Orientalism and Development – Part II

Following Part I.

Said’s insights are also considerably relevant in that they illuminate the way the knowledge and power of the development project has objectified and homogenised the ‘developing world’ and its inhabitants. Said noted the way in which Orientalism perpetuated ‘the phenomenon of ‘the Other’ in Western consciousness and Western empire’ (Mazrui 2005: 69).  It articulated knowledge about the geographical, cultural and moral aspects of the Orient, determining its position as an ‘object’ that one judges, studies, depicts and illustrates (Said 1978: 40). This homogenised a vastly diverse geographical region and represented the ‘colonised as a fixed reality which is at once an ‘other’ and yet entirely knowable and visible’ (Bhabha 1990, cited in White 2002: 413).

White argues that the ‘developing world’, which is made ‘speakable and writable’, is presented purely as geographical, and yet becomes ‘a catch all term, comprising of societies which are highly spatially and culturally diverse, whose unity lies in being “not in the West” ’ (2002: 412). The idea of the Third World, therefore, allows for the homogenisation of significantly diverse parts of the world (Berger 1994, cited in Weber 2004: 189).

Moreover, those who supposedly reside in the developing world, such as the Western feminist construct of the ‘Third World Woman’ are also represented in a way that suppresses heterogeneity (Mohanty 1991, cited in Apffel-Marglin & Simon 1994: 35).  In examining the objectification of the Orient through knowledge and representation, Said’s insights cast light on the way in which the ‘developing’ world is similarly objectified in the development discourse.

Furthermore, not only has the ‘developing’ world been objectified, it has also been framed as inferior through the knowledge created and legitimised by the development discourse. A key example is the representation of Africa.  Examining speeches of British colonial rulers in Egypt through to classic Oriental literature, Said demonstrated the way in which the Oriental was repeatedly represented as irrational, depraved, childlike and different, while the European was deemed rational, virtuous, mature and normal (1978: 40).

Like the Oriental, the African has also been represented as a member of a subject race and not exclusively an inhabitant of a geographical area (Doty 1996: 51).  A continent of 53 distinct countries, Africa has been understood and defined according to its interaction with other civilisations (Mazrui 2005: 69). As Andreasson asserts, despite the ‘staggering heterogeneity of African cultures, histories, experiences and practices… the basic thrust of modern development scholarship returns to essential notions of Africa’s inadequate characteristics’ (2005: 972).

Accordingly, representations of Africa present it as a continent ‘in chaos’, where some states have ‘collapsed’, descended into ‘warlordism’, have become ‘criminalized’ or ‘vampire states’ (Andreasson 2005: 972).  Through Said’s insights, the power of development can be recognised in its ability to shape persistent representations and understandings of continents and nations alike.


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