Orientalism: Legacies of a performance

Ziad Elmarsafy, Anna Bernard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Books, as Catullus reminds us, have fates of their own. Our concern is with the fate of one book, Edward Said’s Orientalism. To many, this seminal work is an enduring touchstone, a founding text of the field of postcolonial studies and a book that continues to influence debates in literary and cultural studies, Middle Eastern studies, anthropology, art history, history and politics. To others, however, Orientalism has serious failings, not least in blaming the wrong people - namely, Orientalists - for the crimes of European imperialism. Thirty-five years after its first edition, popular and academic reactions to Orientalism continue to run the gamut from enthusiasm to apoplexy. Yet few assessments of this work ask the ‘so what?’ question, addressing the book’s contemporary relevance without lionizing or demonizing its author. This is our aim in Debating Orientalism. Bridging the gap between intellectual history and political engagement, the contributors to this volume interrogate Orientalism’s legacy with a view to moving the debate about this text beyond the Manichean limitations within which it has all too often been imprisoned. Too much ink has been spilled on what Orientalism got right or wrong - especially in its historical and political registers - and too little on taking stock of its impact and building on that to appraise its significance to current debates in multiple fields. This book seeks to consider Orientalism’s implications with a little less feeling, though no less commitment to understanding the value and political effects of engaged scholarship.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDebating Orientalism
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781137341112
ISBN (Print)9780230303522
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


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