East–West dichotomy

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An image of the "Eastern world", defined as Asia or the "Far East", which consists of three overlapping cultural blocks: East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

In sociology, the East–West dichotomy is the perceived differences between the Eastern world and Western world. Cultural rather than geographical in division, the boundaries of East and West are not fixed, but vary according to the criteria adopted by individuals using the term. Historically, Asian and Islamic nations have been regarded as East, while Australia, Europe, New Zealand, South America and North America are regarded as West. Used in discussing such studies as management, economics, international relations and linguistics, the concept is criticized for overlooking regional hybridity.


Conceptually, the boundaries are cultural, rather than geographical, as a result of which Australia is typically grouped in the West, while Islamic nations are, regardless of location, grouped in the East.[1] The culture line can be particularly difficult to place in regions of cultural diversity such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose citizens may themselves identify as East or West depending on ethnic or religious background.[1] Further, residents of different parts of the world perceive the boundaries differently; for example, some European scholars define Russia as East, but most agree that it is the West's second complimentary part,[2] and Islamic nations regard it and other predominantly Christian nations as the West.[1]


The concept has been used in both "Eastern" and "Western" nations. Japanese sinologist Tachibana Shiraki, in the 1920s, wrote of the need to unify with China and some other Asian nations (excluding Central Asia and the Middle East) in forming a "New East" that might combine culturally in balancing against the West.[3] Japan continued to make much of the concept, known as Pan-Asianism, throughout World War II, in propaganda.[4] In China, it was encapsulated during the Cold War in a 1957 speech by Mao Zedong,[5] who launched a slogan when he said, "This is a war between two worlds. The West Wind cannot prevail over the East Wind; the East Wind is bound to prevail over the West Wind."[6]

Muslim percentages: green 50% and above, yellow 10-49%

To Western writers, in the 1940s, it became bound up with an idea of aggressive, "frustrated nationalism", which was seen as "intrinsically anti- or non-Western"; sociologist Frank Furedi wrote, "The already existing intellectual assessment of European nationalism adapted to the growth of the Third World variety by developing the couplet of mature Western versus immature Eastern nationalism.... This East-West dichotomy became an accepted part of Western political theory."[7] The 1978 book Orientalism, by Edward Said, was highly influential in further establishing concepts of the East–West dichotomy in the Western world, bringing into college lectures a notion of the East (vaguely defined as stretching from Japan to the Arab world) as "characterized by religious sensibilities, familial social orders, and ageless traditions" in contrast to Western "rationality, material and technical dynamism, and individualism."[8]

More recently, the divide has also been posited as an Islamic "East" and an American and European "West."[9][10] Critics note that an Islamic/non-Islamic East–West dichotomy is complicated by the global dissemination of Islamic fundamentalism and by cultural diversity within Islamic nations, moving the argument "beyond that of an East-West dichotomy and into a tripartite situation."[11]


The East–West dichotomy has been used in studying a range of topics, including management, economics and linguistics. Knowledge Creation and Management (2007) examines it as the difference in organizational learning between Western cultures and the Eastern world.[12] It has been widely used in exploring the period of rapid economic growth that has been termed the "East-Asian miracle" in segments of East Asia, particularly the Asian Tigers, following World War II.[13] Some sociologists, in line with the West as a model of modernity posited by Arnold J. Toynbee, have perceived the economic expansion as a sign of the "Westernization" of the region, but others look for explanation in cultural/racial characteristics of the East, embracing concepts of fixed Eastern cultural identity in a phenomenon described as "New Orientalism".[1][14] Both approaches to the East-West dichotomy have been criticized for failing to take into account the historical hybridity of the regions.[15]

The concept has also been brought to bear on examinations of intercultural communication. Asians are widely described as embracing an "inductive speech pattern" in which a primary point is approached indirectly, but Western societies are said to use "deductive speech" in which speakers immediately establish their point.[16] That is attributed to a higher priority among Asians in harmonious interrelations, but Westerners are said to prioritize direct communication.[17] 2001's Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach described the East–West dichotomy linguistically as a "false dichotomy", noting that both Asian and Western speakers use both forms of communication.[18]

International relations[edit]

In the 21st century, the East-West dichotomy is present in the field of international relations, and it remains an important division in the international arena. The East-West dichotomy can be contextualised within the framework of modern political, economic and military institutions. Their characteristics can be traced back to the onset of the Cold War.


