Under Eurocentrism refers to the ideological assessment of intra- and extra-European societies by European ideas; therefore on the basis of the values and norms developed by Europeans . In Eurocentrism, these values , categories and convictions are the only yardstick for thinking and acting. In this sense, the term Eurocentrism includes not only geographic Europe, but all “neo-European” states in North America , South Africa and Australia . Eurocentric thinking has been the driving force behind social and cultural change in most of the world's human societies since colonial times .
Manifestations of Eurocentrism Today
- According to Edward Goldsmith , the terms prosperity , standard of living , poverty , progress , economy , growth or culture today are essentially Eurocentric in connection with the globalization of the Western way of life .
- When one speaks of countries in the so-called Third World or when terms such as “ underdevelopment ”, “development processes” and “ development aid ” are used, it is subconsciously suggested that these countries should develop and become like Europe.
- Lexicons, school books, the media, scientific theories etc. are often based on a Eurocentric perspective.
- Eurocentric thinking recognizes the cultural and material products of non-Europeans, but not their performance and their own earnings. Instead, it emphasizes Europe's influence on the successes of other regions.
- Geographical names such as “Near”, “Middle” and “Far East” are chosen from the point of view of Central Europe.
- The usual representation of the world map is in the Mercator projection , a conformal, normal-axis cylindrical projection in which the meridians and circles of latitude intersect at right angles and are represented as straight lines. As a result, regions such as Europe, North America and North Asia, which are further away from the equator, appear disproportionately large. As an alternative, Arno Peters developed the Peters projection .
- Europe is usually shown in the center of the world map . However, alternatively oriented maps have also been developed.
- In calculating the time zones , London is the reference point.
- For disease classifications, technical terms and many other scientific terms, terms are used worldwide that were derived from the Latin or ancient Greek language.
- Several more recent writing systems from previously non-scripted cultures are based on the Latin alphabet.
Europe (or the West) itself was seen in the past as "civilized", while the rest of the world was seen as "barbaric". The emergence of urban centers, the formation of states and universities (as centers of science) are seen as central features of civilization . One speaks of Eurocentrism when a European feels superior to others because these things are not developed in their countries of origin - even if only supposedly. This emphasis and valuation of Europe can be found in old encyclopedias , among other places . For example, Zedler wrote about Lemma Europa in 1741 :
“Although Europe is the smallest of all four parts of the world, for various reasons it is preferable to all the others. [...] There is an abundance of all foods. The inhabitants are of very good morals, polite and ingenious in science and handicraft. "
In the Brockhaus Encyclopedia of 1854, when it comes to Europe , it says that Europe is his
"[...] terrestrial structure as well as its cultural-historical and political significance according to the most important of the five parts of the earth, over which it has achieved a highly influential supremacy in material, but even more in spiritual respect."
In 1994, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam characterized the Eurocentric discourse as complex, contradicting and historically inconsistent. Accordingly, the sources - especially on the emergence of the paradigm - are in part divided.
Dieter Haller defined Eurocentrism as follows in 2005:
"One speaks of Eurocentrism when European culture is the yardstick."
Samir Amin does not see Eurocentrism as the sum of the prejudices and mistakes of Europeans with regard to other peoples. In his opinion, these prejudices are no stronger than those that other peoples have towards Europeans. Amin describes Eurocentrism as a cultural phenomenon that assumes the existence of irrevocable cultural constants that influence the historical development of different peoples. Thus Eurocentrism is anti-universalist, since it does not look for possible general laws of human evolution. But he pretends to be universalistic, claiming that the only solution to today's problems is for all peoples to emulate the Western model. Eurocentrism is not a social theory , but a distortion of the view of the world that underlies the majority of prevailing social theories and ideologies. It is therefore a very influential paradigm that functions by itself and often moves in gray areas of apparently obvious facts and general knowledge.
Using Karl Marx as an example, Kolja Lindner differentiates between four dimensions of Eurocentrism: an ethnocentrism that claims the superiority of Western societies (see below), an 'orientalist' view of non-Western regions of the world (following Edward Said ), a developmental thinking that considers European history as Model for worldwide developments universalized, and an embezzlement of non-Western history or its influence on the development of Europe (following approaches from global history).
