Book Review: Orientalism

Orientalism & Cultural Imperialism;
Edward Said’s Viewpoint

By Hamed Kazemzadeh (
Conflict Studies Program
Saint Paul University – University of Ottawa
Book Review: Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
ECS 5101: Identity – Based Conflict (Fall Semester 2018)
Supervisor: Professor Enkelejda Sula Raxhimi (

Published in Internal Journal of ACPCS – Winter 2019 (N.8); pp. 24-26

A. Introduction
Orientalism is published in 1978 by Prof. Edward W. Said (1935-2003) who was originally Palestinian and Professor at Colombia University in English and Comparative Literature department. He discusses Orientalism as the Western approaches and scholarships toward the Eastern world which means the societies and lands of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. According to Said, the purpose of the book is that shows the orientalism is a method of achieving the power of imperialist societies in colonized countries by researching about their culture and history in the account of the Post- Colonialism Era. The scope of Said’s scholarship appointed Orientalism as a basement context in the field of Post- Colonialism culture studies and clarifying the relationship between Orientalism and Imperialism.
The book launches with a long introduction to several perspectives of his studies. Then the main body of the book is divided into three chapters as follows: 1. ‘The Scope of Orientalism’ is about the different dimensions of Orientalism which mean the academic approach toward the Orient that allows the Occident to colonize the Orient. 2. ‘Orientalist Structures and Restructures’ is about tracking chronologically modern orientalism which was common tools for academics to provide the orientation for the imperial states. 3. ‘Orientalism Now’ is about the imperial states’ policies and expansions, from the 1870s until the Second World War. He then moves on to the time after World War II when imperial powers go under the US hegemony and how this affects the East in the 1970s. Each chapter itself is divided into four named sections.

B. Critiques
Said uses Michel Foucault’s discourse analysis in the methodology of his work. He says that Orientalism should be approached as a discourse, to be realized the grounds of Orientalism has come from. He points several times that the fundamental phenomenon of Orientalism theory should be understood as a set of structures inherited, secularized, and reformed. Methodologically, he identifies a series of presumptions in each chapter based on discourse analysis, which the Occidental world has of the Oriental world. For clarifying his theory, he looked at a lot of Western literature, travelogues political booklets, and philological, historical, geographic studies which written about the Oriental world as main sources.
The strengths of Said’s book are on the descriptive method of writing which in each stage he defines the meaning of Orientalism. For example, in the introduction, Said introduces three definitions of Orientalism. First, Orientalism as an academic tradition and discipline; second, as a type of thinking based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction between the East and the West; and third, as a Western-style for dominating the East which started from 18th century. It is general research of Orientalism as an order of thoughts that reigned Western thoughts about the Orient for over two centuries. Another aspect is mentioned by him (p. 260): “Given its special relationship to both Christianity and Judaism, Islam remained forever the Orientalist’s idea of original cultural effrontery, aggravated naturally by the fear that Islamic civilization originally continued to stand somehow opposed to the Christian West”.
Maybe the only weaknesses of the work that I can mention are that the book is limited to the Anglo-French American experience of Islam and the Arabs and he argues that the Orient and the East, as Europe knows it. As we know there was also a difference between the French and the English Orientalism and even between the American and European Orientalism. He does not give us as readers a notion of how the scholarship of the Orient could have been recouped free of the Orientalist power itself. However, I think the book’s weakness is also its strength. I mean he is the display of the connection between Orientalism and imperial power, presents the linkage between power and scholarship. It is considerable how close the connection between academics and the colonial administration was for the domination of cultural Imperialism.
Another important point is that he claims all western research about the Oriental language, geography, culture, history, and nature from ancient Greece to the modern era has been written in an oriental method. Moreover, he is the commentary of orientalism, has made the Occidentalism, a one-dimensional explanation of the West, which made an utter difference between the West and the Orient, which he had set out to highlight.

C. Opinion
Generally, I think Orientalism is a controversial and important book for M.A students, and it is a great book for all types of readers. It can bring up serious issues in the mind of any person. Even though the book was released in the ’70s, I believe it is still working in our general atmosphere with new social and political phenomena. We should consider that since the ’70s and specifically after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the polarization of Europe and North America on the one side and the Islamic World on the other, has grown more and more. Immigration issues in the West especially to Europe from Oriental societies has become a controversial issue. I would argue that it has deeper roots than the contemporary conflicts in the Oriental world which I mean in North Africa and the Middle East. It is returned to the Western approaches toward the Eastern people and societies which Said tries to define in his book.
Viewed from the perspective of Conflict studies, the structure of Orientalism book surprisingly is matched and relevant to our approaches, but also to use his knowledge of the different social science disciplines to challenge the conventional ideas and the old paradigms which keep standing in the way of an adequate comprehension of how Oriental societies, political systems, and economies function. Besides, I do believe that Said reached his goal with this book, which was identifying the assumptions the West has had of the East for generations in the case of cultural Imperialism.