In addition to difficulties in defining regions and overlooking hybridity, the East–West dichotomy has been criticized for creating an artificial construct of regional unification that allows one voice to claim authority to speak for multitudes. In "The Triumph of the East?", Mark T. Berger speaks to the issue as relates to examination of the "East-Asian miracle":

The historical power of the East-West dichotomy, and the fixed conceptions of culture/race to which it is linked, have increasingly allowed the national elites of the region to speak not only for their 'nations,' but even for Asia and Asians.... There are numerous instances of Western scholars, intent on challenging North American and/or Western hegemony in both material and discursive terms, ending up uncritically privileging the elite narratives of power-holders in Asia as authentic representatives of a particular non-Western nation or social formation (and also contributing to the continued use of the East-West dichotomy).[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Meštrovic, Stjepan (1994). Balkanization of the West: The Confluence of Postmodernism and Postcommunism. Routledge. p. 61. ISBN 0-203-34464-2. 
  2. ^ http://www.academia.edu/616571/Metaphorical_politics_Is_Russia_western
  3. ^ Li, Lincoln (1996). The China factor in Modern Japanese thought: the case of Tachibana Shiraki, 1881-1945. SUNY Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture. SUNY Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-7914-3039-1. 
  4. ^ Iriye, Akira (2002). Global community: the role of international organizations in the making of the contemporary world. University of California Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-520-23127-9. 
  5. ^ Kau, John K.; Leung (1992). "Notes". The Writings of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976: January 1956-December 1957. Writings of Mao Zedong. 2. M. E. Sharpe. p. 773. ISBN 0-87332-392-0. 
  6. ^ Zedong, Mao (1992). Kau, Michael Y. M.; Leung, John K., eds. The Writings of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976: January 1956-December 1957. Writings of Mao Zedong. 2. M.E. Sharpe. p. 775. ISBN 0-87332-392-0. 
  7. ^ Füredi, Frank (1994). Colonial wars and the politics of Third World nationalism. I.B.Tauris. pp. 115–116. 
  8. ^ Barnett, Suzanne Wilson; Van Jay Symons (2000). Asia in the undergraduate curriculum: a case for Asian studies in liberal arts education. East Gate. M.E. Sharpe. p. 99. ISBN 0-7656-0546-5. 
  9. ^ Meštrovic, 63.
  10. ^ See also Chahuán, Eugenio (2006). "An East-West dichotomy: Islamophobia". In Schenker, Hillel; Ziad, Abu Zayyad. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. A Palestine-Israel Journal Book. Markus Wiener Publishers. pp. 25–32. ISBN 1-55876-403-8. 
  11. ^ Khatib, Lina (2006). Filming the modern Middle East: politics in the cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab world. Library of Modern Middle East Studies, Library of International Relations. 57. I.B. Tauris. pp. 166–167, 173. ISBN 1-84511-191-5. 
  12. ^ Ichijō, Kazuo; Ikujirō Nonaka (2007). Knowledge creation and management: new challenges for managers. Oxford University Press US. p. 280. ISBN 0-19-515962-4. 
  13. ^ Norberg, Johan (2003). In defense of global capitalism. Cato Institute. p. 99. ISBN 1-930865-46-5. 
  14. ^ Berger, Mark T. (1997). "The triumph of the East? The East-Asian Miracle and post-Cold War capitalism". In Borer, Douglas A. The rise of East Asia: critical visions of the Pacific century. Routledge. pp. 260–261, 266. ISBN 0-415-16168-1. 
  15. ^ Berger, 275.
  16. ^ Cheng, Winnie (2003). Intercultural conversation. Pragmatics & Beyond. 118. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 51. ISBN 90-272-5360-9. 
  17. ^ Cheng, 53.
  18. ^ Scollon, Ronald (2001). Intercultural communication: a discourse approach. Language in Society. 21 (2 ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-631-22418-1. 
  19. ^ Berger, 276

Further reading[edit]

Balancing the East, Upgrading the West; U.S. Grand Strategy in an Age of Upheaval by Zbigniew Brzezinski January/February 2012 Foreign Affairs