Submited by: Amanda Jarrett
Knowledge is power. This saying circulates as a way to encourage individuals to pursue knowledge. This saying encourages individuals in the West to learn more about the world in a specific way. This Western saying arrives in the ‘third’ world as a way for Westerners to improve the locals by assisting them in obtaining a certain perception of knowledge. This type of knowledge inherently places the ‘third’ world as less than the West.
This positionality and power comes from the representation and control over knowledge production. The West demonstrates its power over the ‘Other’ by shaping their reality through circulating knowledge that favors Westerners. To examine this relationship further, texts from Fiske, Said, Harindranath, and Kincaid will be explored.
Fiske’s “Act Globally, Think Locally” will be used to highlight the impacts of imperialism and how certain representations affect reality by examining his critique of news reporting and map production. Said’s “Orientalism” will be used to inspect the concept of orientalism and the role colonialism had in its creation. Specifically, he shows how British and French colonization presented knowledge and the role of political knowledge.
Harindranath’s “One Global Culture or Many?” will be used to expand on colonialism influence on global structures. Additionally, it will be used to discuss the effects of capitalism and its representation of culture through the production of non-Western music. Lastly, Kincaid’s “A Small Place” will be used to amplify the previous arguments through confronting how the West reasserts their dominance through their production of knowledge—the English language and the explanation of history through Western eyes.It is important to explore the relationship between power and knowledge through these different aspects because it exposes the ways in which this relation shapes the reality, positionality, and culture of the ‘Other.’
Throughout Fiske’s text, he discusses how knowledge production impacts representation. Firstly, he examines using the strategy of ‘othering.’ This allows for the West to represent their power within the ‘Other,’ which “isn’t just a semantic sleight of hand but a material exercise of power” (Fiske, 278). Specifically, Fiske shows how this imperial knowledge produces a certain representation and is then produced into knowledge that shapes individual’s views through observing a CBS broadcast.
He describes how the images that were shown of the ‘third’ world were ones of sick, starving children. This is an example of miniaturizing reality by only showing one part of reality. The images are displayed of US soldiers generously at work helping the refugees (Fiske, 279). This presents the absence of reality of the US soldiers because it only shows their benevolence and not the true reason of them being there, which was to drop bombs.
This representation then situates the U.S in a position of power because the ‘third’ would be useless and undefined without the involvement of a ‘first’ world country. This sets up a certain imperializing knowledge, saying that the ‘third’ world “cannot be represented in its own terms” (Fiske, 279). Additionally, Fiske examines how map making privileges imperial powers.
“Maps are powerful discourse, for they bring together science and representation to function as explicit instruments of control” (Fiske, 281). This allows for the relation between physical territory and reality to be merely a suggestion. Specifically, with Mercator’s depictions of the world, maps are used as tools to empower Europe by adjusting the distances on the map to be more convenient to travelers and military.Also, the flattening of a map just so happened to enlarge the land masses in which European countries were magnified (Fiske, 282). This then set the tone for Eurocentric knowledge which then aided Europe’s positional power through the world through representation.
Although Fiske describes ‘othering,’ Said places a name to the act. Orientalism was a term created during the colonial period that ensured the West’s superiority throughout the world. As a way to reduce the reality of the ‘Other,’ the West attempts to group the rest of the world as a hegemonic culture. This then ignores the Orient’s history and renders it insignificant, which advances the West’s power over them by reducing the amount of knowledge produced from the ‘Other.’
Additionally, Said discusses how there is no such thing as pure political knowledge. All knowledge that is produced is inherently bias, either by the one who authored it or by the cultural lens of those who interpret it (Said, 11). This is further demonstrated through British imperialism. The knowledge that the British produced about their colonialization heavily favored their actions and was used to justify their actions.This production of knowledge, that was then taught, was a “glaring parallel…between power and knowledge in the modern history of philology” (Said, 343). Britain’s representation of itself produced through obscuring history to their imperial will position them in a place of power.
