Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Edward Said (2): CDA, Imperialism, and Historical Contextualisation

“Western imperialism and Third World nationalism feed off each other”
Edward Said (Culture and Imperialism; xxvii)

CDA, Imperialism, 'Us' vs. 'Them' constructions
Culture and Imperialism is a strong account of more contemporary cultural hegemony and the making of American empire by controlling and defining virtual geographies of people’s mentalities and cultural perceptions rather than the more traditional occupation of actual geographies. Needless to say that from a CDA point of view all these more recent cultural controls have an inherent and indispensible discursive characteristic and control over cultural understanding and the distribution of “information” are primarily –if not exclusively- practiced through some sort of symbolic communication and of course its more classic and common notion; control over the production, distribution over “language” and its apparatus: mass media. Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism may not care to adopt terminologies similar to that of CDA but the notions and arguments can not be put forward without similar logics and conceptualisations of CDA studies.
Regarding imperialism he argues that “at some very basic level, imperialism means thinking about, settling on, controlling land that you do not posses, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others” (5)

“‘imperialism’ means the practices, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory; ‘colonialism’ which is always a consequence of imperialism, the implanting of settlements on distant territory. As Michael Doyle puts it: ‘Empire is a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social, or cultural dependence. Imperialism is simply the process or policy of establishing or maintaining an empire’” (8)

"Neither imperialism nor colonialism is a simple act of accumulation and acquisition. Both are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination: vocabulary of nineteenth-century culture is plentiful with such words as concepts as ‘inferior’ or subject races’ subordinate peoples’, ‘dependency’, expansions’, and’ authority’.” (8)

In the discussion on how the 'imagined' societies are created and maintained he emphsizes the role of ‘narratives’ in the process;

“The nations are narrations. The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them. Most important, the grand narratives of emancipation and enlightenment mobilized people in colonial world to rise up and throw off imperial subjections; in the process, many European and Americans were also stirred by these stories and their protagonists and they too fought for new narratives of equality and human community” (Culture and Imperialism xiii)

Yet he maintains that these identities should never be classified in binary or either/or categories although “Western imperialism and Third World nationalism feed off each other” as to extreme ends of such identities, yet even “at their worst they are neither monolithic nor deterministic, besides, culture is not monolithic either, and is not the exclusive property of East or West, or of small groups of men or women.” (xxvii)

On a similar note he argues that such binary classifications as a modernistic product are gone now and the changes in monolithic approaches towards Orient with Orientalist mentality and uni-directional anti imperialistic nationalism or “Nativism”. Such an assumption is widely open to controversies as the more recent dichotomous binaries seem to have reproduced themselves once more –after the first world wide round of nationalist movements in the colonial world resulting in colonized countries to gain their independence- in the form of construction of ‘national identities’ with sharp emphasis on ‘confrontation’ and aggression where one side of the equation seem to be US (or the West as one single entity!) and countries of “south”. Examples include Iran vs. US as an official political standoff among an even increasing social “resistance” in several other Middle Eastern countries, and some countries with “anti-imperialistic”, “nativist” ideologies in South America and Africa.

Said maintains that the mechanism of authority and power has changed recently and argues that;

“Gone are the binary oppositions dear to nationalist ad imperialist enterprise. Instead we begin to sense that old authority cannot simple be replaced by new authority, but that new alignments made across borders, types, nations, and essences are rapidly coming into view, and it is those new alignments that now provoke and challenged the fundamentally static notion of identity that has been the core of cultural thought during the era of imperialism.” (xxiii)

He talks about the classic “us” versus “them” categorisation based on what constitutes “us” and them and yet maintains that “all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic” He maintains that this is as true for contemporary United States as it is of modern Arab world and criticises the fact that some nativist and “nationalist” anti colonial discourses tap on creation of a narration of monolithic identity whose core element is being anti imperialistic (e.g. official discourse of Iran right after 1979 revolution and the recent turn of the ‘neo revolutionary' discourse of Ahmadinejad’s discourse)

He criticises that on the other side of the spectrum also the ‘nationalist’ and ‘nativist’ discourses tap on dichotomisation of “us” vs “them” in postcolonial world and dismisses that “defensive, reactive, and even paranoid nationalism is, alas, frequently woven into the very fabric of education, where children as well as older students are taught to venerate and celebrate the uniqueness o their traditions (usually and invidiously at the expense of others)”(xxix)
He maintains that the supremacist ideologies are not tolerated in any form and that is why the “white” masters were challenged and subsequently were driven out of colonies after which a strong nativist discourse prevailed which emphasized on independence and local resources with ostensibly harsh and aggressive tone (similar to Iran’s revolution and its strong anti imperialistic discourses, denouncing dependence on any foreign power with a strong discourse of “self-sufficiency”, closing off the borders and getting rid of any evidence of “foreign powers” presence in the country be it, in economy, art, literature, politics, or life style and returning back to more traditional local ways of life and structure, the same theme incorporated by Gandhi in terms of turning away from the empire and relying on local modes of life and commerce-which of course was not supported by political leaders of independent India like Nehro but was pretty much an important launching platform of anti colonial movement towards independence of India)

Izadi and Saghaye-Biria (2007) try to frame and categorise of the Orientalist elements in discourses against Iran and its nuclear energy ambitions in American press. They try to incorporate some elements of quantification with some -half hearted- discourse analysis which in turn does not seem to make their case very well particularly as far as an actual ‘discourse analysis is concerned. However, it opens up to a critical literature concerning Iran as the article is particularly rich in covering theories and accounting for the socio-political contextualisation of the case of Iran.

