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Immagini dell'ovest/immagini dell'est: pregiudizi, stereotipi e cliché nelle opere di Salman Rushdie e Amitav Ghosh

Zurru, Elisabetta (2011) Immagini dell'ovest/immagini dell'est: pregiudizi, stereotipi e cliché nelle opere di Salman Rushdie e Amitav Ghosh. [Doctoral Thesis]



Considerable attention has been devoted to the notions of stereotype, prejudice and clichés in different areas of research (sociology, psychology, gender studies, media studies, etc). To begin with, stereotypes are generally regarded as more or less fossilized “mental representations of the world” (Stangor, Schaffer 1996: 6). In this sense, they are linked to two other concepts: categorisation and representation. On the one hand, “social categorization is a natural phenomenon” (Stangor 2000: 2; my emphasis), just as “thinking in relation to categories is a necessary way of organizing the world in our minds [...] and negotiating our ways through it” (Pickering 2001: 2; my emphasis). On the other hand, “representations consist of words and images which stand in for various social groups and categories. They provide ways of describing and at the same time of regarding and thinking about these groups and categories” (ibid.: XIII; my emphasis). Therefore, it is a spontaneous phenomenon to categorise (viz. to assign certain traits to certain groups and consider those traits as inherent to those groups) the world and deploy those categories to represent (viz. describe and understand) it. However, stereotyping goes further than that. Indeed, while categories (and, consequently, the representations of those categories) are not fixed once and for all, stereotyping and stereotypes exaggerate the believes associated with a specific category and crystallise them, in the attempt to both “justify (rationalize) our conduct in relation to that category” (Allport 1954: 191) and “maintain these structures as they are, or realign them in the face of a perceived threat” (Pickering 2003: 3). In this sense “stereotypes function as a form of social control” (ibid.: 5). Secondly, prejudice can be regarded as an extension of stereotypes, in the sense that it also involves an emotional component (Allport 1954). In this light, it should be clarified that prejudice can be positive as well as negative, since people can be ready to think well of other people without any specific reasons that can justify this feeling. However, some specific types of prejudice, such as racial or ethnic prejudice, are usually negative. Ethnic prejudice can for example be defined as “an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization. It may be felt or expressed. It may be directed toward a group as a whole, or toward an individual because he is a member of that group” (ibid.: 9). In case it is expressed, it can be expressed both through non-verbal and verbal means, namely (generally negative) actions and linguistic indicators of “verbal rejection” (ibid.: 48-49). Finally, Zijderveld (1979: 10) defines clichés as fixed linguistic forms which, through constant usage and repetition, are deprived of their original meaning and tend to be deployed almost exclusively for their social function (for example, that of providing criteria for distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘them’). Indeed, the main function of clichés is to “bring people unobtrusively into a certain mood. They mould their mentality and attitude, and thus gradually prepare them to speak, to think, to feel and act in a specific direction. This direction is not clearly indicated by the cliché but by the wider semantic context in which it is used” (ibid.: 13). Stereotypes, prejudice and cliché, therefore, constitute specific forms of interpretation and description of the world, which rely on language for their circulation, constant deployment and, consequently, their constant strengthening. In other words, whenever I give my identity a shape through words, I concurrently (by comparison and/or exclusion) give shape to other people’s identity through the very same means of expression. This represents the preliminary stage to the diffusion of stereotypes, prejudice and clichés. Indeed, once verbalized, their circulation is dependent on many and varied channels, ranging from contact with other members of one’s social group (peers, teachers, parents, and so on) to the mass media. It is this pervasiveness which turns stereotypes, prejudice and clichés in a potential (and actual) source of negative consequences for the members of a targeted group (or for the group as a whole) and which explains the deep influence they can have on people’s lives (Stangor, Schaller 1996: 4; Stangor 2000: 323). One of the mass media through which prejudice, clichés and stereotypes have traditionally and massively been transmitted is literature. The aim of this study will be, therefore, that of analyzing the strategies which are deployed in literary texts to convey stereotypes, prejudice and clichés. In particular, postcolonial Indian literature in English, and, more specifically, Salman Rushdie’s and Amitav Ghosh’s novels, will constitute the main focus of the analysis. Indeed, the colonial enterprise, particularly in its final, imperialistic phase, was strongly supported by an ideological apparatus in which prejudice, stereotypes and clichés played a very important role – that of providing evidence of the backwardness of the colonized peoples and of the latter’s need that the ‘superior races’ carry out the ‘civilizing mission’, which constituted, in turn, an integral part of ‘the white men’s burden’ (‘superior races’, ‘civilizing mission’ and ‘white men’s burden’ being three straightforward examples of the functioning of clichés and of their capacity to ‘serve’ prejudice and strengthen it). It is therefore unsurprising that in postcolonial novels prejudice, auto- and hetero-stereotypes and clichés about both colonizers and colonized should be extensively deployed, which implies these literary texts might offer a fruitful source for the present study.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date:25 February 2011
Tutor:Pala, Mauro
PhD classes:Ciclo 22 > Studi filologici e letterari
Coordinator:Sannia, Laura
Institution:Universita' degli Studi di Cagliari
Divisions:Dipartimenti (fino a dicembre 2011) > Dipartimento di Filologie e letterature moderne
Subjects:Area 10 - Scienze dell'antichità, filologico-letterarie e storico-artistiche > L-FIL-LET/14 Critica letteraria e letterature comparate
Uncontrolled Keywords:Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, stereotipi, cliché
ID Code:519
Deposited On:28 Feb 2011 19:28

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