Social Scientist. v 16, no. 158 (July 1986) p. 1.

Graphics file for this page
Editorial Note

THE CURRENT number of Social Scientist is devoted to a discussion of Edward Said's work Orientalism and of themes thrown up by it. Many readers may ask : why devote a whole issue of the journal to a topic which is both esoteric, as well as, for most of us, fairly opaque ? Our answer is that Said's work has a wider relevance than merely for the narrow circle of scholars interested in the theme of orientalism per se ; not surprisingly, it has already generated a considerable amount of debate in several circles. Since we believe that one of our major tasks is to bring to our renders a whiff of contemporary debates on influential pieces of writing, devoting a whole issue of the journal to the debate around Said's book seems eminently worthwhile.

The importance of Said's work is dt two distinct levels. At one level it touches on crucial aspects of the relationship between imperialism and culture. It is a reinterpretation of the epistemological projections of nineteenth century Orientalist texts, in the course of which Said both unravels the systematic production of a "discourse" identified as Orientalism, and shows its links with the process of European imperialist subjugation of other societies. At another level. Said raises questions both wider and more general. His perception of "texts" as springing from a will-to-power, his emphasis that "discourse" is produced, that it is "at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures", his assertion that fields and disciplines emerge not as a "natural" phenomenon but as a result of selections, prohibitions and sanctions, his view of the interdependence between power and knowledge, and his endorsement of the "adversary" role of the intellectual "within his discipline and its institutional supports", are all indicative obviously of a general epistemological stance which is important in its own right and deserves serious attention.

The lead article by Rashmi Bhatnagar discusses the relationship between Said and Foucault. While Said's debt to Poucault is significant, is admitted by Said himself, and is most evident in his use of "Foucauldian" concepts like "discourse", it is the points of difference between the two which deserve particular notice. The contrast between Foucault's anti-humanism which goes with his exclusively theoretical activism, and Said's self-styled humanism and opting for an "interventionist critical practice" derives according to the paper from" their respective historical positions,

Back to Social Scientist | Back to the DSAL Page