Orientalism and Geography

David Jansson

in Geography

ISBN: 9780199874002
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Orientalism and Geography

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Originally used to signify the academic study of a particular region—that is, “the Orient”—the term “orientalism” has now, due to the influence of Edward Said, come to be commonly (if not exclusively) understood as a nexus of knowledge and power relations that shape the understanding of and the exercise of power over the region known as the Orient. The Orient of academic orientalism was a constantly shifting target; initially referring to the Near (or Middle) East, with an emphasis on Islam (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Orientalism and Islam”), the place of reference moved eastward along with European colonial and imperial expansion, so that eventually an orientalist might study any place from North Africa to East Asia. Orientalists studied the languages, religions, and cultures of “the Orient,” providing Europe with what was initially understood as objective knowledge about distant lands and peoples. Such knowledge was often vitally important to the colonial and imperial projects of European states; colonial officials and other representatives of European states were typically key producers of knowledge of the Orient. A critique of this connection between academic investigation and the exercise of state power was at the heart of Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978). Although his was not the first critical study of the academic discipline of orientalism, it was the work that was destined to have the most influence in shaping modern understandings of Europe’s encounter with the East.

Article.  11627 words. 

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography ; Human Geography

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