Colonialism paved the path to globalization that has been shaped by the exploitation of the ‘third’ world. Harindranath advances the arguments of Fiske and Said by saying “There is, thus, a widespread ignorance of the non-metropolitan situations in metropolitan knowledge production on globalization that, ironically, claims to speak for and include the entire globe” (Harindranath, 12). The West claims to have knowledge that represents the entirety of global culture but instead universalizes its own.
This reasserts the West’s function as the colonizer and the ways they affected local and cultural practices throughout the world (Harnindranath, 23). To highlight this further, capitalism instigates asymmetric knowledge about cultural capital by ignoring cultural realities of communities outside the Western dominance (Harindranath). The West transforms “The ‘Third World’ into objects of consumption [which] dilutes the challenges and potentially radical consequences of cultural and scholarly production from the non-metropole” (Harindranath, 16).
By discounting the ‘third’ world as anything other than a means of capital, it strips them even further by diminishing their ability to be heard. Another way for the West to marginalize and profit off of the ‘third’ world is by reducing their culturally and politically charged music to something that is marketable as ‘worldly music,’ which then removes the “specific historical, cultural and political resonance of cultural production” (Harindranath, 16). Moreover, this positions the West’s culture and society above the ‘third’ world by limiting their representation throughout the world and therefore minimizing their potential positionality and power within it.
Kincaid delivers an impactful insight on the effect of colonialism on non-metropolitan, ‘third’ world countries by examining the usage of the English language and the purpose of the library in Antigua that was built by Westerners. Firstly, in order for her voice to be heard by the West, she must write in the language of the West—English. “For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime?” (Kincaid, 31-32).
Kincaid points out the irony of writing in the English language because it reinforces the power of the West over the ‘third’ world by suppressing her ability to express herself in her native tongue. She examines the ways in which knowledge is produced in the West and how for her to be understood she must submit to the West’s power over knowledge circulation.
Furthermore, the production of knowledge from the West is largely printed in English which allows them to express only the goodness of their deeds of colonialization (Kincaid, 31). To build off her point of Western dominance in knowledge production, Kincaid describes the purpose of the Antiguan library. The library is filled with Western knowledge and understanding of events and pushes that knowledge onto the locals, disallowing them to comprehend their own history from their point of view. Kincaid states: “You distorted or erased my history and glorified your own” (Kincaid, 36). This highlights the ways in which the West controlled knowledge and its representation to ensure their positional power over the ‘third’ world.
In conclusion, these four texts examine the many different ways in which power and knowledge are related. Published sporadically throughout many years, they have a common theme that runs through them. The West has largely shaped the understanding of the world today by bending reality in their favor, whether that be through knowledge of reality, their positionality, or culture. All of which can be observed through colonialization and globalization. These different aspects highlight and heighten the power that the West has over the Orient and how the ways on which they produce knowledge perpetuates this relation.
The Distinct Impacts of Transnationalism and Neocolonialism
Some people think that ignorance is bliss. As someone who drinks up knowledge, I find that ignorance is really a box that prevents one from the great adventure of learning. Since arriving at college, my mind has been opened to a plethora of topics, all of them challenging the original notions I once had about the structure of the world. Ignorance was no longer an option. Specifically, I have found that this class has unmasked subjects that the typical individual does not think of: topics ranging from tourism, to colonialization, to trafficking all the while dealing with the cultural and social aspects that usually remain unseen.
Though all the topics we discussed in class were eye opening in their own ways, two particularly stood out: transnationalism and neocolonialism. Both of them shattered my initial beliefs in their respective concepts and helped me explore the multiple, complex intricacies of each topic. Reading Schiller and Fouron’s “Georges Woke Up Laughing” and Kincaid’s “A Small Place” exposed new perspectives on what it means to be transnational migrant and a tourist. These texts significantly impacted the way I think about migrants—whether that be displaced persons, refugees, or trafficked persons—and my position as a tourist from a Western state.
