Friday, October 25, 2013

Edward Said and Orientalism Today

Said's Orientalism and It's Relevance Today
Edward Said’s analysis of the Occidental and Oriental discourse was, at the time it was published in 1978, the first use of Foucault in an “extended cultural analysis” (Clifford, 1980, p. 212).  There is much confusion about what Said’s Orientalism truly means.  It may be stated that the book is an attempt to analyze Occidental discourse and how it promotes Western culture’s imperialistic power over the Orient. Whatever the meaning, the book is a “controversial and important work” (Winder, 1981).
According to Said, the term
Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short. Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. (Said, 2004, p.3)
However, for Said, the term was mostly academic (Said, 1994, p.2) and was used to describe those who write, teach, discuss, or study the Orient.  It is also a style of thought based on an “epistemological  distinction” made between the Orient and the Occident (Said, 2004, p.2).
Through these three meanings, Said proposes that Orientalism is a discourse, a systematic method by which Europe was able to dominate the East.  Thus, the Orient is “not a free subject” that one can exercise any thought or action upon (Said, 2004, p.3).  In short, due to its literary baggage, it is never free to be what it really is and remain as if it was still under colonial rule.
Orientalists thought does not have to be false nor does it have to be suspect (Said, 2004, p.6). “Orientalism” is Western knowledge of the Middle East in the service of imperialism (p. 9). For Said, that your geographic origin defines your perspective, regardless of the content of your discourse (Said, 2004, p.11).  For example, when Said discusses German discourse, he distinguishes it from the Anglo-French Orientalist because they never had an imperialist presence (Said, 2004, p. 19).  Thus a German and English author could write the exact same thing, yet only one would be an Orientalist:
 For it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim it’s author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances…[i]t meant and means being aware, however dimly, that one belongs to a power with definite interests in the Orient, and more important, that one belongs to a part of the Earth with a definite history of involvement in the Orient since the time of Homer  (Said, 2004, p.11)(emphasis added).
Orientalism may be understood to start with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt but as a system of ideas, it begins around 1840 (Said, 2004, p.6).  Thus, according to Said and his adherents, there is an undeniable link between scholarship and conquest, between discourse and imperialism (Hamdi, 2013, p. 136).
The concept is intriguing and the argument can be made, as it is so eloquently done by Said vis-à-vis Foucault.  Understandably, he has his critics such as Bernard Lewis and Ibn Warraq (Hamdi, 2013).  They refute Said’s claims by showing examples of Western writers who did not have imperialistic tendencies.  By and large, the evidence they present is correct:  there were scholars who sought to learn and write about the Orient without any designs on her people and land.  Others claim that Said conveniently ignores other European cultures that had no significant Oriental designs, particularly Germany (Pasto, 1998, p. 437).  Again, this is correct as Said does dismiss the “Germans, Russians, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, and Swiss” from his Occidental imperialists (Said, 2004, p.1).  He thus reduces “Europe” to Britain, France, and the United States, thus making a curious foundation for an academic argument.
As a general argument, it appears correct, however, because the main colonizers of the world since 1840 were Britain and France, two European countries.  But to state that there was an ideology of the “Other” that somehow identified both regions may be too general (Said, 2004, p.5) if not sophistry.  The same could be said for a “Western” hegemony over Africa at the time or North and South America a few centuries earlier.  The point may not be so much that scholarship produced Orientalism which produced imperialism but that other factors were in play that led to Europe’s domination and imperialistic tendencies (see e.g., Diamond, 2005, and the discussion of a stable food supply as a determining factor in European ascendency).
More importantly, however, is the argument whether Said’s analysis is even relevant or sustainable today.  His analysis presumably begins in the 19th Century and continues until around 1977.  With the rise of the global economy (something that Said predicted would reverse Orientalism) and the effusion of digital content on the web, the marketplace of ideas is much broader and more heterogeneous.   For example, Said calls the Cambridge History of Islam the “highest and most intellectually prestigious” form of Occidental Orientalism (Said, 2004, p. 302).  Whether it radically misconceives or misrepresents Islam (p. 302) as Said states is irrelevant to this argument.  Perhaps in 1978 it was the preeminent Western treatise on the Orient but can the same be said today?
Using a keyword search of “Middle East”, “Islam”, “Muslim”, and “Arab” at the USF EBSCO Host electronic library brings up 15.6 million results, 7.4 million which are news or related articles.  Limit this search to academic writings (journals, books, symposia, etc.)  and 3.9 million results are returned.  Look at the academic discourse from 1978 to today and there are a total of 3.6 million results, a net change of approximately 300,000 writings.  Statistically, it would be difficult to argue that 3.6 million scholarly articles are of the type that Said argues about.
CLIFFORD, J. (1980). Orientalism [book review]. History & Theory, 19(2), 204-223.
Diamond, J. M. (2005). Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies. New York : W.W. Norton.
Hamdi, T. (2013). EDWARD SAID AND RECENT ORIENTALIST CRITIQUES. Arab Studies Quarterly, 35(2), 130-148.
Pasto, J. (1998). Islam's 'Strange Secret Sharer': Orientalism, Judaism, and the Jewish Question. Comparative Studies In Society And History, 40(3), 437-474. doi:10.1017/S0010417598001364
Said, E.W. (2004).  Orientalism. New York: Vintage.
Winder, B. (1981). Orientalism [book review]. Middle East Journal, 35: 615-619.

