Idea Of Orientalism Is Eurocentricity Cultural Studies Essay


Geography has always been a contested enterprise. The discipline… has constantly changed its spots in response to external pressures and internal debates Castree, in Castree & Braun 2001, p.4

Critically discuss the above statement with reference to two paradigms of geographical thought and analyse its implications for how and what geographers study. Supplement your essay with examples.

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"Geography has always been a contested enterprise. The discipline… has constantly changed its spots in response to external pressures and internal debates" (Castree, in Castree & Braun 2001, p. 4)

Critically discuss the above statement with reference to two paradigms of geographical thought and analyse its implications for how and what geographers study. Supplement your essay with examples.

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Castree's statement is certainly true and post-colonialism and postmodernism are two paradigms that illustrate extensively how "the discipline…has constantly changed its spots in response to external pressures and internal debates" (Castree 2001, p.4). Through analysing both paradigms' implications for how and what geographers study one can also begin to understand how the discipline "has constantly changed its spots" (Castree 2001, p.4).

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the ages of colonialism, there was a lack of knowledge about other parts of the world. People only knew their own environment. Representations of new continents were provided by explorers and thus subjective. People ruling over other parts of the world hardly knew anything about the places and inhabitants of their colonies. They were driven solely by the pursuit of gain, without knowing they influenced and mostly ruined the lives of native people. By inquiring these influences and driven factors of the colonisers, it is important to know exactly what images people had of foreign territories. This knowledge and representations of countries as well as how these representations influenced people's behaviour is what post-colonialism in human geography is about. However, as Hubbard (2002) argues, it also concerns the reproduction and transformations of colonial relations, representations and practices in the present.

The external pressures and internal debates from the time created this new paradigm. As critical geographies were growing, such as feminism and queer geographies, there appeared a gap for the post-colonialism movement in this branch of geographical thought, with internal debates of the validity of colonialism rising. It was an era when imperial power was no longer present and contemporary issues of the effects of the previous imperial powers provided an external pressure. Civil rights movement in the U.S for instance provided a pressure to address the post-colonial issue. Protests by the Native American Indians, including the occupation of Alcatraz from November 1969 to June 1971 (Lapin and Hanna 2009) meant that the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) in 1968, guaranteed Native Americans the rights they had been fighting for (Freitag 1997). However, more importantly raised awareness of the suffering that had been caused from the colonisation and the implications it had on that society. The same can be said for the Australian Aboriginals protests against discrimination in the 1960s (National Museum Australia 2008).

Post-colonialism has many implications on how geographers study. Post-colonialism understands the world today as based on our constructions and practices of the colonial past. It entails the critical weakening of the intellectual and linguistic, social and economic theories that maintain the Western ways of thinking, of perceiving, understanding, and knowing the world; with intellectual space being created for the subaltern (repressed) peoples to speak for themselves. Critical attention is focused on the formal disciplinary links between geography and imperialism , on the representations and stereotypes created, and imperial sway of geographical thought and practices (such as environmental determinism, empiricism and mapping) that became central to geography's intellectual development and public image (Blunt and McEwan 2002).

Post-colonialism has had implications for how geographers study through the creation of Said's (1995) idea of Orientalism. Geographers now approach issues with an Orientalist mind set. This mind set is based upon the political vision of reality which promotes the difference between the West and the East 'the Orient'. This mind set "consider[s] how the Orient…became known to the West as its great complementary opposite…the journey, the history, the fable, the stereotype, the polemical confrontation" (Said 1995, p.58). It is through Orientalism that Islam came to symbolize terror, devastation, the demonic, hordes of hated barbarians (Said 1995). Orientalist attitudes dominate the press and the popular mind; Arabs for example, are represented and perceived as camel-riding terrorists. Orientalism regards white middle-classed Westerners as believing it's their human prerogative "not only to manage the non-white world but also to own it, just because, by definition 'it' is not quite as human as 'we' are" (Said 1995, p.108).

