Eurocentrism (also Western-centrism) is a worldview centered on and biased towards Western civilization. The exact scope of centrism varies from the entire Western world to only Europe or even just Western Europe (especially during the Cold War). When applied to history, it may refer to an apologetic stance towards European colonialism and other forms of imperialism.
The term Eurocentrism itself dates back to the late 1970s and became prevalent during the 1990s, especially in the context of decolonization and development and humanitarian aid offered by industrialised countries (First World) to developing countries (Third World).
- 1 Terminology
- 2 European exceptionalism
- 3 History of the concept
- 4 Georg Hegel
- 5 Max Weber
- 6 Andre Gunder Frank
- 7 Arnold Toynbee
- 8 Eurocentrism in America
- 9 Eurocentrism in the beauty industry
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
The adjective Eurocentric, or Europe-centric, has been in use, in various contexts, since at least the 1920s. The term was popularised (in French as européocentrique) in the context of decolonization and internationalism in the mid-20th century. English usage of Eurocentric as an ideological term in identity politics was current by the mid-1980s.
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. 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.
The coinage of Western-centrism is younger, attested in the late 1990s, and specific to English.
During the European colonial era, encyclopedias 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 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".
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.
The European miracle, a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981, refers to this 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
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.
Orientalism developed in the late 18th 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.
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
Eurocentrism has been a particularly important concept in development studies. 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".
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]). 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. 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 or the term Middle East. Eric Sheppard, in 2005, argued that contemporary Marxism itself has Eurocentric traits (in spite of "Eurocentrism" 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".
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".
Race and politics in the United States
The 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 white privilege.
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. 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. Luke Clossey and Nicholas Guyatt have measured the degree of Eurocentrism in the research programs of top history departments. In Southern Europe and Latin America, a number of academic proposals to offer alternatives to the Eurocentric perspective have emerged, such as the project of the Epistemologies of the South by Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos and those of the Subaltern Studies groups in India and Latin America (the Modernity/Coloniality Group of Anibal Quijano, Edgardo Lander, Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gómez, Ramón Grosfoguel, and others.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was the leading supporter of Eurocentrism, believing that world history started in the East but ended in the West, especially in Prussia's constitutional monarchy. His real interest in history was in Europe and Oriental culture was only one episode of world history to him. In Lectures on the Philosophy of History, he claimed that, although the world history started in Asia, the center and destination of the early modern world was Europe; the center of Europe was France, Germany and England. According to Hegel, India and Europe are stationary countries which lack inner momentum. China replaced the real historically development with a fixed, stable scenario, which makes it the outsider of world history. Both India and China were waiting and anticipating a combination of certain factors from outside until they can acquire real progress in human civilization. Hegel's ideas had a profound impact on western history. Some scholars disagree with his ideas that the Oriental countries were outside of world history. However, they accepted that the oriental countries were constantly in a stagnant state.
Max Weber (1824-1920) was considered as the most ardent supporter of Eurocentrism, and he suggested that capitalism is the specialty of Europe and Oriental countries such as India and China do not contain sufficient factors to develop capitalism. Weber wrote many treatises to publicize the distinctiveness of Europe. In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he wrote that the "rational" capitalism manifested by its enterprises and mechanisms only appear in the Protestant western countries, and a series of generalized and universal cultural phenomena only appear in the west. Even the state, with a written constitution and a government organized by trained administrators and constrained by rational law, only appear in the west, even though other regimes can also comprise states. Rationality is a multi-layered term whose connotations are developed and escalated as with the social progress. Weber regarded rationality as a proprietary article for western capitalist society.
Andre Gunder Frank
Andre Gunder Frank harshly criticized Eurocentrism. He believed that most scholars were the desciples of the social sciences and history guided by Eurocentrism. He criticized some western scholars for their ideas that non-west areas lack outstanding contributions in history, economy, ideology, politics and culture compared with the west. These scholars believed that the same contribution made by the west gives westerners an advantage of endo-genetic momentum which is pushed towards the rest of the world, but Frank believed that the Oriental countries also contributed to the human civilization in their own perspectives.
Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) argued that the unit for historical research is the society instead of the state. There are over 20 civilizations in the world history. In his A Study of History, he gave a critical remark on Eurocentrism. He believed that although western capitalism shrouded the world and achieved a political unity based on its economy (he is referring to EU), the western countries cannot "westernize" other countries. Toynbee concluded that Eurocentrism is characteristic of three misconceptions manifested by self-centerment, the fixed development of Oriental countries and the linear progress.
Eurocentrism in America
Societies are built on the past, and the past affects the present as well as the future. History is taught in different forms from different perspectives throughout the globe. The study of history plays a role in understanding behaviors and documenting data for later events. Historians have noticed American culture is taught through a bias that is white, male, and European. Eurocentrism in America has been a result of a Westernized structures. For centuries America has been an influence or outcome of European practices, these practices have wiped out identities all over the world.
Economically, historians like Samir Amin believe in the shifting of geographic power centers to lower the inequalities that capitalism causes. Global capitalism is explained as the idea of progressing to have world dominance through a racist Eurocentric lense. Third-World Countries, specifically, are affected negatively by the global economic order because of the globalized capitalism Europeans began and America followed.
