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Occident Orient Research Network (2009-14)

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About the network:

This international research network (2009-14) joined together academics from the global community in an ongoing project, which considers the history of European Orientalisms; that is, the history of thinking about, representing und utilising images, associations and materials associated with the so-called Orient within European culture from the Enlightenment to the present day. Beginning with Germanophone Orientalism (a traditionally neglected, though since well commentated topic) the network has evolved to draw in Central and Eastern European forms of Orientalism into a unique and unprecedented comparative discussion.

The network was established in 2009, and was first envisaged by Dr James Hodkinson (Warwick Universty, GB), Professor Anil Bhatti (JNU, India). Other partners now including Dr Johannes Feichtinger and Dr Johann Heiss (ÖAW, Vienna) and Professor Shaswati Mazumdar (Delhi University), soon joined as key organisational players in the network, followed other academic participants in Berlin, London and North America. Since 2010, the network has aimed to hold one international symposium per year. 

The network has been generously funded by the 'Strategic Partnership Fund' and the 'Department of German Studies' at the University of Warwick; Delhi University Department of Germanic and Romance Studies; Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna); and Birkbeck College, University of London.

The network produced joint publications dedicated to the reassessment, extension and refinement of the concepts of Orient and Occident for the humanities and social sciences. In autumn 2013, a edited volume of essays was published by Camden House USA:


James Hodkinson, John Walker, Shaswati Mazumdar, Johannes Feichtinger (eds), Deploying Orientalism in Culture and History. From Germany to Central and Eastern Europe (Rochester and NY: Camden House, 2013).

Symposium Three, May-June, 2012, Warwick University, IGS Birmimgham, GB.
Out of Orientalism: Strategies of Response and Avoidance 

The symposium is to examine how discourses, texts and other cultural artefacts can be seen to embody differing forms of response to prevailing Orientalist discourses, be that through explicit criticism, manipulation or inversion of Orientalist tropes and modes by establishing alternative modes of conceiving Occident and Orient. And if texts produced within ideologically charged Orientalist discourses or contexts actually avoid Orientalist tropes, strategies and paradigms, then what does that avoidance mean? We shall consider a wide range texts across European cultures, texts produced within the (geo-cultural) Orient, and indeed texts normally considered outside of these traditions (critically or otherwise) asking how to Orientalisms as they emerged, or retrospectively. Specific foci will be:

  • In which texts, contexts and traditions were responses to Orientalism generated/ provoked, and why?
  • Which writers, texts, traditions, cultural artefacts, which/who are not conventionally considered as belonging to the Orient or (Western) Orientalist tendencies, can be seen nevertheless to offer a response to Orientalism?
  • What forms of response to Orientalism were generated: direct criticism, indirect critical strategies of remodelling and deconstructing Orientalism, the presentation of alternative or contrasting paradigms, the appropriation and manipulation of Orientalism?
  • If texts produced within ostensibly Orientalist contexts demonstrate an avoidance of Orientalist tropes and modes, then what does that avoidance mean?
  • With what effect (and effectiveness) were strategies of responses and avoidance followed – did they challenge or, ironically, perpetuate Orientalisms?
  • In what ways and to what extent can discourses of what has become known in the last two decades as Occidentalism (defined variously by Carrier, Buruma & Margalit) be thought of as relating/ responding to Orientalism? Can Occidentalism be seen as a special instance of the much wider phenomenon of boundary construction/ identity formation (of which Orientalism is just another particular instance).
Symposium Two, April 2011, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna.
Relocating Orientalism between East and West

The conference looked at processes of demarcation by which Orients were defined: what were borders, what were frontiers, how were these drawn and with what consequences? Were Orients the realm of origins, the cradles of civilization, or virgin territory to be (re)defined by and civilized by Europeans?

Scholars representing a wide range of disciplines spoke about Austrian, German, Russian, Czech and Hungarian Orientalisms. Each test case showed both similarities in how Orients were constructed and functioned, though pointed also to how variations in time, space and nationhood and personal identity/ circumstance (exile, migration, colonial endeavour, travel) could alter the specific locus and function of any given Oriental construction.

From the closing discussion, it became apparent that a new sense of the breadth and complexity of Orientalisms across European history was beginning to emerge. The Orient was much wider, both geographically and in terms of its textual corpus, than conventional models had suggested. Scholars working on lesser known modes of Orientalism appeared to be working in isolation, and a context for connecting these apparently disparate areas of research was needed. In particular, an absence of commentary on how Orientalisms were deployed historically, and on their subsequent Wirkungsgeschichte, was noted by contributors. On this basis, a volume of essays was envisaged and possible themes for a third symposium were floated.

Symposium One, January 2010, Delhi University, India.
‘... Zwischen zwei Welten schwebend’ – Hovering between Two Worlds. Non-Antagonistic Relationships, Communication and Transfer between East and West in Culture and History.

The symposium began with Anil Bhatti’s presentation ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’: whilst criticizing Said’s eye for detail and the simplifications of his findings (as well as his neglect of most forms of Orientalism other than the French and the British), Said’s work remained an important attempt to show through polemic how, in encounters, the self’s (Europe’s) knowledge of the other (Asia/ Africa) was never innocent, but was always self serving in some way.

Throughout the conference, papers considered and reconsidered the integrity of categories such as occident and orient, colonised and colonist: they were found to break down, to dissolve, only to reassert themselves: Said ‘came’ and ‘went’. In papers on missionary work, travel writing, shared city spaces, autobiography and poetic experiments in interculturalism (Goethe) a wide range of textual cases from the long nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were considered.

From the closing remarks a second symposium was planned. Papers by Feichtinger, Heiss and Köves in particular had pointed to the fact that different models of the Orient were constructed in different times and places: the Orient shifted, could be expanded, and often was, depending on the cultural-historical context. Questions as to whether the Orient, or fixed spaces within it, were transitional, shared, partitioned, colonised and/ or controlled were also left open. In the light of this, it was decided to hold the second symposium under the title ‘Relocating Orientalism’.