Decolonising Otherness

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
South East Asia Section

Module overview

This module is designed to introduce all first-year students of Languages and Cultures to ideas, theories and examples of the representation of Otherness. The overall aim is to introduce a greater degree of awareness and self-reflection in relation to their own study of “other” cultures.

The module begins by inviting students to consider their own experiences of “Otherness” that they bring to their interest in the geographical region on which they are focussed. What experiences, for example, of travel to other countries and engagement with other cultures and people from those cultures do they have. And how have these experiences shaped their understandings? What differences exist between the categories of tourist, traveller and student.

The module then goes on to introduce key terms and ideas that will be used to structure the subsequent discussions in the module. These include Edward Said and Orientalism; Colonialism; Postcolonial theory; and wider issues of the construction of knowledge, including a critical examination of the history of knowledge production at institutions such as SOAS.

Subsequent weeks explore specific images, texts and films that illustrate themes emerging from a consideration of these theoretical concepts. These may include works such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness ; Coppola's Apocalypse Now ; texts that explore themes of war and genocide, the ethics of aid and development; journalism, reportage; anthropology and ethnography, gender relations and the eroticization of the Orient. The geographical coverage of the texts will be in keeping with the regions taught in SLCL and will vary depending on staff available to team-teach this course from one year to the next.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Understand the key areas of how stereotyping of the Other is exemplified with reference to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
  • Understand how this stereotyping process inflects the way in which we study the region.
  • Be more aware of their own cultural positionality in the study of Otherness.
  • Be familiar with techniques of how to analyse cultural texts such as literary works and films.
  • Present short analyses of cultural texts orally.
  • Present written analyses of cultural texts.


10 weekly one hour lectures and 10 one-hour tutorials.

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered in this module typically include:

  1. Experiencing the Other.
    What experiences of travel to other countries and engagement with other cultures do we bring to our UG studies?
  2. Orientalism and Otherness: Introducing key terms and ideas.
    Edward Said; Colonialism; Postcolonial theory; the construction of knowledge; Colonial and postcolonial ethnic stereotyping
  3. Exploring the ‘Heart of Darkness’ (I): Conrad’s Africa
    Reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s commentary on the novel and Said.
  4. Exploring the ‘Heart of Darkness’ (II): Coppola’s Vietnam
    Analysing Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
  5. War and Genocide on film.
    Analysing films such as Hotel Rwanda, The Killing Fields, The Missing Picture; S21;
  6. Aiding the Other. The ethics of development and intervention
    Analysing films such as the Constant Gardner.
  7. Reporting the Other: Journalism on film
    Analysing films such as The Year of Living Dangerously; The Killing Fields
  8. Recording the Other: the role of anthropology on film.
    Analysing films such as The Good Woman of Bangkok; other anthro docs.
  9. Sexualising the Other: The eroticisation of the Orient.
    Analysing films such as The Letter; The Good Woman of Bangkok: The Quiet American; Indochine; The Lover
  10. Self-Orientalisation: How the Orientalist Gaze on the “East” is reworked in the “East” itself.
    Analysing films made in the region that adopt self-Orientalising strategies and visual effects, such Jan Dara.

The module will also attend to teaching essay writing skills. Reaction papers will provide preliminary feedback as preparation for longer essays. Students will be guided on how to structure essays and list references appropriately.

Method of assessment

  • 20% Reaction paper, 500 words
  • 40% Podcast, 3-5 minutes
  • 40% Essay, 1,000 words
  • Exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page.

Suggested reading

Core reading

All readings will be made available in electronic format on Moodle. They include:

  • Ascroft and Ahluwalia. 2001. Edward Said. London and New York : Routledge [Chapter 3 on Orientalism]
  • Said, Edward. 1995. Orientalism. New York: Penguin Books. (pp. 1-28)
  • Said Edward W.. 1993. ‘Two Visions in Heart of Darkness’. In Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto and Windus, pp. 20-35.
  • Chinhua Achebe. 1988. "An Image of Africa". In Conrad, J., & Kimbrough, R., 1988. Heart of darkness: An authoritative text, backgrounds and sources criticism (3rd ed.). New York ; London: W.W. Norton & Co..
  • Christina Klein. 2003. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961.University of California Press.
  • John Kleinen. 2004. "Framing the Other". In Srilata Ravi (ed.), Asia in Europe, Europe in Asia
  • Childs, Peter and Patrick Williams. 2006. An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory, Harlow: Pearson Education. Chapter 4.Loomba, Ania. 2005. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. (esp. sections on ‘hybridity’)
  • Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar (eds.), Visions of the East. Orientalism in Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Additional reading

  • Healy, Dana, ‘Laments of Warriors’ Wives: Re-gendering the War in Vietnamese Cinema’, in South East Asia Research, 14, 2, 2006, pp. 231-259.
  • Bradley, Mark, Contests of Memory: Remembering and Forgetting War in the Contemporary Vietnamese Cinema, in Hue-Tam Ho Tai (ed.), The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam, University of California Press, 2001, pp. 196-226.
  • Charlot, John, Vietnamese Cinema: The Power of the Past, The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 102. No. 406 (Oct.- Dec., 1989), pp. 442-452).
  • Charlot, John, Vietnamese Cinema: First View, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 22, 1 (March 1991), pp. 33- 62.
  • Westrup, Laurel, ‘Toward a new canon: The Vietnam conflict through Vietnamese lenses’, Film & History, 36.2, pp. 45- 51.
  • Hien, Nina. 2013. 'Reconfiguring the dunes'. Visual Anthropology. Vol. 26 Issue 3, 223-246.
  • Forsyth, Tim. What happened on ‘The Beach’? Social movements and governance of tourism in Thailand.
  • Hannigan, Tim. 2012. ‘How to write about Indonesia’. NewMatilda.
  • Sutcliffe, William. 1997. Are you experienced? London: Penguin. (classic backpacker satire – set in India)
  • Garland, Alex. 1997. The Beach. London: Penguin.
  • Barr, Emily. 2001. Backpack. London: Headline
  • Harrison, R. 2012. "Up the Congo River into Cambodia: Literary and Cinematic Journeys to the Dark." In Asian Affairs, Vol. 43, issue 1
  • Chao, Phebe Shih. 1997. “Reading The Letter in a Postcolonial World.” In Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar (eds.), Visions of the East. Orientalism in Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Marina Heung. 1997. "The Family Romance of Orientalism. From Indochine to Madame Butterfly." In Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar (eds.), Visions of the East. Orientalism in Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Christina Klein. 2003. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961. University of California Press. See in particular Chapter 6.
  • Panivong Norindr. 1996. Phantasmatic Indochina. French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature. Durham and London. Duke University Press. See in particular Chapter 5 and Chapter 6.
  • Julia Waters. 2006. Duras and Indochina: Postcolonial Perspectives. SFPS [There is only 1 copy of this book in the library.]
  • Chris Berry, Annette Hamilton and Laleen Jayamanne (eds.). 1997. The Filmmaker and the prostitute : Dennis O'Rourke's The good woman of Bangkok. Sydney: Power Publications.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules