Category Archives: Research

Edward Said’s Orientialism

Orientalism was itself  a product of certain political forces and activities.

Said wrote this in 1978, but fast-forward to 2015 and we can easily substitute Orient for Middle East or Islam or Arab. None of these terms point to an objective Truth; rather, they are the subjective signifiers of some “other” culture, whose only common definition among a random sampling of 10 people might be that they “aren’t us.” In the context of the humanities, Oriental art and literature are not some imperfect versions of European or American works produced people who are imperfect versions of “us” and need some kind of rescue.

It is an intellectual, rather than political, colonization of regions of the world we aren’t ready to admit we know a whole heck of a lot about. Said Said: “My contention is that Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West, which elided [associated] the Orient’s difference with its weakness” (61).

Consider Nietzsche’s version of truth: ideas “which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people…illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are” (60). In this case, it’s not a matter of forgetting, but never knowing. Students in world literature or art classes never knew a time in which Middle East or Islam or Arab didn’t have a mountain of obligatory ideas surrounding the terms.

In essence, it’s a system in which the identities of ours/us is always opposite theirs/them. Foucault contends that there is no normal without an abnormal; if we settle upon Orientalism being a way to comfortably label an “Other” culture, then we place ourselves in the realm of the normal. It is a refusal (whether intentional or not) to identify this culture with our own—to reduce a group of human beings to an idea that can be studied and dissected, rather than seeing individuals who do share common bonds with us.

Source: Said, Edward. (1995). Extracts from Orientalism. In A. Easthope & K. McGowan (Eds.), A critical and cultural theory reader (pp. 55-61). Toronto, ON: Toronto University Press. (Reprinted from Orientalism, by E. Said, 1978, New York: Random House.)

Negative Feedback, Effectively

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From Harvard Business Review – Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give

What is clear is the paradox our data reveal, no matter how we slice them. People believe constructive criticism is essential to their career development. They want it from their leaders. But their leaders often don’t feel comfortable offering it up. From this we conclude that the ability to give corrective feedback constructively is one of the critical keys to leadership, an essential skill to boost your team’s performance that could set you apart.

Transformational Leadership

My PhD work at Clemson involved a great deal of organizational theory, and I ran across a quick motivational photo on LinkedIn that reminded me of Bernard Bass’ Transformational Leadership model.

Here’s the image:

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Though not verbatim, these 5 characteristics best describe Transformational Leadership (TL).

First, let’s explain what TL is not. It isn’t charismatic leadership – bending the will of your employees or colleagues by sheer force of charm or mesmerizing them. I saw this sort of leadership at play in a former career, where everyone was jumping on the bandwagon to take the FranklinCovey seminars and become masters of their day-planners. It was a charismatic movement. Individuals were trained by the FranklinCovey staff and given a captive audience of colleagues to teach. These trainers became gurus, and inspired their students to become trainers as well. The focus seemed to be more on the process, product sold, and the individual teaching moreso than the content or mastery itself.

So what is Transformational Leadership?

It is based on 4 moral components:

  1. Inspirational motivation
  2. Idealized influence
  3. Individualized consideration
  4. Intellectual stimulation

It is further based on 3 moral aspects:

  1. Moral character
  2. Ethical values
  3. Morality of the process

I remember a quote from a case study: the purpose of the leader is to “enable others to thrive.” Not to cast the spotlight on oneself. The focus is on the process and the goals, getting there as a team, and activating team members’ higher-order needs.