Colonialism is deeply rooted in European culture. When the Spanish Empire sent Christopher Columbus to the Americas it was an act of meeting and not a discovery. European consciousness challenged the New World in dominating their land and resources. The formation of Eurocentrism was present during the fifteenth century and dragged all the way to still be implemented in the twenty-first century. American schools continue to teach the “Discovery of America” as if it was not an act of Eurocentric motivations. James Loewen presents facts that Columbus brought to the Americas and not the sugar coated stories that were told in American elementary schools. Columbus was not the first to set foot in the New World but this was one of the first deadly forms of European diseases placed on new land.
Eurocentrism creates a shift in identities through racial, national, and religious aspects. All these topics intersect with each other and the authors of Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas argue how Americans struggle to understand global politics, there is a belief that certain identities involved in religion can only evolve in non Eurocentric societies. Historians have found that religious and racial identities do not have to follow a Westernized model but are accustomed to being assimilated to European perspectives.
In Modern-Day Schools in America the content of histories are taught through one European lense. Students then develop Eurocentric perspectives on the world but tend to not see the identities that are being stripped away of individuals. Western success is recent, civilization has contributed from different parts of the world not just Europe. Eurocentrism is a way of dominating ideas to show the superiority of one perspective and how much power it holds over different social groups.
Eurocentrism in the beauty industry
Eurocentrism has affected the beauty realm globally. The beauty standard has become westernized and has influenced people throughout the globe. Many have altered their natural self to reflect this image. Many beauty and advertising companies have redirected their products to support this idea of Eurocentrism.
Clark doll experiment
In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark held experiments called “the doll tests” to examine the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. They tested children by presenting them four dolls, identical but different skin tone. They had to choose which doll they preferred and were asked the race of the doll. Most of the children chose the white doll. The Clark's stated in their results that the perception of the African-American children were altered by the discrimination they faced. The tested children also labeled positive descriptions to the white dolls. One of the criticisms of this test is presented by Robin Bernstein, a professor of African and African American studies and women, gender, and sexuality. His argument is that "Clark's child subjects by offering a new understanding of them not as psychologically damaged dupes, but instead as agential experts in children’s culture."
Mexican doll experiment
In 2012, Mexicans recreated the doll test. Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination presented a video where children had to pick the “good doll,” and the doll that looks like them. By doing this experiment, the researchers wanted to analyze the degree to which Mexican children are influenced modern day media accessible to them. Most of the children chose was the white doll because it was better. They also stated that it looked like them. The people who carried out the study noted that Euro centrism is deeply rooted in different cultures, including Latin cultures. There was back lash from this experiment because the children did not have more options other than the two dolls ( black and white). The children were half-Spanish and half-Indian descent.
Advertisements shown throughout the world are Eurocentric and emphasize western characteristics. Caucasian models are the number one models to be hired by popular, global brands like Estee Lauder and L’Oreal. Local models in the region in Korea, Hong Kong and Japan barely made it to global brands’ ads, compared to Caucasian models who appear in forty-four percent of Korean and fifty-four percent of Japanese ads. By demonstrating these ads, they are emphasizing that the ideal skin is bright, transparent, white, full, and fine. On the other hand, dark skin is looked down upon. Not only is skin color desired by these models, but also their physical frame, hair, and facial features.
Skin lightening has become a common practice throughout different areas of the globe in order to fit the Eurocentric beauty standard. Many women risk their health in order to use these products and obtain the tone they desire. A study conducted by Dr Lamine Cissé observed the female population in some African countries. They found that 26% of women were using skin lightening creams at the time and 36% had used them at some time. The common products used were hydroquinone and corticosteroids. 75% of women who used these creams showed cutaneous adverse effects. Whitening products have also become popular in many areas in Asia like South Korea. With the rise of these products, research has been done to study the long term damage. Some complications experienced are exogenous ochronosis, impaired wound healing and wound dehiscence, the fish odor syndrome, nephropathy, steroid addiction syndrome, predisposition to infections, a broad spectrum of cutaneous and endocrinologic complications of corticosteroids, and suppression of hypothalamic‐pituitary‐adrenal axis. Despite all these health effects it can cause, many will not give up their products.
South Korea has been impacted by the Western beauty standard. In order to achieve a more western look, some South Koreans turn to plastic surgery to obtain those features. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, South Korea has the highest rates of plastic surgery procedures per capita. The most asked for procedures are the blepharoplasty and rhinoplasty. Another procedure done in Korea is having the muscle under the tongue that connects to the bottom of the mouth surgically snipped. Parents have their children to undergo this surgery in order to pronounce English better. In Korea, cosmetic eyelid surgery is considered to be normal. Korea has close and modern ties with the U.S. which allows constant interaction with the Western culture. In order to fit in they undergo these lengths to become more westernized. Many companies in South Korea have focused on more raciliazed driven beauty industry and have made more skin lightening products, hair straightening products and even affordable eyelid surgeries.
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