Literature Study GuidesOrientalismChapter 3 Part 1 Summary

Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Chapter 3, Part 1 : Orientalism Now (Latent and Manifest Orientalism) | Summary



Said distinguishes between "latent" and "manifest" Orientalism in this section. Latent Orientalism refers to the background of Orientalism formulated in the 18th and 19th centuries that underpins later Orientalist ideas. This form of Orientalism does not change. In contrast, manifest Orientalism is how those latent traits are incorporated into modern Oriental policy. While latent Orientalism cannot change, manifest Orientalism can, and does. Latent Orientalism explains why throughout the history of Orientalism, the Orient was seen as a place "requiring Western attention, reconstruction, even redemption."

In the 19th century, the manifest theories of Orientalism were best explained through the "ideas about the biological bases of racial inequality." This formed the basis of how the colonial powers of Britain and France believed they had "penetrated and possessed the Orient." In essence, the long-standing ideas that the Orient was weak, subservient, and understood only as part of the West resulted in the colonial ideas of later centuries. Two mechanisms led to this: through the increase in the spread of knowledge about the Orient, and through the reduction in metaphysical and physical distance between the Orient and the Orientalists themselves. Regarding the second mechanism, there was a tension between latent and manifest Orientalism at the time. Orientalists began to advise the government on the Orient, effectively influencing public policy. Conflict occurred and was ultimately resolved as the "real" Orient collided with the latent Orientalist ideas, resulting in early 20th-century manifest Orientalism.


Said begins the section entitled "Orientalism Now" by stating how modern Orientalism is a "school of interpretation." He goes on to describe how this school of interpretation is structured through latent and manifest Orientalism. If Orientalism is a school of interpretation, it is then able to become a product of "political forces." This "political product" is what the majority of people then experience as Orientalism.

By dividing Orientalism into "latent" and "manifest" Orientalism, Said is able to describe how it is possible for the basis of Orientalism to remain the same, while the details that allow it to be manipulated for political purposes can change, depending on the period or the nation. He says the development of latent Orientalism is what allowed the creation of such ideas as "second-order" or "social Darwinism," which categorized and ranked cultures and societies based on race.

Thus, it was from these "latent" desires of conquest and Oriental inferiority that the modern political relationship with the Orient was framed. Said supports this through a discussion of the political climate in Britain and France regarding the Orient, exemplified by their "carving up the Near Orient ... into spheres of influence" following World War I. Latent Orientalism thus explains why during this period, the British and French saw themselves as having "traditional entitlement" over the Orient. The difficulty during this period, however, was the collision between the traditional latent, academic Orientalism and the modern manifest, policy-oriented Orientalism. The result was occasional contradictions as the "essential" Orient was conversely refuted and supported by policy-advising Orientalists. While Said has emphasized the differences between English and French Orientalism up to this point, he suggests the difference between latent and manifest Orientalism is of greater importance.

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