, the Eastern civilization, the Orthodox civilization and the Sub-Saharan African civilization. These civilizations are the tectonic plates of humanity, and when the clash earthquakes happen. Huntington further maps out the relations between the civilizations and their potential for conflict. For Huntington the most acute potential for conflict is along the fault lines of the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds (remember he first suggested "The Clash of Civilizations" in 1992 and published the book in 1996).       


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jihad vs. McWorld / Barber - summary

"Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World" by Benjamin Barber (1995) describes two mutually opposing historical forces that together threaten modern democracy. Both Jihad and "McWorld" are the result of neoliberal economy which creates pressure of identity and community. In "Jihad vs. McWorld" Berber holds that these forces cannot be avoided. He therefore proposes a way (he calls the confederal option) to satisfy them both while still keeping the freedom democracy has to offer.  

On the one hand of Barber's "Jihad vs. McWorld " stands the Islamic Jihad (literally: struggle) which offers strong social connections and a sense of identity at the cost of a closed off and intolerant society. Jihad according to Barber relies on a holy war waged against and external threat (modern democracy and globalization). This type of fundamentalism can lead to various types of non-democratic forms of government. Jihad, according to Barber, seeks to retribalize the world into mutually exclusive sects.

On the other hand of the equation we have "McWorld" which is a form of non-democratic corporate globalization. "McWorld" is a force that breaks down any form of boarder between cultures and regions. Its ideology is opposed to the tribalizing Jihad, Open markets and modern communication technology play and important part in "McWorld". This is a much safer and economically rewarding option compared to what Jihad has to offer, but "McWorld" also has its costs such as limiting people's freedom.

Barber does not think that democracy can fend off Jihad of McWorld completely. Barber argues that it (democracy) can save itself by satisfying some of its adversaries' needs., this is what he calls the "confederal option". The idea is to withdraw from the idea of the large nation state into smaller communities that maintain a market that extends the size of that of the nation state (that is, a global market between local communities). 

Related summaries:


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