Imperialism and Today

There are difficulties that I have with our book, Political Geography, and Joe Painter and Alex Jefferey. This chapter is one of them. I appreciate that they have talked about Edward Said, as his work is one of the most important contributions to the subject of colonialism and imperialism and Orientalism. However, I don’t think that the book talks nearly enough about the long-standing effects of colonialism and imperialism. They are right in stating that it is not just economic subjugation, but there is a strong cultural aspect to foreign domination. From personal experience in studying abroad in India, Nepal, and China, the effects of Europeans and expansion on the world can be subtle to very apparent. Some of the most apparent examples I have are in India and Nepal. India was formally colonized and ruled by the British, but Nepal was never actually dominated formally. However, the book does bring up a good point with informal imperialism, although I feel that it is not enough. The book talks about its informal imperialism as the successor to colonialism after the dominating power has “left”, but I feel that it can also begin to describe dominating cultures that are not formally dominated. Such domination can occur through culture, knowledge, trade, politics, etc. but does not mean that a country came in and claimed territory. It is a more subtle, thorough domination. A previous ruler of Nepal spent time in a school in the UK, where he became obsessed with Western culture and brought back with him ideas of architecture and other things. He had architects design his palace in Kathmandu with a neoclassic look in mind, which varies greatly from the surrounding context and architecture, to make a statement that not only is he their ruler but to visitors and foreigners that he is educated and more ‘Westernized’ than others.

In the book, Painter and Jefferey talk about how the ‘Other’ has been sexualized, which was a topic discussed while I was in India. In one place, we were not allowed to meet the women students, as their parents were afraid they would run away with a white American boy. In their culture today, those that are white or fairer skinned are seen as attractive. Stores sell “fairness cream” to help women and men to have lighter skin complexions. This may be linked with British colonialism over the Indians for so long and changing their ideas on what is considered to be attractive for modern Indians. However, especially with the women students’ parents, you see a little of what the Bassin article was talking about with how some cultures and societies are resilient. The parents want their daughters to marry Indian boys. The same thing happened in Nepal, when I asked my host sister if her parents would be OK with her marrying outside her religion and possible a foreigner. She defaulted back to her parent’s wishes of possibly arranging a marriage for her.

To conclude, I would like to address something discussed in Huntington’s article. He states that civilizations have very real, and very basic, differences between them. Although there are some things that I could see where that applies, I would caution its use. That sort of thinking, where we are different, perpetuates Orientalism, which is damaging in terms of stereotypes and discrimination. In truth, and from personal experience, I am not that different from the friends I made and the people I met with while traveling. We may have different worlds, but we worry about the same things within different contexts.

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1 Response to Imperialism and Today

  1. resslerj says:

    Having appreciated a similar range of experiences to your own over the years, I’ve come to share a number of your concerns. One thing which is too often overlooked involves looking at “civilization” as more of a constantly active process rather than a static socio-cultural umbrella. In other words, “civilization” is both a noun and a verb – and, regardless of which way one looks at it, some are more far more predatory than others.

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