Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a European-centered or Western-centered perspective. The term Eurocentrism was coined during the period of decolonisation in the late 20th century.
The Eurocentrism prevalent in international affairs in the 19th century had its historical roots in European colonialism and imperialism from the Early Modern period (16th to 18th centuries). Many international standards (such as the worldwide spread of the Anno Domini Christian era and Latin alphabet, or the Prime Meridian) have their roots in this period.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Origin in colonialism
- 3 European exceptionalism
- 4 Eurocentrism in literature
- 5 Eurocentrism compared to other ethnocentrisms
- 6 Eurocentrism today
- 7 Eurocentrism and economic development
- 8 In academia
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
The term Eurocentrism was coined relatively late, during the decolonisation period following World War II, based on an earlier adjective Europe-centric which 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.
Origin in colonialism
Early Eurocentrism can be traced to the European 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 these assumptions 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, most of 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 parts of the Americas and Australasia with European people, and the establishment of outposts and colonial administrations in parts of Asia and Africa. As a result, the majority populations of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand typically trace their ancestry to Europe. A Eurocentric history is taught in such countries, despite geographic isolation from Europe, with many European cultural traditions.
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.
The European Miracle
"European miracle" – a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981 – 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.
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."
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." 
Even during colonialism, Western thought generally recognized the achievements of non-Western civilizations, mostly Near Eastern, Indian and Chinese, while the cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa and of the New World (the Americas) were generally seen as inferior, though by the 18th century they also became idealized in art as the noble savage stereotype and in primitivism.
Europe as a separate continent
The division of the landmass of Eurasia into the continents of Asia and Europe is an anomaly, as no sea separates them. An alternative view, that Eurasia is a single continent, results in a six- or five-continent view of the world.
The separation of Eurasia into Europe and Asia is viewed by some as a residue of Eurocentrism: "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."
However, for historical and cultural reasons, the view of Europe as a separate continent continues in several categorizations.
Indian Subcontinent has often been referred to as a subcontinent even though, apart from the fact that it has arguably comparable level of physical, cultural and historical diversity as Europe (see above), it has more reasons to be called a continent from a geographical and geological point of view.
Eurocentrism in literature
Much of the cultural work of building and sustaining Eurocentrism was done in popular genres of literature, especially literature for young adults (for example Rudyard Kipling's Kim) and adventure literature in general. Popular novelists like Edgar Rice Burroughs supported the political and military builders of Western empires by presenting idealized (and often exaggeratedly masculine) Western heroes who conquered 'savage' peoples in the remaining 'dark spaces' of the globe.
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To be distinguished from (conscious or unconscious) Eurocentrism as the tendency to explain non-European cultures in terms of European culture are positive claims of European superiority in racism or cultural chauvinism.
Such ideas are at the origin of the some of the racial segregation in colonies and former colonies, including the United States (where after the American Revolution, Eurocentrism has been superseded by Americentrism), Australia and South Africa. White Australia policy was gradually abolished in the 1945 to 1970s period.
In Argentina an extensive racist ideology has been built on the notion of European supremacy. This ideology forwarded the idea that Argentina was a country populated only by European immigrants "bajados de los barcos" (straight off the boat), frequently referred to as "our grandfathers", who founded a special type of "white" and European society that is not Latin-American.
In addition, this ideology held forth that cultural influences from other communities such as the Aborigines, Africans, Latin-Americans, or Asians were not relevant and even undesirable. White European racism in Argentina shared similarities with the White Australia policy that was practiced during the beginning of the 20th century.
Eurocentrism compared to other ethnocentrisms
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, which is natively known as 中國, literally the "central kingdom"; in the Empire of Japan (c. 1868-1945), or during the American Century.
James M. Blaut argued that Eurocentrism did indeed go beyond other ethnocentrisms, due to the formation of a "colonizer’s model of the world" as a result of the unprecedented scale of imperial expansion during the colonial period.
Eurocentrism is a part of Ethnocentrism that takes the view of European and/or Western superiority in respect to social standards. With the belief in superiority of social standards, Eurocentrism sees the right for Europeans to judge other nations.
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Eurocentrism is present in current times when considering the usage of dualistic models of comparison. Dualisms of the past such as “civilized/barbaric or advanced/backward” worked to organize people “through reference to the racial superiority of Europeans” (640). More contemporary dualisms include “developed/undeveloped, core/periphery” (640). The dualisms of the past and the more contemporary ones both demonstrate “evolutionary schemas through which societies inevitably progress” and both the past and present dualisms go back to “colonial or imperial relations of power” (640). What survived over time and remains prevalent today is an “underlying presumption of a superior white Western self as referent of analysis” (640). Eurocentrism, and the dualistic properties it labels on non-European countries, cultures, and persons, has also often seen in the bias of textbooks, teachings and the culture of today, for example the notion that Christopher Columbus was the first to set foot on the Americas, and that the Native Americans were a "barbaric" people, which with a non-Eurocentric bias would suggest the exact opposite.(640)
Eurocentrism and economic development
Eurocentric ideas have historically been linked with economic development in the non-European world.
Eurocentrism is criticized for ignoring relevant social and historical experiences of the countries and regions where they wish to direct economic development. Claims are made stating that the Eurocentric efforts to develop less developed countries throughout the world hinder rather than aid. The claims are based on two aspects of Eurocentrism. Firstly, Eurocentrism has the tendency to ignore potentially beneficial concepts and knowledge from indigenous sources. Secondly, Eurocentrism “perpetuated intellectual dependence on a restricted group of prestigious Western academic institutions that determine the subject matter and methods of research” (128). Eurocentric development displaces traditional values of indigenous people, and institutions forced upon them. This is a source of tension and discontent amongst the people who receive the Eurocentric based changes. Eurocentrism, in development respects, tries to get other nations to replicate what worked for Europeans at the expense of potential indigenous development. This takes away from self-reliance and the third world places become more dependent on external aid. An additional consequence is that the opportunity for more participation in the formation of policy from the indigenous population is lost due to the necessity of the practice Eurocentric ideology.
At the outset of development studies, the focus has been on transition experienced by Europe and how their experience could be applied to other nations. The position of Eurocentrism at the top of development scholarship means that certain ideas do not get attention if not supported by Eurocentric scholars.
Marxism adopts Eurocentric characteristics when it describes how the third world must go through Capitalism before “progressive social formations can be envisioned” just like Europe and North America did before (956).
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. 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. 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.
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"
One of the first critics of colonialism was Bartolomé de las Casas, who described destruction brought by European colonists in America. 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 (China never attacked a large percentage of the population of the world).
In Central America and South America a merger of immigrant and native histories was constructed. Nationalist movements appropriated the history of native civilizations such as the Mayans and Incas, or even of linguistic groups demonstrating intergroup bitter rivalries such as the Tupí, to construct models of cultural identity that claimed a fusion between immigrant and native identity.
At the same time, the intellectual traditions of Eastern cultures were becoming more widely known in the West, mediated by figures such as Rabindranath Tagore. By the early 20th century some historians such as Arnold J. Toynbee were attempting to construct multi-focal models of world civilizations.
Since the end of World War II, the former worldwide dominance of European culture has waned drastically (decolonisation). The change has been most drastic in the USA, triggered by the 1950s to 1960s civil rights movement and perpetuated by the political correctness of the 1970s to 1980s. Today, Eurocentrism remains a topic in the U.S. "culture wars", notably when juxtaposed to Afrocentrism, but its prominence is limited compared to topics of religion or social issues.
Peters World Map
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.
- Discrimination in Europe
- European identity
- History of Western civilization
- Pan-European identity
- Western culture
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