Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a
European perspective, with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European (and, more generally, of Western) culture. The term Eurocentrism implies criticism of the concerns and values at the expense of non-Europeans and is not used by those who consider it factually justified.
The Eurocentrism prevalent in
international affairsin the 19th to 20th centuries has its historical roots in European colonialismand imperialismfrom the Early Modern period (16th to 18th centuries). Many international standards(such as the Prime Meridian, or the worldwide spread of the Dionysian Eraand Latin alphabet) have their roots in this period.
In both Europe and North America, the heyday of Eurocentricism was in the 19th century, today it is much less prevalent due to developments in popular culture and teaching. [GCSE History National Curriculum, Quality and Curriculums Authority, London UK 1989; A Level Modern History, Edexcel, www.edexcel.org.uk]
Alternatively, Eurocentric and Eurocentrist are occasionally used in British political discourse to describe supporters of
European integrationand the European Union, in other words as an antonymof Eurosceptic.
Early Eurocentrism can be traced to the European
Renaissance, in 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
superiorityincreased during the period of European imperialism, which started slowly in the 15th century, accelerated in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, and reached its zenith in the 19th century. 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 & colonised by Europeans, such as the Americas, most of Africa, and later the Pacificand Australasia. Even the complex civilizations of Arabia, Persia, India, China, Mexico, Peru, Japan, Koreaand Indochinawere counted as underdeveloped when compared to Europe, and were often characterised as static.Fact|date=May 2008 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, imperialismor both. By the late 19th Century, the theory that European achievements arose from innate racial superiority became widespread, justifying race-based slavery, genocide, colonisation and other forms of political and economic exploitation.
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 European Miracle
European miracle(a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981), [cite book | last =Jones | first =Eric | authorlink =
title =The European Miracle: Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia
date =(2003 (1st ed 1987))
isbn = ISBN 0-521-52783-X] refers to the surprising rise of Europe during the
Early Modern period.By the end of the Middle Ages, Europe in terms of economy and technology did not compare favourably to the Islamic empires(the Ottoman empireand Mughal India) or Ming China, but during the 16th to 18th centuries, a " great divergence" took place, comprising the European age of discovery, the formation of the colonial empires, the Age of Reasonand the associated leap forward in technology, and the development of capitalismand early Industrialisation. The result was that by the 19th century, European powers were dominating world trade and world politics.
Examples of Eurocentrism
The division of the landmass of
Eurasiainto the separate continents of Asiaand Europeis an anomaly with no basis in physical geography. An alternative view is that Eurasia is a single continent, one of six continents in total. This view is held by some geographersWho|date=June 2008 and is preferredFact|date=June 2008 in Russia (which spans Asia and Europe). The separation is maintained for historical and cultural reasons. Arno Petershighlighted the political implications of map design by promoting the Gall- Peters projection, as a contrasting world map to the Mercator projection, a commonly used world map projection at the time. The Mercator projection distorts areas further from the equator, making Europe and North America appear disproportionately large compared to similar sized areas closer to the equator, such as Africa, Central America and Australia. Alaska, for example, is presented as being similar or even slightly larger in size than Brazil, when Brazil's area is actually almost 5 times that of Alaska.
The longitude meridians of world maps based on the
prime meridian, placing Greenwich, Londonin 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 Linein the Pacific, inconveniencing the smallest number of people.
A residual effect of the European origin of the
English languageare terms like ' Middle East', which describes an area slightly east of Europe, and the ' Far East'. Alternatively, the Western World, or 'Western civilisation' are terms that group culturally similar countries- not only Central and Western Europe, but the former European colonies of North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Eurocentrism was once embedded in the study of Greek classic literature.
In the 1960s a reaction against the priority given to a canon of "Dead White European Males" provided a slogan which neatly sums up the charge of Eurocentrism (alongside other important -centrisms)Fact|date=June 2008.
Garry Wills, the journalist and professor of American Studies at Northwestern University, writes that Eurocentrism created a false picture of the classics themselves. [" [http://www.pbs.org/shattering/culture.html The Culture Wars and the Great Conversation] " PBS.org]
Since the 1970s, the indebtedness of
Classical Greeceto "the Orient" (notably the Neo-Assyrian Empire) at the time of its formation during the Early Iron Agehas been given more prominence. [ Walter Burkert, cite book | year = 1992 | title = The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age | others = trans. Margaret E. Pinder | publisher = Harvard University Press | location = Cambridge, Mass. | id = ISBN 0-674-64363-1]
As a direct consequence of the "European miracle" and the colonial empires,
languages of Europeare over-represented among the current world languages: out of eight languages generally considered "world languages", five are of European origin (English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French), besides Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Hindi-Urdu. The asymmetry is even more pronounced in the distribution of Nobel Prize in Literature, of which a clear majority has gone to authors writing in languages of European origin. In the period 1901 to 1950, Rabindranath Tagorewas the only author writing in a non-European language ( Bengali) who received a Nobel Prize (in 1913). In the period 1951 to 2000, there were six laureates writing in non-European languages.
Of the six
official languages of the UN(Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic), four are European. All six directly reflect historical imperialism: the European Spanish Empire( 15th to 19th centuries), British Empire( 18th to 20th centuries), Russian Empire(19th century) and French Empire (19th to 20th century), besides the Chinese Empire (3rd century BC to 19th century) and the Arab Caliphates (7th to 13th centuries).
Eurocentrism in Africa
colonisation of Africaby European nations, Eurocentric systems of second-class citizenship were often set up in order to give Europeans political power far in excess of their numbers in those nations that had substantial European populations, such as Rhodesia(now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. The Congo Free Statewas claimed as the personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium, with a subsequent inhumane treatment and forced labour of the native population.
