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Othering

July 12, 2013

I have been reading Orientalism by the late Edward Said.  In considering “otherness” he examines the Orient or the East as opposed to the Occident or the West.  His research assumption is that the other (the orient) is not simply inert, or in other words it is not simply an existence filling space and time.  Rather, the other not only exists in it’s own right, but it is also subject to an image both created by others (as if it were inanimate).  As such the identity and understanding, expectations and responses to and in regards to is partly due to the other itself as well as those making a comparative analysis of the other’s existence.  Quoting Vico, Said writes “men make their own history” paraphrasing they (mankind) knows what they have made and this establishes the culture and geographical setting for othering.  While geographic settings are not man-made setting they create a spatial difference in which to more easily distinguish and reflect each other.  Those with power and authority (the othering group) may more easily compare and distinguish the less powerful (the othered group).  Even within this creative process of comparing the other the othering group (the West/ Occident) three qualifiers must be realized.  First, the othered group maintains some degree of autonomous existence.  Hence relying on a discussion of Disraeli, Said notes that the East is not simply in existence due to some idea constructed by the West.  Each have their own histories and customs, Second, these customs and histories are not to be fully understood without a comparative analysis of power.  Lack of power by one group makes the labeling process possible by which the othering group is enabled to make labels stick.  In this instance there is a history of relative power between East and West and this enabled the othering process.  Third, within othered identity there is always a certain amount of reality.

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