Assumptions of Eurocentrism
From a Eurocentric point of view, Europe is portrayed as a propagator of democracy and defines itself through its best achievements in science , development and humanism . By taking a selective look at history, counterexamples such as Hitler , Mussolini , Stalin and Torquemada are ignored as well as non-European examples of democracy.
Eurocentric researchers assume that the emergence of modernity can only be credited to the preparation of the way by the Europeans - without any help from non-Europeans.
According to Shohat and Stam, the Eurocentric discourse is characterized by a linear historical course, which leads from classical Greece, constructed as “pure”, “western” and “democratic”, via the Roman Empire to the metropolises of Europe and the founding of the USA. Europe is always seen as the engine of progressive developments (e.g. democracy , class society , feudalism , capitalism , industrial revolution ).
Kochanek sees Eurocentrism as the result of a long process. In his habilitation thesis, he historically examines the image of the north and the conception of Eurocentrism, starting with antiquity . While the north in the Old Testament is represented as holy and demonic at the same time according to the conception of the north, but the " promised land " is viewed as the center and the image of invincible barbarians predominates in Greek and Roman antiquity , this image is used in At the time of the migrations, it was replaced by a theological-anthropological Christocentrism in which the north is no longer so clearly delimited and viewed less negatively. In the Middle Ages , the image of Christian Europe emerged with only individual non-Christian regions. The Christian idea of the mission arose in which a European, Eurocentric self-image is expressed. Thus Eurocentrism is strongly influenced by Christocentrism.
Blaut called Eurocentrism as the worldview of the colonizers ( "the colonizer's model of the world"). Even after Shohat and Stam, Eurocentrism initially emerged as the discursive basis of colonialism , through which the European powers achieved hegemony in large parts of the world.
Amin describes Eurocentrism as a specific phenomenon of modernity whose roots go back to the Renaissance , but whose heyday was in the 19th century. Thus it can be seen as a dimension of the culture and ideology of the modern capitalist world.
Eurocentrism in the Social Sciences
The European intellectual tradition of the social sciences is now the dominant one that is taught in universities. It is thus set as the standard and other traditions are neglected.
Although it is assumed in sociology that one can only fully understand one's own self and thus one's own society only by looking at it from the outside, this is hardly reflected in scientific practice.
"You believe you can recognize the characteristics of your own society without ever seriously thinking outside the box."
Even if social scientists include an analysis of society as a whole in their research, Hauck sees the danger of a Eurocentric perspective. Often, when describing the 'West' or the 'Modern', a distinction is made from something or someone 'else'.
"We are X, the others are not-X (Y or Z)."
Often, however, there is no in-depth research into this 'other', instead one's own society is depicted and the opposite is projected onto 'the other'. In some theories and publications, no further differentiation is made between the various 'others', for example in modernization theory , where 'modernity' is contrasted with 'traditional societies', which are not further distinguished from one another. And even if a further differentiation is made, that does not necessarily mean a thorough historical examination of the representations of the 'others'.
Furthermore, Hauck sees it as problematic that one's own social relationships are naturalized, which is often based on economic theories.
Eurocentrism is also found in some theories of evolution . These are theories that assume that the current state of one's own society is the measure and goal of other societies (e.g. Comte, Spencer, Stalin , Rostov). A cumulative development is assumed, with one's own society always being the most highly developed of all societies.
Hauck sees the greatest breeding ground for Eurocentrism in naturalism , i.e. when social reality is viewed as a natural (natural) fact:
"Methodologically, the most important gateway for Eurocentrism in the social sciences appears to be the conception of science that Alfred Schütz characterized and criticized as" naturalism "."
As a result, intersubjectivity , interaction , intercommunication and language are taken as given and not questioned. In the social sciences, this can have the consequence that one judges an action without questioning the meaning or the meaning for the acting person. Actions are interpreted with their own cultural background, which carries the risk that the meanings that other cultures ascribe to actions are not sufficiently understood and misinterpreted.