In the text of Schiller and Fouron, they openly defy all existing notions that a migrant is someone who is uprooted and disconnected from their homeland. In reality, migrants actually have ties to both their homeland and the country they migrated to due to their obligation to their nation, which is not limited to borders. More specifically, the authors dive into the complexities of what it means to be a part of a diaspora.
A diaspora describes a group of people who were driven or forced away from their home and are in perpetual temporary displacement. These people have and strong confliction within themselves about their identity because they feel obligated to their new country but are also linked to their citizenship and family back home. They are in limbo with how they identify themselves and also how their new nation identifies them.
This conflict not only occurs with their national obligations and ties but also with their race and ethnicity. They are considered separate from the mainstream in their new country and are rejected from society, labeled as different. Additionally, what is commonly misunderstood about migrants is their obligation to their family.
“We trace those transnational patterns of obligation, as Haitians stake their claims on family settled in the United States. Family ties extending across national boundaries is a critical aspect of the ways may Haitians experience long distance nationalism. This is because for both Haitians in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, the fates of family and nation are directly and immediately related” (Schiller and Fouron, 60-61).
The common discourse of migrants is the wonderment of why they sent money back home. As can be seen here, their intimate relationship with their homeland and their family rely on the migrant’s success. If they fail, they are not only failing their family but also their country. Schiller and Fouron assisted in my understanding of what it means to be a migrant and that they are not limited to only one national identity. This impacted me heavily because I know I will be using the concepts from this book as a whole and applying it to my understanding of refugees.
The second text I chose had the largest effect on me. Before I read Kincaid’s text, I never considered the position of the tourist. She discusses the ways in which colonialism has positioned the economic and political status of Antigua, but it is neocolonialism that perpetuates their continuous position in the world. Though, her descriptions of the tourist themselves are what struck me the most. Three specific quotes from her text stood out to me the most. The first one being: Natives “envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself” (Kincaid, 19).
This passage spoke to me because it made me realize the position Westerners put locals in. We completely disregard their reality and day to day lives for a few pleasurable days. We consider their “heaps of death and ruin” as a place to real alive and free from out privileged lives (Kincaid, 16). The second piece from Kincaid’s text is: “It would amaze even you to know the number of black slaves this ocean has swallowed up” (Kincaid, 14).
This resonated with me because we often forget about how the Western world was built off the backs of slavery. This singular sentence caused me to think and mull over its meaning in silence, forcing me to relive a history that is not mine but has shaped mine. The last piece of text is in Kincaid’s final pages. She states: “Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings” (Kincaid, 81). This struck me as a significant passage because she deconstructs the images that she has been building up throughout the entire book and strips it down into something so simple. I find this symbolic because it is her way of saying that we are all just human beings and should not allow the past to define how we go about setting up our future.
To conclude, both of these texts—Schiller and Fouron and Kincaid—provided me with differing experiences, but equally impactful. With Schiller and Fouron, I plan on using the knowledge I obtained from their text and applying it to my future career. With my plan to work on policies that directly affect refugees and to do so effectively, it is important for me to fully understand the complex, multifaceted ways of viewing a migrant.
With Kincaid’s text, I plan to use her perspective of critique and apply it to readings in other classes. She opened my eyes to the underlying biases of scholarly text and helped me learn to read between the lines. Both of these texts have left an imprint on my perceptions of the world and encourages me to challenge dominant discourses.
“Act Globally, Think Locally.” From Power Plays Power Works, by John Fiske, pp. 277–285.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.
“One Global Culture or Many?” Perspectives on Global Cultures, by Ramaswami Harindranath, pp. 7–26.
Robbins, Bruce. “Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism.” From Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, 1998, pp. 1–15.
Said, Edward W. “Orientalism.” Orientalism, Pantheon Books, 1978.
Schiller, Nina Glick., and Georges Eugene. Fouron. Georges Woke up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. Duke Univ. Press, 2004.