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Eurocentrism (also "Western-centrism"[1]) 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 back to the late 1970s and became prevalent in the discourse of political correctness and cultural relativism during the 1990s, especially in the context of decolonization and development aid and humanitarian aid offered by industrialised countries ("First World") to developing countries ("Third World").


The adjective Eurocentric, or Europe-centric, has been in use, in various contexts, since at least the 1920s.[2] The term is popularised (in French as européocentrique) in the context of decolonization and internationalism in the mid 20th century.[3] English usage of Eurocentric as an ideological term in identity politics is current by the mid-1980s.[4]

The abstract noun Eurocentrism (French eurocentrisme, earlier europocentrisme) as the term for an ideology was coined in the 1970s by the Egyptian Marxian economist Samir Amin, then director of the "African Institute for Economic Development and Planning" of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.[5] Amin used the term in the context of a global, core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development. English usage of Eurocentrism is recorded by 1979.[6]

The coinage of "Western-centrism" is younger, attested in the late 1990s, and specific to English.[7]

European exceptionalism[edit]

During European colonial era, encyclopedias under "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".[8][source needs translation]

The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (Conversations-Lexicon) of 1847 still has an ostensibly Eurocentric approach and claims about Europe that "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".[9][source needs translation]

European exceptionalism thus grew out of the "Great Divergence" of the Early Modern period, due to the combined effects of the Scientific Revolution, the Commercial Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires, the Industrial Revolution and a Second European colonization wave.

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, such as presenting idealised and often exaggeratedly masculine Western heroes, who conquered 'savage' peoples in the remaining 'dark spaces' of the globe.[10]

"European miracle", a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981,[11] refers to theis 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.

History of the concept[edit]


Even in the 19th century, anticolonial movements had developed claims about national traditions and values that were set against those of Europe. In some cases, as China, where local ideology was even more exclusionist than the Eurocentric one, Westernisation did not overwhelm longstanding Chinese attitudes to its own cultural centrality, but some would state that idea itself is a rather desperate attempt to cast Europe in a good light by comparison.[12]

Orientalism develops in the 19th century as a disproportionate Western interest in and idealization of "Eastern" (i.e. Asian) cultures.

By the early 20th century, some historians, such as Arnold J. Toynbee, were attempting to construct multifocal models of world civilizations. Toynbee also drew attention in Europe to non-European historians, such as the medieval Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun. He also established links with Asian thinkers, such as through his dialogues with Daisaku Ikeda of Soka Gakkai International.[clarification needed]

The explicit concept of "Eurocentrism" is a product of the period of decolonisation in the 1960s to 1970s. Its original context is the core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development of Marxian economics (Amin 1974, 1988).

Debate since 1990s[edit]

Eurocentrism has been a particularly important concept in development studies.[13] 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".[14]

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", with a remnant of an "underlying presumption of a superior white Western self as referent of analysis" (640[clarification needed]).[15] Eurocentrism and the dualistic properties that it labels on non-European countries, cultures and persons have 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.[16][17] In the 1990s, there was a trend of "criticizing" various geographic terms current in the English language as "Eurocentric", such as the traditional division of Eurasia into Europe and Asia[18] or the term "Middle East".[19] Eric Sheppard, in 2005, argued that contemporary Marxism itself has "Eurocentric traits" (in spite of "Eurocentrims" originating in the vocabulary of Marxian economics), because it supposes that the third world must go through a stage of capitalism before "progressive social formations can be envisioned".[20]

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, 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 indeed army beyond other ethnocentrisms, as the scale of European colonial expansion was historically unprecedented and resulted in the formation of a "colonizer's model of the world".[21]

Race and politics in the United States[edit]

Thet terms "Afrocentrism" vs. "Eurocentrism" have come to play a role in the 2000s to 2010s in the context of the political discourse on race in the United States and "Critical Whiteness Studies", aiming to expose "white supremacism" and supposed "white privilege".[year needed] [22]