Eurocentrism has been said to deny Africans agency in the creation of their own history. For example, until recently, in Western scholarship cities such as
Dakar, Banjul(Bathhurst), Abidjan, Conakry and others were assumed to be creations of Western colonisers. However, though they were transformed in both negative and positive ways by colonisation, these cities predate colonisation as did many of the economic and institutional patterns found in Africa. [" [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001398/139816f.pdf The History of African Cities South of the Sahara] " by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch P. 329]
Eurocentrism in Australia
Immigration Restriction Act 1901was one of the first Acts of Australia's Federal Parliament after nationalism lead to the country's independence from European (British) rule. The Act placed "certain restrictions on immigration and... for the removal... of prohibited immigrants". Edmund Barton, the prime minister, argued in support of the Bill with the following statement: "The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman." The White Australia Policywas gradually removed after World War Two until the 1970s.
Less overtly Eurocentric was the view that the Indigenous people of Australia did not require any compensation or consideration when their land was claimed as a British colony, as their use of the land did fit with recognised (European) views of land ownership. They were later specifically denied citizenship in the Australian constitution, and traditional European views of appropriate lifestyles and attitudes lead to a policy of
cultural assimilation, designed to eradicate the race through measures including the forced removal of children.
Eurocentrism in Argentina
In Argentina an extensive racist ideology has been built on the notion of European supremacy. ["La discriminación en la discursividad social", por Mario Margulis, en Margulis (1998):17-37] This ideology forwarded the idea that Argentina was a country populated 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. [ [http://www.mapuche.info/indgen/lavozdelinterior040328.html "El racismo argentino es un racismo europeo", por Teun van Dijk, Centro de Documentación Mapuche, 2004] ] 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 policythat was practiced during the beginning of the 20th century.
Eurocentrism in the United States
During the 17th century, British settlers and immigrants from across Europe brought their Eurocentrism with them to America. After the
American Revolution, the colonists Eurocentrism morphed into the Americentrism that was epitomised in the zeitgeistof the Jacksonian Eraand Manifest Destiny.
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. [Cambridge History of China, CUP,1988]
In contrast, countries such as Australia defined their nationhood entirely in terms of an overseas extension of European history. It was, until recently, thought to have had no history or serious culture before colonisation. The history of the native inhabitants was subsumed by the Western disciplines of
ethnologyand archaeology. 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 Mayansand Incas, 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. Toynbeewere 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 ( Decolonization). The change has been most drastic in the USA, triggered by the 1950s to 1960s civil rights movementand perpetuated by the political correctnessof the 1970s to 1980s. Today, Eurocentrism remains a topic in the US " culture wars", notably when juxtaposed to Afrocentrism, but its prominence is limited compared to topics of religion or social issues.
Samir Amin: "L´Eurocentrisme, critique d´une idéologie." Paris 1988, engl. "Eurocentrism", Monthly Review Press 1989, ISBN 0853457867
*J.M. Blaut: "The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History ." Guilford Press 1993. ISBN 0898623480
*J.M. Blaut: "Eight Eurocentric Historians." Guilford Press 2000. ISBN 1572305916
*Dipesh Chakrabarty, "Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference", Princeton UP 2000
*Gerhard Hauck, "Die Gesellschaftstheorie und ihr Anderes : wider den Eurozentrismus der Sozialwissenschaften", Münster 2003
*Vassilis Lambropoulos, "The rise of Eurocentrism : anatomy of interpretation", Princeton, NJ : Princeton Univ. Press, 1993
*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
*Charlotte Spitzer, "Neorassismus und Europa : rassistische Strukturen in der Selbstvergewisserung Europäischer Identität", Frankfurt am Main [etc.] : Lang, 2003
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, "Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedom", Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1993
Robert J.C. Young, "White mythologies : writing history and the west", 2nd edition, Taylor & Francis, 2004
*cite book |last=Bairoch |first=Paul |title=Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1993 |publisher=University Of Chicago Press |location= |isbn=0226034623
*cite book |last=Baudet |first=E. H. P. |title=Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man |authorlink= |others=Translated by Elizabeth Wentholt |year=1959 |publisher=Yale University Press |location=New Haven, CT |isbn= |id=ASIN|B0007DKQMW (1965)
*cite book |last=Lefkowitz |first=Mary |title=Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History |authorlink=Mary Lefkowitz |coauthors= |year=1996 |publisher=Basic Books |location=New York |isbn=0465098371
*cite book |last=Preiswerk |first=Roy |title=Ethnocentrism and History: Africa, Asia, and Indian America in Western Textbooks |authorlink= |coauthors=Dominique Perrot |year=1978 |publisher=NOK |location=New York and London |isbn=0883570718
*cite journal |last=Rüsen |first=Jörn |authorlink=Jörn Rüsen |coauthors= |year=2004 |month= |title=How to Overcome Ethnocentrism: Approaches to a Culture of Recognition by History in the Twenty-First Century. |journal=History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History |volume= |issue=43:2004 |pages=pp. 118–129 |id= |url= |accessdate= |quote=
*cite book |last=Trevor-Roper |first=Hugh |title=The Rise of Christian Europe |authorlink=Hugh Trevor-Roper |coauthors= |year=1965 |publisher=Thames and Hudson |location=London |isbn= |id=ASIN|B000O894GO
* [http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/Projects/Pearce/Chapters/Ch10.html Eurocentrism in Mathematics]
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