Orientalism, Occidentalism and Knowing about Others

Stein Tønnesson (Oslo).

Assuming there really is something we may call a Western cultural hegemony or cultural imperialism, then 'orientalism' is its literary and social scientific form, and 'occidentalism' is a programme for revenge.

Asians and Europeans who study each other are at the same time agents and students of the relationship between East and West. It can, no doubt, be an exchange based on equality and mutual respect, but the danger always exists that studies and research programmes in Europe, the United States, and Australia will represent a continuation of an Orientalist tradition of cultural domination and, consequently, that research centres based in Asia will try to formulate some kind of 'genuinely' Asian approach to culture and science, in opposition to the basic ideas of the Occident.

The present article shall be dedicated to a reflection on the relationship between East and West and the role of researchers and intellectuals in that relationship. Research publications and conferences are today an enormous growth industry and play an increasingly important role in cultural as well as political and economic exchanges between states and regions. Students and researchers in humanities and social sciences cannot conceive of themselves as standing outside the processes they are studying. By virtue of doing what they do they are active participants in the formation of the future of East-West, North-South and global culture.