Culture as an instrument of imperialism

Culture as an instrument of imperialism

Question: How does Edward W. Said show culture as an instrument of imperialism?

Or, discuss culture as an instrument of imperialism.


Edward Wadie Said (1935-2003) is considered to be one of the illustrious critics and philosophers of the late 20th century who has expounded the most critical concept in his collection of essays “Introduction to Culture and Imperialism” published in 1993 that there is a very subtle relationship between culture and imperialism. He looks into the relationship between culture and imperialism from a different angle as he has got different instruments of culture for imperialism.

The fundamental concept of culture

For well understanding “culture as an instrument of imperialism”, it is needed to go into deeply. First of all, the aspects of culture should be clarified. According to Edward Said, culture means two things in particular. It primarily means practices of arts and aesthetic forms. Second, culture is a concept of refining and elevating element and reservoir of the best in accordance with Matthew Arnold said in the 1860s. This fundamental concept of culture provides information that the natives of India, Africa, America, and so on could not preserve their arts and aesthetic forms that this why the imperialists could be able to be aggressive and searched for so-called civilization.

Fragile culture of the natives

At the very outset of the essay, Said says that the culture of the third world is very fragile which was the strength of the imperialists. The imperialists always left contest among the natives. Said considers that supine or inert natives were the main strength of the imperialists.

“These two factors-a general worldwide pattern of the imperial culture

and a historical experience of resistance against empire”

 Besides, the critic mentions that the people of the third world are mean-minded and conservative. On the other hand, the imperialists are so conceived and concerned. Thus, the culture of the overseas colonies became an instrument for the imperialists.

Click here: For all the notes of Literary Criticism

Ethical power of culture

The imperialists of Britain and France were so-called light bearers and makers of civilization. They went to spread the light of education and religion that was not only so-called but also namely to make the people of overseas colonies fool. In Said’s analysis, the search of trade and commerce and civilizing missions in India and Africa provided an ethical power to the colonialists but they went to the countries for looting and dominating. Despite this, they were unquestionable to the international community for almost two centuries due to their surface motives of civilizing and trade and commerce. Hence Said suggests checking culture before the entrance.

“Culture conceived in this way can become a protective enclosure:

check your politics at the door before you enter it.”

Literature as an institution of culture

It is universally accepted that literature is the mirror of society. Said opines though poetry, fiction, and philosophy teach how to practice and venerate culture, they discourse colonialism in an indirectly deep way. As a result, most professional humanists have been unable to connect between the prolonged practice of imperialism and the culture of literature. Here in this essay, Said especially talks about narrative fictions, novels, which play a vital role in the expansion of imperialism in a camouflage of culture.

“In thinking of Carlyle or Ruskin, or even Dickens and Thackeray, critics have often,

I believe, relegated these writers’ ideas about colonial expansion,”

He gives evidence by mentioning and illustrating sundry novels such as “Great Expectations” (1861) by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) which is primarily a novel of self-delusion or misconception about oneself but deeply it is a rogue one of practicing penal colony in Australia. “Nostromo” published in 1904 by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) regarding the proliferation and malformation of imperialism in the South American Republic allows the readers to see that imperialism is a system. Therefore, literary culture is an instrument of imperialism.

Immigrating culture

Immigrating culture is an instrument of post-colonial capitalism. Edward Said relates that imperialism exists even in the 20th century but not in the shape of the 18th and 19th centuries because in a fine of the essay he asserts:

“This is a book about past and present, about us and them.”

 It has changed its fervidity and character through capitalism and the globalization process. The people of the third world are immigrating to the capitalists’ countries in search of better fortunes that is also a strong token of subservience and separation.


To sum up, Edward Said is such a genius who reveals the secret of improved culture as the instrument of imperialism and capitalism in a convincing and fabulous way so that the countries of this universe can enjoy freedom and sovereignty being aware of the culture.

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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