"Western City" vs. "Oriental City": The development of the notion from the new classical economy to the post-colonial debate.

The basic theoretical differentiation between Oriental and Occidental cities was first made by Max Weber as a part of his wider interest in the rise and development of rational capitalism, a question to which he dedicated four of his most important studies. In his two last works, The City and General Economic History, both published post mortem, Weber modified his earlier idealist theories, introducing terms borrowed from neo-classical economy.A key notion is the idea of 'Homo Economicus', used as a personification of a society that can rationally calculate its own interests and try and maximize its objectives. Following Hegel, he studied the medieval corporations, believing that the roots of the 'Homo Economicus' and rational capitalism are to be found in the Medieval Italian communes, and that rational capitalism could have been developed in Western societies only. Weber dedicated and extensive part of his later works to proving this claim and explaining why rational capitalism could not exist in the Muslim or far eastern worlds. Edward Said and his post colonial followers criticized the model of the Oriental city for being stereotypical and for basing its definitions on Occidental institutions alone. The notion of Western city, they say, was conceived by the Orientalists as representative of the "perfect medieval city," while the qualities of the "Muslim city" are weighted according to its similarities or dissimilarities with the Western one. A medieval Muslim city was therefore considered imperfect because it lacked features attributed to the perfect Western one. The present paper examines the development of the "Islamic city theory" as part of the 19th century quest for European identity. This evolution transformed concepts such as Medieval city, chivalry, rationality, and Medieval architecture into normative and even emblematic values, thereby promoting them to serve as symbols of the West.  Medieval Jerusalem will exemplify a different empiric and theoretical approach to the study of medieval cities.

Elath Hall, 2nd floor, Feldman Building, Edmond J. Safra Campus
Friday, January 19, 2007 - 10:00 to 12:00
Old Lecturers: 
Ronnie Ellenblum
Old Lecturers University: 
The Hebrew University