Knowledge Funding
Historically, funding for research has come from a variety of sources as science transitioned from a “gentleman’s” pursuit to rigorous empirical testing (Burke, 2012).  Private industry has always played a role in research projects (Kappos, 2013) as well as government funding (Burke, 2012). 
Today’s universities rely on outside sources of funding.  For example, the University of South Florida received over $411 million in outside sources of research funding (USF, 2012).  Approximately 40% came from the federal government, 15% from state governments, and 45% from private industry (USF, 2012).  Traditionally, most research funding has been for quantitative research (Bourgeault, 2012). 
There has been very little research on the effects corporate and government funding has had on the diffusion of knowledge.  Recent studies, however, have found some disturbing trends.  Martinson et al. (2009) found that researchers who were involved in outside funding research reported that they were more likely to engage in questionable or unethical behavior, thus undermining scientific integrity.  Hottenrott (2011) found that researchers who were funded by private industry produced less scientific journal articles and therefore contributed less to the diffusion of knowledge.  Finally, Fortin and Currie (2013) found that large funding grants did not produce proportionally large research results, leading the researchers to conclude that smaller grant awards to diverse institutions produced the best results. 
In conclusion, Burke (2012) gives a historical account of research funding in his discussion of the sociologies of knowledge.  In it he describes traditional government and private industry funding and how many big discoveries may not have been possible without those sources of income (Kappos, 2013).  However, as grant proposals become major sources of income for universities, obtaining this funding may become more of a priority than scientific pursuit.  In other words, pursuing science for science dollars may decide what problems are investigated.  As the data suggests, scientific progress may be stunted by this new influx of money. 
Bourgeault, I.L. (2012). Critical issues in the funding of qualitative research. Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research, 7: 1-7. 
Burke, P.(2012). A Social History of Knowledge: From the "Encyclopédie" to Wikipedia. Cambridge: Polity.
Fortin, J., & Currie, D. J. (2013). Big Science vs. Little Science: How Scientific Impact Scales with Funding. Plos ONE, 8(6), 1-9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065263
Hottenrott, H., & Thorwarth, S. (2011). Industry Funding of University Research and Scientific Productivity. Kyklos, 64(4), 534-555. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6435.2011.00519.x
Kappos, D. J. (2013). WHO WILL BANKROLL THE NEXT BIG IDEA?. Scientific American, 309(4), 58-61.
Martinson, B., Crain, A., Anderson, M., & De Vries, R. (2009). Institutions' expectations for researchers' self-funding, federal grant holding, and private industry involvement: manifold drivers of self-interest and researcher behavior. Academic Medicine: Journal Of The Association Of American Medical Colleges, 84(11), 1491-1499.
USF Research & Innovation (2012). Annual report retrieved from

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Information Literacy Program for Teens

Today I helped present an information literacy program for teens at the New River Library in Pasco County, Florida.  It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about how teens today are doing research.

