Eurocentrism

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Eurocentrism is a political term coined in the 1980s, referring to the notion of European exceptionalism, a worldview centered on Western civilization, as it had developed during the height of the European colonial empires since the Early Modern period.

The term Eurocentrism itself dates to the late 1980s and became prevalent in the discourse of political correctness and cultural relativism during the 1990s, especially in the context decolonization and development aid and humanitarian aid offered by industrialised countries ("First World") to developing countries ("Third World").

Terminology[edit]

The term Eurocentrism (French eurocentrisme) was coined in 1988, by Samir Amin, a French-educated Marxian economist from Egypt, director of the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification from 1980.

The earlier adjective Europe-centric came into use in the early 20th century. The term appears in precisely this form in the writings of the right-wing German writer Karl Haushofer during the 1920s. For instance, in Haushofer's 'Geo-Politics of the Pacific Space' (Geopolitik des pazifischen Ozeans), Haushofer contrasts this Pacific space in terms of global politics to the 'European' and 'Europe-centric' (europa-zentrisch)(pp. 11–23, 110-113, passim).

The term Europocentrism appears in the 1970s, through the Marxist writings of Samir Amin as part of a global, core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development. 'Eurocentrism' appears only by 1988, in the titles of Amin books as the definition of an ideology.

European exceptionalism[edit]

During the European colonial era encyclopedias under the lemma "Europe" often sought to give a rationale for the predominance of European rule during the colonial period by referring to a special position taken by Europe compared to the other continents.

Thus, Johann Heinrich Zedler in 1741 wrote that "even though Europe is the smallest of the world's four continents, it has for various reasons a position that places it before all others ... its inhabitants have excellent customs, they are courteous and erudite in both sciences and crafts."[1]

The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (Conversations-Lexicon) of 1847 still has an ostensibly Eurocentric approach, claiming that Europe "due to its geographical situation and its cultural and political significance is clearly the most important of the five continents, over which it has gained a most influential government both in material and even more so in cultural aspects." [2]

European exceptionalism is widely reflected in popular genres of literature, especially literature for young adults (for example Rudyard Kipling's Kim) and adventure literature in general. Portrayal of European colonialism in such literature has been analysed in terms of "Eurocentrism" in retrospect, e.g. as presenting idealized and often exaggeratedly masculine Western heroes who conquered 'savage' peoples in the remaining 'dark spaces' of the globe.[3]

History[edit]

Origin in colonialism[edit]

Early Eurocentrism can be traced to the Renaissance, during which the revival of learning based on classical sources were focused on the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, due to their being a significant source of contemporary European civilization.

The effects of the verity of European superiority increased during the period of European imperialism, which started slowly in the 15th century, accelerated by the Scientific Revolution, the Commercial Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires in the "Great Divergence" of the Early Modern period, and reached its zenith in the 18th to 19th century with the Industrial Revolution and a Second European colonization wave.

The progressively mechanised character of European culture was contrasted with traditional hunting, farming, and herding societies in many of the areas of the world being newly conquered and colonised by Europeans, such as the Americas, Asia, Africa, and later the Pacific and Australasia. Many European writers of this time construed the history of Europe as paradigmatic for the rest of the world. Other cultures were identified as having reached a stage through which Europe itself had already passed—primitive hunter-gatherer; farming; early civilisation; feudalism; and modern liberal-capitalism. Only Europe was considered to have achieved the last stage.

For some writers, such as Karl Marx, the centrality of Europe to an understanding of world history did not imply any innate European superiority, but he nevertheless assumed that Europe provided a model for the world as a whole. Others looked forward to the expansion of modernity throughout the world through trade, imperialism or both.

The colonising period involved the widespread settlement of the Americas and Australasia with European people, and the establishment of outposts and colonial administrations in Africa and parts of Asia. As a result, the majority populations of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand typically trace their ancestry to Europe.

The longitude meridians of world maps based on the prime meridian, placing Greenwich, London in the centre, has been in use since 1851. Various other prime meridians were in use during the Age of Exploration. The current prime meridian has the advantage that it places the International Date Line in the Pacific, inconveniencing the smallest number of people.

"European miracle" – a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981[4] – refers to the surprising rise of Europe during the Early Modern period. During the 15th to 18th centuries, a "great divergence" took place, comprising the European Renaissance, age of discovery, the formation of the colonial empires, the Age of Reason, and the associated leap forward in technology, and the development of capitalism and early industrialisation. The result was that by the 19th century, European powers dominated world trade and world politics.

Early anticolonialism[edit]

Even in the 19th century, anti-colonial movements had developed claims about national traditions and values that were set against those of Europe. In some cases, as with China, where local ideology was even more exclusionist than the Eurocentric one, Westernisation did not overwhelm long-established Chinese attitudes to its own cultural centrality, although some would state this idea itself is a rather desperate attempt to cast Europe in a good light by comparison.[5]

Decolonization[edit]

Further information: Decolonization
Further information: Peters World Map
World map in the Mercator projection
Worldmap in the Gall-Peters projection.

