‘Othering’ in the Curriculum: the East vs. ‘the East'
An artist's illustration depicting Xerxes' alleged "punishment" of the Hellespont: Xerxes lash sea. Public Domain, Taken from 1909 Print.
Edward Said’s description of othering in his seminal work Orientalism (1979):
“What matters here is that Asia speaks through and by virtue of the European imagination, which is depicted as victorious over Asia, that hostile “other" world beyond the seas" (p. 56).
The work pointed out a critical need: to recognize the dominant, Eurocentric way of seeing the world, and work toward a knowledge system which privileges the perspectives of insiders.
Lila Abu-Lughod prods researchers out of complacency by pointing out the continued function of othering for maintaining power relations in processes of Western knowledge production:
“as long as we are writing for the West about the ‘other’ we are implicated in projects that establish Western authority and cultural difference."
Prominent narratives and/or representations of “the East" found in official curriculum, the media, historic texts, fiction and our collective imaginations pose significant challenges for teaching about the Middle East and Asia in an equitable way. The place of Islam, Muslims and Muslim communities in the curriculum convey important implications for U.S. society, including the impact of Islamophobia, which is on the rise. The purpose of this project is to develop materials with new, more ethical, ways of including and learning from “the other" (Subedi, 2010). These materials will allow room for questioning dominant narratives of gender and women’s rights in the ‘Third World’. We will revise existing materials and create new ones, re-implement the curriculum with revisions, and reflect on the processes in hands-on curriculum workshops.
A list of the most prominent stereotypes, rooted in European Imperialist narratives of ‘the Other’ is available on the PBS web site “Global Connections". What is the difference between a stereotype and a misrepresentation? How does one correctly represent ‘the other? More of a process of constant course correction in how we think about, speak of and engage with ‘the other’. Often we make the mistake of speaking of another community either in terms of our differences, or in a way which elides or smooths over the differences. Either way we are speaking about a concept of that group that is strictly ours. Without critical thought we speak of the other in a way which defines them by their differences (often framed as deficits), or projects our own worldview onto them.
So, what to do? Let’s get to the ‘hands on’ portion of this workshop, and look at some images of Saudi Arabia. First, what pops to your mind when I say ‘Saudi Arabia’? Write on notes. . .
Let’s look at some information on Saudi Arabia in this class exercise.
Connections to Ohio Curriculum Standards:
Content Statement 8 “Modern cultural practices and products show the influence of tradition and diffusion, including the impact of major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism)."
Reading informational texts: Content statement 7 “Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually and quantitatively) as well as in words to develop coherent understanding of a topic or issue." The classroom activities will explore “cultural diffusion", and dive into the meaning of “tradition" (Zimmer et al, 2014, p.115). The idea of “empire", how it has evolved, and what it means to diverse individuals and communities of the Middle East.
Zimmer, Jarrett, and Killoran (2014). Regions and Cultures of the Eastern Hemisphere, Text Book
Subedi, Binaya (2010). Critical Global Perspectives
 I recognize this term is problematic. I choose not to use the term “developing" to refer to the ‘Third World’ because it euphemistically subterfuges the actual reference to countries – most of them former European colonies – which are not inheritors of the wealth imperialism brought to Europe and her settler communities. The term developing implies that they simply need to submit to the model which is currently dominant, that they are currently developing their home version of it. I use ‘Western’ to refer to Europe and the countries Britain’s settler communities eventually governed independently, such as the U.S., Canada, South Africa and Australia.
June 27th, 2016