Orientalism, Postmodernism, and Globalism

By Bryan S. Turner | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Orientalism, postmodernism and religion

The problem of social and cultural diversity has been a classic issue in the humanities and the social sciences throughout the period we refer to as the modern age. With the rise of the world economy and cultural globalization, this question of cultural difference has become even more acute in contemporary politics. In the 1970s academics were interested in a specific feature of this inter-cultural problem, namely how Western societies have understood and interpreted oriental societies through the period of imperial expansion. The debate about orientalism (Said 1978a) gave rise to a new approach to decolonization and the writing of history, especially the writing of Indian history. These ‘subaltern studies’ (Guha 1981) marked the arrival of a new confidence and radicalism among third-world academics in the struggle for decolonization at both the cultural and political levels. This critical tradition came to be known eventually as ‘cultural discourse studies’ (Bhabha 1983). It became clear in the 1980s that there were strong intellectual connections between the orientalist debate, subaltern studies and feminism which were all struggles for an authentic voice. Orientalism and colonial discourse studies are concerned to explore the problems of subjectivity and authenticity among social groups or cultures which are excluded from power. I explore some aspects of this debate in Chapter 13. In the 1990s there is equally strong evidence to suggest a connection between anti-orientalism and postmodernism as alternatives to modernist rationalism. This collection of essays examines these interconnections and attempts to understand the role of intellectuals in the modern world.

I have an ambiguous relationship to orientalism in the sense that in the year that Edward Said published Orientalism (1978), I also brought out a modest volume called Marx and the End of Orientalism (Turner 1978a); Edward Said’s book has deservedly become famous while my study remains marginal. My contribution to these new directions was to consider a limited range of problems in the social sciences. Said has been working on a larger canvas. My ambiguity about orientalism is also that I have never done fundamental research in the area of Islamic and Arabic

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