Ortner Orientalism

Orientalism is a discourse that Ortner shapes her article around. Though she defines the explanatory model as one of the average European that plays a minor role in her explanatory framework. Not something you’d expect an Anthropologist to spend a lot of time on explaining. Though however minor the discourse is, it is central to what I see as her primary goal, which is too display the continuing value of Geertz’s conception of meaning as central to culture, and of Foucault’s conception of power as central to culture, and more importantly how these two ideas can be used in unison to create cultural constructions of agency.

I intend to make clear that though I agree with Ortner that Orientalism does play significant but minor role in the interpretation of culture through the eyes of Europeans, it is not confined solely to Europeans. I want to show that her concentration of what is involved inside the `box of agency’, and straying off from what/how the box is constructed (of) narrows her argument. By way of this, I want to make it evident that Orientalism is in fact a universal phenomenon.

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The Box of Agency Model Agency [image001.gif] Factors influencing boxes’ structure Ortner, in studying the relationship of the Sahib and Sherpa demonstrates how the conception of Orientalism is a world-view. She doesn’t assert it as a typical ethnographic model, as the theory on its own is not enough, but stresses it as a model which the average European (like the Sahib) may use for dealing and understanding the `other’ culture (in this case; Sherpa). Orientalism, though real and evident and apparently used as a form of control by the Sherpa, only plays a minor role and so the reasons for it must be observed and be considered.

In essence, the sum of all the parts is greater than the end result. She believes it is a one-sided phenomenon; she doesn’t believe Sherpa subscribe to a similar world-view. Orientalism explains the `other’ (only for the Europeans) by creating boundaries and comparisons to the Europeans culture; this can then be used as a Hegemonic device through power and meaning. Power and meaning are also central to this theory, and how these two factors work together to construct agency. She bridges power and meaning through applying the explanatory frameworks of Geertzs’ `refiguring the enterprise of anthropology around the idea of “meaning”‘ (cultural meaning), and Foucaults’ later model of `power and domination central to cultural theory.’

Then bridges them, to implicitly or explicitly show how these factors work side by side to define the cultural boundaries, as in the case of `mountaineering’ and `death’: “For the Sahibs the risk of death is what makes the sport glorious; for the Sherpas there is nothing noble about the risk at all…For the Sahibs, ordinary life pales before the intensity of mountaineering; for the Sherpa, mountaineering is simple the best-paying way to support ordinary life…” (p. 141)

This example, as well as highlighting her point of conflicting meanings for the Sherpa and Sahib, also clearly highlights a monetary motive for the Sherpa, which further clarifies the meaning of climbing for the Sherpa. Ortner briefly touches on the Political Economist explanation, recognising that the Sherpas’ motives are not of a challenge or even a game, but that involving oneself in the sport would be more profitable than some of the other occupations in the area: “…virtually all the evidence indicates that the Sherpas’ primary motive for climbing has always been money.” (p. 140)

Her insignificant concentration on the real Sherpa motivations, make her article seem unidirectional. It is the merging of these two cultures that creates this motivation for the Sherpa, yet she fails to address that the Europeans quest of mountaineering plays a major role in this incentive driven motivation. The Sahib requires the Sherpa to help, and so pay them, and the money is good compared to other occupations in the surrounding area. Looking at the ground level of a model such as the `box of agency’, we would see such important factors. Factors such as this need at least equal exposure in such an explanatory framework, and by failing to address the conflicting motives equally; we don’t get a valid appreciation of her `Meaning vs. Power’ model.