Afrocentrist scholars, such as Molefi Asante, have argued that there is a prevalence of Eurocentric thought in the processing of much of academia on African affairs. On the other hand, in an article, 'Eurocentrism and Academic Imperialism' by 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, especially in the humanities.[23] Edgar Alfred Bowring states that in the West, self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run more deeply and those tendencies have infected more aspects of their thinking, laws and policy than anywhere else.[24] Luke Clossey and Nicholas Guyatt have measured the degree of Eurocentrism in the research programs of top history departments.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hobson, John (2012). The Eurocentric conception of world politics : western international theory, 1760-2010. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 185. ISBN 1107020204. . Eurocentrism and its discontents, American Historical Association, ""Eurocentrism" can function as shorthand for Western-centrism but it can also mean a more specific privileging of Europe. Then there is the ambiguous status of Russia and eastern Europe."
  2. ^ The German adjective europa-zentrisch ("Europe-centric") is attested in the 1920s, unrelated to the Marxist context of Amin's usage. Karl Haushofer, Geopolitik des pazifischen Ozeans (pp. 11–23, 110-113, passim). The context is Haushofer's comparison of the "Pacific space" in terms of global politics vs. "Europe-centric" politics.
  3. ^ A Rey (ed.) Dictionnaire Historique de la langue française (2010): À partir du radical de européen ont été composés (mil. XXe s.) européocentrique adj. (de centrique) « qui fait référence à l'Europe » et européocentrisme n.m. (variante europocentrisme n.m. 1974) « fait de considérer (un problème général, mondial) d'un point de vue européen » ."
  4. ^ Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression (1985), 63ff: "Fanon and Eurocentric Psychology", where "Eurocentric psychology" refers to "a psychology derived from a white, middle-class male minority, which is generalized to humanity everywhere".
  5. ^ "Anciens directeurs" ( ("Samir AMIN (Egypte) 1970-1980").
  6. ^ Alexandre A. Bennigsen, S. Enders Wimbush , Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: A Revolutionary Strategy for the Colonial World (1979), p. 19.
  7. ^ "pluralistic cultural coexistence as opposed to Western centrism and Asian centrism" (unhyphenated) in: Mabel Lee, Meng Hua, Cultural dialogue & misreading (1997), p. 53. "our incomplete perception of Chinese behavior, which tends to be 'Western-centric.'" (using scare-quotes) in: Houman A. Sadri, Revolutionary States, Leaders, and Foreign Relations: A Comparative Study of China, Cuba, and Iran (1997), p. 35. "Euro- or western-centrism" in the context of the "traditional discourse on minority languages" in: Jonathan Owens (ed.), Arabic as a Minority Language (2000), p. 1. Use of Latinate occido-centrism remains rare (e.g. Alexander Lukin, Political Culture of the Russian 'Democrats' (2000), p. 47).
  8. ^ "[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).
  9. ^ "[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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Jones, Eric (2003). The European Miracle: Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia. ISBN 0-521-52783-X. 
  12. ^ Cambridge History of China, CUP,1988
  13. ^ Brohman, John. "Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernization to Neoliberalism". :'Third World Quarterly 16.1 (1995): 121-140.
  14. ^ Brohman, John. "Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernization to Neoliberalism". Third World Quarterly 16.1 (1995): 121-140.
  15. ^ Sundberg, Juanita. "Eurocentrism". International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (2009): 638-643.
  16. ^ Green, John. Crashcourse "Eurocentrism" (2012):
  17. ^ Loewen, James "lies My teacher told me"(1995)
  18. ^ Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen in their book, The Myth of Continents (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." 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. 
  19. ^ Hanafi, Hassan. "The Middle East, in whose world? (Primary Reflections)". Nordic Society for Middle Eastern Studies (The fourth Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in globalizing world Oslo, 13-16 August 1998).  ("unedited paper as given at the Oslo conference. An updated and edited version has been published in Utvik and Vikør, The Middle East in a Globalized World, Bergen/London 2000, 1-9. Please quote or refer only to the published article") "The expression Middle East is an old British label based on a British Western perception of the East divided into middle or near and far".
  20. ^ Sheppard, Eric". Jim Blaut's Model of The World". Antipode 37.5 (2005): 956-962.
  21. ^ Blaut, James M. (2000), Eight Eurocentric Historians, Guilford Press, New York
  22. ^ Alison Bailey, "Philosophy and Whiteness" in Tim Engles (ed.) Towards a Bibliography of Critical Whiteness Studies Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society (2006), 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".[clarification needed]
  23. ^ "Eurocentrism and Academic Imperialism". ZarCom Media. 2011-10-27. Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Clossey, Luke; Guyatt, Nicholas (2013). "It's a Small World After All". Small World History. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 24 December 2015. 


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