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Eurocentrism is a term coined during the period of decolonization in the later 20th century to refer to the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective, with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European 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 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 Prime Meridian, or the worldwide spread of the Common Era and Latin alphabet) have their roots in this period.

Contents

Terminology

The term Euro-centrism was coined relatively late, during the decolonization period following World War II, based on an earlier adjective Europe-centric which came into use in the early 20th century. The term would appear to enter common discourse in the 1970s, through the Marxist writings of Samir Amin as part of a global, core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development. But Amin's application of the term in scare quotes as 'Europocentrism' in his Accumulation on A World Scale (2nd ed., 1971, p. 603), suggests its more controversial roots in geopolitics. 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). It is taking Europe as the center of the world and assumes that it represent the pinnacle of human progress. Eurocentralism makes us perceive the way things are in relation to cultural and historical influence. It is often a perspective in which people might view other people's culture.

The 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has no reference to this influential prefix. By 1988, 'Eurocentrism' is appearing in the titles of Amin's books as the definition of an ideology.

Origin in colonialism

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 superiority increased 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 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.

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The European Miracle

"European miracle (a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981), [1] 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 empire and Mughal India) or Ming China.

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 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.

Examples

Special position of Europe

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."[2] The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie of 1854 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."[3]

View of "primitive" cultures

While even during colonialism, western thought generally recognized the achievements of non-Western civilizations, mostly Near Eastern, Indian and Chinese, it tended to under-estimate[citation needed] cultures it regarded as "primitive", in particular the cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa and of the New World.

Thus, Western scholarship until recently considered a number of African cities, including Dakar, Banjul (Bathhurst), Abidjan, Conakry and others, to be creations of Western colonisers, while these cities have since been shown to predate colonisation.[4]

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 culture, and especially in cultures with imperial aspirations, as in the Sinocentrism ubiquitous 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.[5]

Decline

Early anticolonialism

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.[6]

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, 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.

Decolonization

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 movement and perpetuated by the political correctness of 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.

Peters World Map

World map in the Mercator projection
Worldmap in the Gall-Peters projection.

The 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.

Arno Peters highlighted the political implications of map design, and in an attempt to counteract Eurocentric bias that may be implicit in the Mercator projection promoted the Gall-Peters projection, which he introduced in 1974. Peters' map was endorsed by German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who esteemed it as "a powerful symbol of the equality of nations", and the map found subsequently its way on to the walls of every head and branch office of every United Nations agency.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Jones, Eric ((2003 (1st ed 1987))). The European Miracle: Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia. ISBN ISBN 0-521-52783-X. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ [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.
  4. ^ The History of African Cities South of the Sahara by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch P. 329
  5. ^ Blaut, James M. (2000), Eight Eurocentric Historians, Guilford Press, New York
  6. ^ Cambridge History of China, CUP,1988
  7. ^ The Times, 10 December 2002, Arno Peters: Advocate of equality in all things who created an evenly proportioned world map (obituary)

Bibliography

  • Bairoch, Paul (1993). Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226034623. 
  • Baudet, E. H. P. (1959). Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man. Translated by Elizabeth Wentholt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ASIN B0007DKQMW
(1965).
  • Lefkowitz, Mary (1996). Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465098371. 
  • Preiswerk, Roy; Dominique Perrot (1978). Ethnocentrism and History: Africa, Asia, and Indian America in Western Textbooks. New York and London: NOK. ISBN 0883570718. 
  • Rüsen, Jörn (2004). "How to Overcome Ethnocentrism: Approaches to a Culture of Recognition by History in the Twenty-First Century.". History and Theory: Studies in the Philosophy of History (43:2004): 118–129. 
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh (1965). The Rise of Christian Europe. London: Thames and Hudson. ASIN B000O894GO. 
  • Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale, Monthly Review Press, 1974.
  • 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
  • Karl Haushofer, Geopolitik des pazifischen Ozeans, Berlin, Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, 1924.
  • Vassilis Lambropoulos, The rise of eurocentrism : anatomy of interpretation, Princeton, NJ : Princeton Univ. Press, 1993
  • Ella Shohat; Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: multiculturalism and the media, Routledge 1994, ISBN 0415063256
  • 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

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Adjective

Eurocentric (comparative more Eurocentric, superlative most Eurocentric)

Positive
Eurocentric

Comparative
more Eurocentric

Superlative
most Eurocentric

  1. focussed on Europe or the people and culture of Europe

Related terms


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