After taking a closer look at the theories of Comte, Mill, Pareto and Durkheim, Hauck comes to the conclusion that all sociological positivism is naturalism and thus very susceptible to an unreflected Eurocentric view.
Criticism of Eurocentrism
According to Karl-Heinz Kohl , Eurocentrism does not always have to lead to a preference for one's own cultural habits, but also to a critical questioning of them and, under certain circumstances, to idealization of the foreign.
Eurocentric thinking is widely criticized. Newer authors see it as a variant of ethnocentrism , which can be observed (in various shades) in all human societies, for example in the self-image of the Chinese Empire as the "Middle Kingdom", which regards itself as the superior center of the world and has a barbaric peoples ”( Sinocentrism ). However, some of the constitutive features of Eurocentrism ( European expansion , colonial penetration, imperialist rule, global dominance) are omitted .
“With the claim to translate the foreign into terms of one's own (alterity), one risks both the mystery of the foreign and the possibility that something can be seen from the perspective of a foreign form of life that cannot be seen from one's own perspective is to be deciphered (alienity), to be lost. "
In contrast, James M. Blaut , for example, has examined the intellectual-productive sphere of global leadership societies using ethnographic means and thus identified the European worldview as qualitatively more than “just another ethnocentrism”, namely as the “colonizer's model of the world”, which has grown out of expansion and claim to power ". A characteristic feature of Blaut, however, is the sale of irrationality, passivity or stagnation to the non-European “outside”.
The Egyptian economist Samir Amin has devoted himself to a comprehensive and fundamental critique of Eurocentrism. He regards Eurocentrism as a modern myth that is essentially anti-universal and motivated to secure rule. The reconstruction of the history of Europe and the world is legitimized in the context of the ideological constructions of capitalism and presented as supposed universalism.
Shohat and Stam advocate anti-Eurocentric multiculturalism. In Unthinking Eurocentrism they examine the role the media play in reproducing Eurocentrism, but also how they can be used to counter Eurocentrism.
The accusation of Eurocentrism of human rights , which do not correspond to the traditions of all cultures, has been raised above all by African, Asian and Islamic authors . In fact, human rights were first developed in Europe and North America as a means of limiting power and domination and are therefore Eurocentric. According to the social scientist Dieter Senghaas , however, human rights were obviously not implanted in the original “cultural genes” of Europe, because the vast majority of European history shows no sympathy for what human rights stand for. The criticism of Eurocentrism, especially with regard to the universality of human rights, is also subject to objections, which it rejects as cultural relativism .
Dipesh Chakrabarty goes into this evaluation of the criticism of Eurocentrism as a cultural relativism . He rejects this by emphasizing that a criticism of a Eurocentric historiography and the equation of the "modern" with Europe in no way emerges from the attitude that reason, science and the claim to universality contribute to Europe as the modern are simply "culture-specific" and therefore only belong to European cultures. Because the point is not that the rationalism of the Enlightenment is inherently unreasonable, but rather it should be documented how and by what historical process the impression - which was ultimately not evident for everyone at all times - could be aroused that the " Reason ”of the Enlightenment is also“ evident ”far beyond the place where it was developed.
The research of a group of Latin American scientists led by Enrique Dussel , Walter D. Mignolo and Aníbal Quijano , who became known as Modernidad / Colonialidad (M / C), takes a different approach. Here, a critical thinking has developed, according to which Eurocentrism corresponds not only to the cognitive perspective of the Europeans as a self-perception, but is also conveyed as a supposedly inevitable perspective to those people who are under such hegemonic influences.
After this critical examination of the group Modernidad / Colonialidad, the European self-image in its economic and cultural power patterns draws its own perception, whereby Europeans not only feel superior to other population groups, but also assume a natural superiority. Therefore Eurocentrism is provided with a “myth of modernity” that negates being different on the same level. This leads to the conviction that the European worldview is the most developed and therefore the supposedly superior one. In this way, this understanding of modernity legitimized itself out of one's own interests in order to influence the development of societies regarded as “primitive”, “uneducated” and “savage” in the sense of Eurocentric basic patterns.