The traditional Mercator projection distorts areas further from the equator, making the Arctic and the Antarctic, but to a lesser degree also Europe and North America and Northern Asia, appear disproportionately large compared to areas closer to the equator, such as Africa or Central America. The Peters World Map seeks to present a more realistic depiction of the continents' relative sizes.

The Eurocentrism debate since the 1990s[edit]

In treatises on historical or contemporary Eurocentrism that appeared since the 1990s, Eurocentrism is mostly cast in terms of dualisms such as civilized/barbaric or advanced/backward, developed/undeveloped, core/periphery, implying “evolutionary schemas through which societies inevitably progress” supposedly with a remnant of an “underlying presumption of a [supposedly] superior white Western self as referent of analysis” (640[clarification needed]).[6] Eurocentrism, and the dualistic properties it labels on non-European countries, cultures, and persons, has often been criticized in the political discourse of the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in the greater context of "political correctness", race in the United States and affirmative action.[7][8]

There has been some debate on whether historical Eurocentrism qualifies as "just another ethnocentrism" as it is found in most of the world's cultures, and especially in cultures with imperial aspirations, as in the Sinocentrism in China; in the Empire of Japan (c. 1868-1945), or during the American Century. James M. Blaut (2000) argued that Eurocentrism did indeed go beyond other ethnocentrisms, in the sense that the scale of European colonial expansion was historically unprecedented and resulted in the formation of a "colonizer's model of the world".[9]

Eurocentrism has been a particularly important concept in development studies.[10] Supposed Eurocentrism has been criticized as a form of cultural relativism, claiming the universal desirability of concepts like "development", democracy, human rights, technological progress, etc., while ignoring potentially beneficial concepts and knowledge found in non-Western society. Thus, proponents of political Islam have proposed a notion of Human Rights in Islam, subject to Islamic law, as a challenge to the supposed universality of human rights as based in European Humanism. Proponents of political Hinduism have posited a notion of Integral Humanism based on specifically Hindu values as transcending the western dichotomy of capitalism vs. communism. The notion of cultural relativism, questioning the ultimate subjectivity of the Western tradition of academia that developed alongside the scientific revolution, has become widely popular within western academia itself by the later part of the 20th century, and became part of the discourse of postmodernism. Brohman (1995) argued that Eurocentrism "perpetuated intellectual dependence on a restricted group of prestigious Western academic institutions that determine the subject matter and methods of research".[11] Gülalp (1998) argues that The position of Eurocentrism at the top of development studies means that certain ideas do not get attention if not supported by Eurocentric scholars.[clarification needed][12]

The separation of Eurasia into Europe and Asia criticized as Eurocentric by Lewis and Wigen (1997): "In physical, cultural and historical diversity, China and India are comparable to the entire European landmass, not to a single European country. A better (if still imperfect) analogy would compare France, not to India as a whole, but to a single Indian state, such as Uttar Pradesh."[13]

Eric Sheppard in 2005 argued that contemporary Marxism has Eurocentric traits when it supposes that the third world must go through a stage of capitalism before "progressive social formations can be envisioned" (p. 956).[14]

"Afrocentrism" vs. "Eurocentrism" continues to play a role in the political discourse on race in the United States and "Critical Whiteness Studies" aiming to expose white supremacism and white privilege.[15]

In academia[edit]

African scholars such as Molefi Asante have categorically highlighted the prevalence of Eurocentric thought in the processing of much of academia on African affairs. On the other hand, in an article titled 'Eurocentrism and Academic Imperialism' professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi from the University of Tehran states that Eurocentric thought exists in almost all aspects of academia, in many parts of the world, and especially in the humanities.[16] Edgar Alfred Bowring states that: In no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run as deep, nor have these tendencies infected as many aspects of their thinking, laws, and policy, as they have in the West and its overseas extensions.[17] Alik Shahadah notes that: The Eurocentric discourse on Africa is in error because those foundational paradigms which inspired the study in the first place were rooted in the denial of African agency; political intellectualism bent on its own self-affirmation rather than objective study.[18][19]

Philosophical methods are well suited for unpacking the political, ontological, and epistemological conditions that foster racism and hold white supremacy in place. However, on the whole, philosophy as a discipline has remained relatively untouched by interdisciplinary work on race and whiteness. In its quest for certainty, Western philosophy continues to generate what it imagines to be colorless and genderless accounts of knowledge, reality, morality, and human nature

— Alison Baile, "Philosophy and Whiteness"[20]

See also[edit]

Criticism:

Geocultural perspectives:

References[edit]

