chapter  5
22 Pages

Singapore, Southeast Asia and the place of orientalism

ByLEONG YEW

Introduction Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism has, by now, become a particularly familiar framework with which scholars have used to analyse, explain or characterize how area knowledge – especially of that part of the world called the Orient – has come to be constituted. Traditionally, the way individuals have understood or attempted to study geographical areas and regions has been shaped largely by positivism and empiricism, thus leading to the assumptions that objective and universal truths about these places could be uncovered and accurately represented. Orientalism’s usefulness, then, lay in its ability to dismantle these assumptions by uncovering power relationships, such as between power and knowledge, between a more powerful observing subject and a weaker subordinate object. Ultimately, the Orient is not a passive, lisible object waiting to be represented, but was imaginatively created and willed out of the observer’s preconceived fantasies, anxieties and stereotypes of these places.1