Culture and Imperialism

Culture and Imperialism (1993), by Edward Said, is a collection of thematically related essays that trace the connection between imperialism and culture throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The essays expand the arguments of Orientalism to describe general patterns of relation, between the modern metropolitan Western world and their overseas colonial territories."[1]

Culture and Imperialism
Culture and Imperialism.jpg
Cover of the first edition
AuthorEdward Said
PublisherChatto & Windus
Media typePrint


In the work, Said explored the impact British novelists such as Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, and Rudyard Kipling had on the establishment and maintenance of the British Empire,[2] and how colonization, anti-imperialism, and decolonization influenced Western literature during the 19th and 20th centuries.[3] In the beginning of the work, Said claims that the Daniel Defoe novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, set the precedent for such ideas in Western literature; the novel being about a European man who travels to the Americas and establishes a fiefdom in a distant, non-European island.[4]

As the connection between culture and empire, literature has "the power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging", which might contradict the colonization of a people.[5] Hence he analyzes cultural objects to understand how imperialism functions: "For the enterprise of empire depends upon the idea of having an empire . . . and all kinds of preparations are made for it within a culture; then, in turn, imperialism acquires a kind of coherence, a set of experiences, and a presence of ruler and ruled alike within the culture."[6]

Imperialism is "the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory."[7] His definition of "culture" is more complex, but he strongly suggests that we ought not to forget imperialism when discussing it. Of his overall motive, Said states:

"The novels and other books I consider here I analyze because first of all I find them estimable and admirable works of art and learning, in which I and many other readers take pleasure and from which we derive profit. Second, the challenge is to connect them not only with that pleasure and profit but also with the imperial process of which they were manifestly and unconcealedly a part; rather than condemning or ignoring their participation in what was an unquestioned reality in their societies, I suggest that what we learn about this hitherto ignored aspect actually and truly enhances our reading and understanding of them."[8]

The title is thought to be a reference to two older works, Culture and Anarchy (1867–68) by Matthew Arnold and Culture and Society (1958) by Raymond Williams.[9]

Said argues that, although the "age of empire" largely ended after the Second World War, when most colonies gained independence, imperialism continues to exert considerable cultural influence in the present. To be aware of this fact, it is necessary, according to Said, to look at how colonialists and imperialists employed "culture" to control distant land and peoples.


Edward Said was considered "one of the most important literary critics and philosophers of the late 20th century".[10] Culture and Imperialism was hailed as long-awaited and seen as a direct successor to his main work, Orientalism. While The New York Times review notes the book's heavy resemblance to a collection of lectures, it concludes that "Yet that telegraphic style does not finally mar either the usefulness of 'Culture and Imperialism' or its importance."[9] The book is seen as a "classic study",[11] and has influenced many later authors, books and articles.[12][13]

Philosopher and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner criticized Said for "exploiting Western guilt about imperialism."[14]


  1. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). p. xi.
  2. ^ Bernstein, Richard (2003-09-26). "Edward W. Said, Polymath Scholar, Dies at 67". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  3. ^ Hughes, Robert (1993-06-21). "Envoy to Two Cultures". Time. Archived from the original on October 4, 2009. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  4. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). p. xii.
  5. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). p. xiii.
  6. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). p. 11.
  7. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). p. 9.
  8. ^ Said, Edward (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books (Random House. p. xiv.
  9. ^ a b Gorra, Michael (1993-02-28). "Who Paid the Bill at Mansfield Park?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  10. ^ Tokaryk, Tyler (2003-09-26). "A bridge to the ivory tower: The legacy of Edward Said". CBC. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  11. ^ Pagden, Anthony (2002). The Idea of Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 336. ISBN 978-0-521-79552-4. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  12. ^ Rowe, John Carlos (2000). Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism. Oxford University Press, US. pp. xiii. ISBN 9780198030119. Retrieved 2008-10-21. My idea for this work owes much to Said's work in general and in particular to his remarks in Culture and Imperialism[...]
  13. ^ Young, Louise (1999). Japan's Total Empire. University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-520-21934-2. Retrieved 2008-10-21. There has been a recent explosion of work on culture and imperialism, largely inspired by Edward W. Said's pioneering study Orientalism[...], which was recently reformulated as Culture and Imperialism[...]
  14. ^ Cathcart, Brian (5 June 1993). "An academic row turns personal". The Independent. Retrieved 7 July 2017.

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