  1. ^ "[German: Obwohl Europa das kleinste unter allen 4. Teilen der Welt ist, so ist es doch um verschiedener Ursachen willen allen übrigen vorzuziehen. ... Die Einwohner sind von sehr guten Sitten, höflich und sinnreich in Wissenschaften und Handwerken.] "Europa". In: Zedlers Universal-Lexicon, Volume 8, Leipzig 1734, columns 2192–2196 (citation: column 2195).
  2. ^ "[German: [Europa ist seiner] terrestrischen Gliederung wie seiner kulturhistorischen und politischen Bedeutung nach unbedingt der wichtigste unter den fünf Erdtheilen, über die er in materieller, noch mehr aber in geistiger Beziehung eine höchst einflussreiche Oberherrschaft erlangt hat.] Das große Conversations-Lexicon für die gebildeten Stände, 1847. Vol. 1, p. 373.
  3. ^ Daniel Iwerks, "Ideology and Eurocentrism in Tarzan of the Apes," in: Investigating the Unliterary: Six Readings of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, ed. Richard Utz (Regensburg: Martzinek, 1995), pp. 69-90.
  4. ^ Jones, Eric ((2003 (1st ed 1987))). The European Miracle: Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia. ISBN 0-521-52783-X.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Cambridge History of China, CUP,1988
  6. ^ Sundberg, Juanita. “Eurocentrism.” International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009): 638-643.
  7. ^ Green, John. Crashcourse "Eurocentrism" (2012):
  8. ^ Loewen, James "lies My teacher told me"(1995)
  9. ^ Blaut, James M. (2000), Eight Eurocentric Historians, Guilford Press, New York
  10. ^ Brohman, John. “Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernization to Neoliberalism.” Third World Quarterly 16.1 (1995): 121-140.
  11. ^ Brohman, John. "Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernization to Neoliberalism." Third World Quarterly 16.1 (1995): 121-140.
  12. ^ Gülalp, Haldun. “The Eurocentrism of Dependency Theory and The Question of ‘Authenticity’: A view from Turkey.” Third World Quarterly 19.5 (1998): 951-961.
  13. ^ Lewis, Martin W.; Kären E. Wigen (1997). The Myth of Continents: a Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. ?. ISBN 0-520-20742-4, ISBN 0-520-20743-2. 
  14. ^ Sheppard, Eric. “Jim Blaut's Model of The World.” Antipode 37.5 (2005): 956-962.
  15. ^ Alison Baile in "Philosophy and Whiteness" Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society. Towards a Bibliography of Critical Whiteness Studies,[year needed] p. 9.: "Philosophical methods are well suited for unpacking the political, ontological, and epistemological conditions that foster racism and hold white supremacy in place. However, on the whole, philosophy as a discipline has remained relatively untouched by interdisciplinary work on race and whiteness. In its quest for certainty, Western philosophy continues to generate what it imagines to be colorless and genderless accounts of knowledge, reality, morality, and human nature". "The Removal of Agency from Africa". Owen Alik Shahadah , African Holocaust Society.  (2005, updated 2012): "The Eurocentric discourse on Africa is in error because those foundational paradigms which inspired the study in the first place were rooted in the denial of African agency; political intellectualism bent on its own self-affirmation rather than objective study."
  16. ^ http://www.zarcommedia.com/index.php/research-documents/6691.html
  17. ^ E. C. Eze, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader (Blackwell, 1997); M. Shahid Alam, “Articulating Group Differences: A Variety of Autocentrisms,” Science and Society (Summer 2003): 206-18.
  18. ^ "Pambazuka Online". Pambazuka. 
  19. ^ "The Removal of Agency from Africa". Owen Alik Shahadah , African Holocaust Society. Retrieved 4 January 2007. 
  20. ^ Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society. Towards a Bibliography of Critical Whiteness Studies, p. 9

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bairoch, Paul (1993). Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-03462-3. 
  • Baudet, E. H. P. (1959). Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man. Translated by Elizabeth Wentholt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ASIN B0007DKQMW. (1965). 
  • Lefkowitz, Mary (1996). Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-09837-1. 
  • Preiswerk, Roy; Dominique Perrot (1978). Ethnocentrism and History: Africa, Asia, and Indian America in Western Textbooks. New York and London: NOK. ISBN 0-88357-071-8. 
  • Rüsen, Jörn (2004). "How to Overcome Ethnocentrism: Approaches to a Culture of Recognition by History in the Twenty-First Century". History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History (43:2004): 118–129. 
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh (1965). The Rise of Christian Europe. London: Thames and Hudson. ASIN B000O894GO. 
  • Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale, Monthly Review Press, 1974.
  • Samir Amin: L’eurocentrisme, critique d’une idéologie. Paris 1988, engl. Eurocentrism, Monthly Review Press 1989, ISBN 0-85345-786-7
  • J.M. Blaut: The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History. Guilford Press 1993. ISBN 0-89862-348-0
  • J.M. Blaut: Eight Eurocentric Historians. Guilford Press 2000. ISBN 1-57230-591-6
  • Karl Haushofer, Geopolitik des pazifischen Ozeans, Berlin, Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, 1924.
  • Vassilis Lambropoulos, The rise of Eurocentrism: Anatomy of interpretation, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993
  • Ella Shohat; Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: multiculturalism and the media, Routledge 1994, ISBN 0-415-06325-6
  • Jose Rabasa, Inventing America: Spanish Historiography and the Formation of Eurocentrism (Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory, Vol 2), University of Oklahoma Press 1994
  • Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: multiculturalism and the media, Routledge 1994
  • Rajiv Malhotra, Being Different : An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, Harper-Collins Publishers India 2011, ISBN 978-9350291900

External links[edit]