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Building on the idea of Orientalism is 'Eurocentricity'. Post-colonialism has meant that geographers now highlight this Eurocentric nature, where a set of European cultural values and practices are the standard to which to judge everything else. Barnett (2006) illustrates this when he argues that analysis of development, for example the categorisation of countries into MEDCs and LEDCs, is Eurocentric because there is the presumption that the idealized model of European development is the single model for other societies to follow. Furthermore, Spivak, in her book, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), explores how major works of European metaphysics (e.g., Kant, Hegel) not only exclude the subaltern from their discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects. This further illustrates the emphasizing of 'Eurocentricity'.

The Post-colonialism movement also has ramifications for what geographers study. Post-colonialism has already been noted to be a reaction to an era of colonialism, therefore looking back at history is essential in what geographers study. Noxolo et al. (2008) argue that post-colonialism provides constant urgent reminders of the historical relationships between different postcolonial spaces and their legacies. Furthermore, Noxolo et al. (2008) argue that through the study of history, one can understand the sophisticated historical layering that shapes the world's power relations and post-colonialism "challenges this particular normative model of linear historical progress" (Barnett 2006, p.149). All post-colonialism concepts therefore work through the 'spatialization' of time. This pattern of thought is known as historicism, and due to post-colonialism is crucial in what geographers study (Barnett 2006, p.149).

It could be argued that the post-colonialism paradigm had significant implication on how we map the world. In a world map done by Mercator in circa 1569 he inflates the sizes of developed countries whilst developing countries near the equator appear smaller and less significant (Holland 2012). On Peters' projection (1973), by contrast, the effect of post-colonialism thought instigated the drawing of the first map where the areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the map; so less developed nations could be restored to their rightful proportions (Holland 2012).

Post-colonialism has had a major impact on current modes of cultural analysis and as Hubbard (2002, p.81) writes, "[Post-colonialism][is]centrally concerned with the impact of colonialism and its contestation on the cultures of both colonising and colonised peoples in the past." Post-colonialism has meant geographers now look at culture as a colonial product, and in most cases this has negative connotations. For example, Grundy (2000) argues that the survival of Christianity in the post-colonial country of Zimbabwe signifies a loss of culture and an acceptance of the superiority of Western faith.

Post-colonialism also has implications on the way geographers look at identity. Post-colonialism challenges the question of origins, of efforts to find customs and identities back to some original location (Spivak 1988). The paradigm questions the set boundaries between, say, "Western" and "non-Western" cultures, traditions, or identities. There is an insistence that identity is always defined differentially, through a mix of comparisons, contrasts, and identifications (Spivak 1988). Consequently, many people in the field agree that there is no such thing as a "purely" African, European, or American identity. In other words, "there is a Third World in every First World, and vice versa" (Trinh 1987, p.21). However, scholars also challenge the recent post-colonial attention on national identity. Ayubi (2001) argues that there is a needless obsession with identity. Nevertheless, Kumaraswamy (2006) thinks the opposite, arguing that identity is important in understanding the politics of the contemporary world.

The 'post' on the beginning of postmodernism means that there was a modern way of thinking before postmodernism. Knox and Marston (2004) defined modernism as "a forward-looking view of the world that emphasises reason, scientific rationality, creativity, novelty, and progress". Postmodernism was created as it was because it is a reaction to the internal debate on modernism, as the title of Latour's book suggests, We Have Never Been Modern. It emphasises the unclearness and fragmented nature of society; as well as the missing of conformity and of holistic ordering principles. There is not one universal truth but multiple theories, producing a sense of hybridity (Harvey 1989).

Cooke (1990) argues that postmodernism is not solely a response to modernism but instead postmodernism was created because of the external pressure from the late modernity era, especially due to its distortion by the neoconservative politics of the right. He argues that society's progressive aspects have been reduced by the drift towards state centralism and the reduction of citizenship. Furthermore, Cooke (1990)nostalgically argues that the constraints of late modernity need to be lifted to restore the outlines of the Enlightenment period and to progress.