Related terms and delimitations
Eurocentrism is a special form of ethnocentrism . One speaks of ethnocentrism when the behavior of others is interpreted in terms of the traditions and values of one's own cultural reality. In doing so - unconsciously - one's own group is separated from "the others" by ascribing positive and negative characteristics. One's own culture is usually taken for granted as better.
Eurocentrism in this sense is no ordinary ethnocentrism: the group perceived as its own does not in this case include a specific (historically grown) culture, but many different cultures of various origins that identify (voluntarily or involuntarily) with European culture. This is shaped by the Christian religion - whose mission concept is alien to many other cultures - and by capitalism . The colonization of the world and the great interest in convincing other cultures of the (alleged) correctness of their own ideologies are primarily European phenomena.
Gerhard Hauck emphasizes that with Eurocentrism - as differentiating it from other forms of ethnocentrism - in addition to the belief in the superiority of one's own way of life, this superiority is also viewed as scientifically justified and the “will” and the “means of power” have developed, “which Not only to subjugate the whole world, but to shape it in its own image. ”From an ethnological point of view, Eurocentrism is to be seen as an integral part of Western culture .
Eurocentrism can also be compared with nationalism , which puts one's own nation at the center; in the case of Germany, one speaks of teutocentrism (also Germanocentrism or Deutschtümelei). Eurocentrism is not to be confused with racism . It is entirely possible to be anti-racist and still have a Eurocentric point of view.
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- cf. Shohat / Stam 1994: 1
- Edward Goldsmith : The Way. An ecological manifesto. 1st edition, Bettendorf, Munich 1996, pp. 201ff
- cf. Kohl 1993: 152
- cf. Amin 1989: vii f
- cf. Shohat / Stam 1994: 3
- cf. Shohat / Stam 1994: 2
- cf. Meyer's Grosses Taschenlexikon in 25 volumes 2001, Vol. 14: 256
- cf. Hansen 1993: 14
- Europe. In: Johann Heinrich Zedler : Large complete universal lexicon of all sciences and arts . Volume 8, Leipzig 1734, column 2192-2196. - Quote from column 2195 below
- Haller 2005: 17
- cf. Amin 1989: vii
- cf. Amin 1989: viiff.
- cf. Lindner 2011: 95f
- cf. Hobson 2007: 109
- cf. Kochanek 2004.
- Blaut 1993: 10
- See Chakrabarty 2000: 5
- Hauck 2003: 7
- Hauck 2003: 7 f.
- cf. Hauck 2003: 8
- cf. Hauck 2003: 9
- Hauck 2003: 11
- Hauck 2003: 11f
- Hauck 2003: 20ff.
- cf. Kohl 2000: 32
- See Shohat / Stam 1994.
- Yayrator Glover Is the universality of human rights a utopia? Philosophical seminar at the University of Zurich, Willisau (CH) 2002. P. 55.
- Dipesh Chakrabarty: Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference - New Edition . Princeton University Press, 2009, ISBN 1-4008-2865-1 ( google.de [accessed June 23, 2018]).
- Sebastian Garbe: The Modernity / Coloniality Project - On the theoretical / academic environment of the concept of the coloniality of power . In: Pablo Quintero, Sebastian Garbe (ed.): Coloniality of power. De / Colonial Conflicts: Between Theory and Practice . Unrast Verlag , Münster 2013, pp. 35–37
- Enrique Dussel : Europe, Modernidad y eurocentrismo . In: Edgardo Lander: La colonialidad del saber: eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales; perspectivas latinoamericanas . Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, Buenos Aires 2000, pp. 41–53 (here p. 49)
- cf. Haller 2005: 17th
- Hauck 2003: 14
- Christoph Antweiler: Mensch und Weltkultur: for a realistic cosmopolitanism in the age of globalization. transcript Verlag, 2011. pp. 160-162.
- cf. Hansen 1993.
- cf. Shohat / Stam 1994: 4