Occidentalism: Images of the West

Occidentalism: Images of the West

Occidentalism: Images of the West

Occidentalism: Images of the West

Synopsis

Occidentalism is an investigation of images of Western cultural identity. Edward Said's Orientalism revolutionized Western understanding of non-Western cultures by showing how Western projected images shaped the Occidental view of the Orient, but those who follow Said have not until nowreflected that understanding back onto Western societies. Occidentalism shows how images of the West shape people's conceptions of themselves and others, and how these images are in turn shaped by members of Western and non-Western societies alike. The contributors describe and explicate these images in a variety of areas, from Western academic writing to popular Western culture, from societies within and outside the West, to show how power and conflict shape such conceptions.

Excerpt

I TRAINED in sociology, a discipline which encourages attention to industrial capitalist societies--the West. While social diversity was never an explicit topic in the courses I took or in my doctoral research, I was aware of at least part of the complexity that made up what my teachers so casually called 'American society'. That society seemingly dissolved as I listened to my teachers, read my books, and carried out my research. This was because, though I may have perceived American society as an interrelated whole, that whole itself was made up of parts that varied widely, just as the people in that society differed in important ways in their social locations. Class, race, gender, region, educational level, religion, and a host of other variables were the dimensions that my teachers, and ultimately I, took for granted as identifying possible lines of cleavage and conflict within the larger whole.

Entirely fortuitously I drifted out of sociology and into anthropology, helped along by an extended period of fieldwork while I accompanied my wife as she did her doctoral research in Melanesia, and by an extended period of teaching at the University of Papua New Guinea in a combined department where all the interesting questions seemed more anthropological than sociological.

While we were in the field, conversations with villagers occasionally turned to discussions of the United States. Often I was surprised and flattered by the interest people took in different aspects of American life. However, I was just as often dismayed by the rigid, simplistic, and often simply wrong way that they typified the United States, especially when they were contrasting their own society to mine. Of course, there was no reason why they should have been insightful or subtle in their analyses. America was a long way away, they had many other and more important things to do with their time than find out about it, and they made no claims to be skilled social analysts.

I was somewhat more unsettled by the ways that some anthropologists typified the United States in particular and Western society in general. To be fair, the majority of these typifications emerged in casual conversations, though by no means is this true of all of them. It struck me at the time as a professional double standard, and it repelled me. These were conscientious scholars who devoted great effort to uncovering the nuances, complexities, and inter-connections of the societies that they studied. Yet . . .

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