As was expected, most teenagers do their research by starting with Google.  Not one of the participants today realized that Pasco County libraries have numerous databases that can be accessed anywhere using a library card.  This really shocked them.  More importantly, I also learned that many teachers do not teach their students that the libraries offer this service.

The next seminar:  Information Literacy for Teachers and Resources for Students.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wiki- Awsome

As part of our History of Libraries course we were asked to edit some Wikipedia articles.  These were my edits.

1) Library. Here is my first edit in the section "Library" where I added a good deal of information about Roman libraries.
21:41, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+2,488)‎ . . Library ‎ (Classical period (800 BC – 500 AD):  Added information on Roman libraries) (current)
I also added a talk section to appease the WikiGods
22:22, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+317)‎ . . Talk:Library ‎ (Classical Period:  new section) (current)
2)Nalanda University I then added an edit to the library section for Nalanda University and added a talk section to discuss my edits.
22:16, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+334)‎ . . Talk:Nalanda ‎ (current)
22:10, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+2,112)‎ . . Nalanda ‎ (Libraries:  Added information on the library at Nalanda) (current)
3) Richard de Bury.  I then did a lot of editing to the section on Richard de Bury which included adding a whole section on thePhilobiblon.  I also created a talk page to discuss these edits.
23:24, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+106)‎ . . Talk:Richard de Bury ‎ (New Section) (current)
23:24, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+464)‎ . . Talk:Richard de Bury ‎ (Religious Life)
23:18, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+1,982)‎ . . Richard de Bury ‎ (current)
22:52, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+23)‎ . . Richard de Bury ‎ (Bibliophile)
22:51, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+42)‎ . . Richard de Bury ‎ (Bibliophile:  Changed error that stated de Bury founded Durham) 
22:46, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+1)‎ . . Richard de Bury ‎ (Early life)
22:45, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+651)‎ . . Richard de Bury ‎ (Early life:  Corrected two errors in early life) 
22:32, 16 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+306)‎ . . Talk:Richard de Bury ‎ (Religious Life:  new section) 
4) James Logan.  I made major additions to the article on James Logan and created a talk page to discuss my edits.
00:09, 17 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+285)‎ . . Talk:James Logan (statesman) ‎ (Major Additions:  new section) (current) 
00:07, 17 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+5,396)‎ . . James Logan (statesman) ‎ (current)
5) Book Curse.  For fun I have added to our collected knowledge of book curses.
00:35, 17 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+1,391)‎ . . Book curse ‎ (current)
6) Library.  Finally I made major additions to the section discussing the Middle Ages. These major textual additions were made to the section in order to accentuate the importance of the Byzantine Empire during this period and also to add a better organizational structure to the development of libraries during this period.  Normally I would consider edits to one entry one edit but this was a major undertaking.
01:14, 17 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+358)‎ . . Talk:Library ‎ (Middle Ages:  new section) (current) 
01:11, 17 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+6,835)‎ . . Library ‎ (Middle Ages (501 AD – 1400 AD):   major additions were made for organization) (current)
7) Library (again). After reading the two sections that I edited (Classical Period and Middle Ages) I didn't like how they were divided chronologically. So I changed the time periods to reflect the development of libraries better.  Not a major edit at all but I thought the traditional divisions too static.

I think I'm done for now with 21,000 characters not including my talk pages.
8) Justin Winsor.  I was doing my reading for Week 12 on Justin Winsor (first president of the ALA) and then read the Wikipedia article on him and noticed an error that stated he graduated from Harvard.  In fact, like Bill Gates and the Beastie Boys, he left.
17:10, 27 March 2013 (diff | hist. . (+291)‎ . . Justin Winsor ‎ (Background and education) (current)