They draw on Heiss 2000 in their literature review where he discusses the role of Orientalism in the Us-Iran relationship during Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq of Iran in 1950s and argue that;

“ Iran was the first country to struggle to gain control of its oil industry. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, renamed The British Petroleum Company in 1954, was Britain’s largest overseas investment (British Petroleum Company, n.d.). According to Heiss (2000), “the end result of the Orientalization of Mossdeq was an increasingly rigid Anglo- American position on the oil crisis that eschewed compromise or concessions and ultimately saw removing him from office as the only acceptable course of action” (p184). Ultimately, the Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953, which toppled Mosaddeq, brought back the Shah after he was deposed and enabled Western companies to regain control of Iranian oil (Gasiorowski & Byrne 2004).” (Izadi and Saghaye- Biria 2007)

Said, however, dismisses a purely ‘nativist’ approach and finds such an approach very reactionary and not productive in a long run as he maintains that “conversely the triumphant natives soon enough found [and some did not!] that they needed the West and that the idea of total independence was a nationalist fiction designed mainly for what Fanon calls ‘nationalist bourgeoisie’ who in turn often ran the new countries with a callous, exploitative tyranny reminiscent of the departed masters” (20) Similarly in another section he maintains that “ After years of supporting for anti-colonial struggles in Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, Palestine, Iran which came to represent for many Western intellectuals their deepest engagement in the politics and philosophy of anti-imperialist decolonization, a moment of exhaustion and disappointment was reached. One began to bear and read how futile it was to support revolutions, how barbaric were the new regimes that came to power, how-this is an extreme case- decolonization had benefited ‘world communism’” (30)

Said; Historical contextualisation and Interdiscursivity

Said accentuates the role history and lay out of the historical contexts in order to understand and analyze the ideologies of orientalism, colonialism, and imperialism and their contra theories while maintaining that no discourse can be understood fully if it is not juxtaposed among the neighbouring discourses. (72)

Quite similar to CDA text analysis he maintains that in reading a text “one must open it out both to what went into it and to what it author excluded. Each cultural work is a vision of a moment, and we must juxtapose that vision with the various revisions it later provoked….We must connect the structures of a narrative to the idea, concepts, experiences from which it draws support…There is no such a thing as a direct experience, or reflection, of the world in the language of a text.” (79)

He uses the terms ‘narratives’ and ‘discourses’ in a rather confused way and at times interchangeably while due to his expert field of study he places a centrality on the role of ‘novel’ and argues that novels played a central role in constructing the authoritative repertoire of imperialism and vice versa;

“Without empire, I would go as far as saying, there is no European novel as we know it, and indeed if we study the impulses giving rise to it, we shall see the far from accidental convergence between the patterns of narrative authority constitutive of the novel on one hand, and on the other, a complex ideological configuration underlying the tendency to imperialism… The novel is fundamentally tied to bourgeois society” (82)

While scholars seem to agree that ideologies are reproduced and redefined in the language, there seem to be less solid scholarly work to show that “correction” in the language and discourse can “fix” and change the ideologies widespread in the society. Said also deals with the same criticism that discourse analysts sometimes face, that is to aks if discourse and language is the mere cause of the ideologies. Similarly Said dismisses the idea that novels are the only element in creating an ideology while he accentuates the role of language and control of the discourse in qualities of the ideologies at work;

“I am not trying to say that the novel- or the culture in the broad sense- ‘caused’ imperialism, but that the novel, as a cultural artefact of bourgeois society, and imperialism are unthinkable without each other. Of all the major literary forms, the novel is the most recent, its emergence the most datable, its occurrence the most Western, its normative pattern of social authority the most structured; imperialism and the novel fortified each other to such a degree that it is impossible, I would argue, to read one without in some way dealing with the other” (84)

“The capacity to represent, portray, characterize, and depict is not easily available to just any member of just any society; moreover, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in the representation of ‘things’, while allowing for considerable individual freedom, are circumscribed and socially regulated….representation itself has been characterized as keeping the subordinate subordinate and inferior inferior” (95).

He gives examples of changes in policy of representation of women and 'other' races in order to shape and mend the negative or inferior representations of them as successful examples of such “surgical” practice; evidence to support that representations through any system of symbolisation among them linguistic (discourse, language, novels) matter significantly.

The same argument is put forward is CDA studies in which the role of discourse and language in proliferating ideologies is essential in not only spreading certain ideologies (which is a very important process in itself) but also in reconstructing and re/producing it (specially with the discursive level of modern societies and the central role of consensus making practices in political decision making of the late modern societies with secular democracies).

Said, E. (1993) Culture and Imperialism, Random House, London.

Izadi, F. and Saghaye-Biria, H. (2007) A Discourse Analysis of Elite American Newspaper Editorials. Journal of Communication Inquiry. Volume 31/2, 140-165.


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