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The postmodern way of thinking has taught geographers a great deal. The most significant thing geographers learn is that observations are steered, chosen and organized by the expectations and ideas of the observer, defying original categorisation (Arensten et al. 2008). Arensten et al. (2008) argue that Postmodernism lays the emphasis on 'the meaning of Geography', instead of 'the material aspects' of Geography (as modernism does). Furthermore, Gibson-Graham et al. (2000) argue that the creation of meaning is an unfinished process and a site of (political) struggle where alternative meanings are created and only temporarily fixed.

Postmodernism can be said to be part of the hybrid branch of the human geography family tree. This hybridity comes about from a desire to create something new and better through the agglomerations of old and current ideas (Soja 2001). Hybridity is a "way of being outside and inside at the same time" (Anzaldua 1990, p.129) with original and innovative thoughts that "cross borders and blur boundaries" (Anzaldua 1990, p.129). This hybridity notion defies categorisation and rejects totalizing discourse, in a search for a new holistic language of representation (Soja 2001). Pigeonholing and labelling are continuously criticized and absent from geographical thought. O'Hagan (1990) argues that this hybridity is demonstrated by "the first postmodern pop icon" (p.28), Prince. He was an agglomeration of ideas that came together to create a unique pop star whose "live shows defied categorisation" (O'Hagan 1990, p.28). Additionally, Afro-American Feminist geographer, Hooks (1990) argues that radical postmodernism calls attention to hybridity that shares sensibilities which cross the boundaries of class, race, gender, etc. She argues that hybridity can create empathy and partnerships through promoting the recognition of common commitments and serves as a tool for solidarity.

Postmodernism has had implications for what geographers study and, as mentioned earlier, adopts a more holistic and subjective approach. This revolutionary style has meant that geographers have broadened their range in terms of what they study (Harvey 2000). For instance, sociological thought and, as seen earlier with the Prince example, popular culture is increasingly finding its way into geographical theory. However, most significantly postmodernism has changed the way geographers study space (Harvey 1989). The need for a meticulous reconceptualization of space within geographical theory has been pointedly made by Thrift in a series of stimulating and provocative publications (for example, 1996, 1999, 2004a, 2004b). Thrift argues that geography should move away from a sense of space "as a practico-inert container of action" (2004a, p.5) and should now begin to conceptualize space as a "socially produced set of manifolds" (Crang and Thrift 2000, p.2). Soja also questions ideas about space in new ways in attempt to expand the range and critical validity of geographical imaginations (Soja 1999). Soja (1999), like Crang and Thrift (2000), also makes the point that space is never given. It is never an "empty box" to be filled but is always culturally and socially constructed (Soja 1996). It is part of the cultural web and therefore created and transformed, accepted or rejected.

The most important contribution of Soja to the postmodernism's way of thinking is that he envisaged the third way of looking at spatiality (Soja 1996). As the title of his 1996 monograph suggests, he introduces the concept of "Thirdspace", in contrary with modernists who divided space into two, the conceived and the perceived space. The thirdspace is a site of hybridity, it moves beyond entrenched boundaries and is a margin or edge where ties can be broken or new ties forged (Soja 1999).

This idea of thirdspace can also be carried to identity. Through the exploration of this third space, "we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as others of ourselves" (Bhabha 1994, p.141). This infers that identity is a hybrid entity and therefore geographers must start to question the characteristics of social categories, as they are the product of identities. Social categories, because new identities are constantly being created due to this hybridity, are never stable, normal, or structured. Rather, "they are always in a process of dynamic unfolding and becoming" (Rose 2002, p.385).

In conclusion, post-colonialism, was produced through internal debates on modernism and external pressures with the civil rights movement and the critical geography movement. The paradigm 'changed the spots' of the discipline with its alterations to approaches to history, culture, mapping and identity. The discipline also brought Orientalism and 'Eurocentricity' to the forefront. Postmodernism provides a hybrid, holistic and subjective nature to the discipline, affecting the study of space and identity and presenting the new idea of thirdspace. Finally, postmodernism was created through a combination of a contestation of modernism and problems with the late modernity era.