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Encyclopedia > Eurocentric

Eurocentrism is the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing emphasis on European (and, generally, Western) concerns, culture and values at the expense of those of other cultures. It is an instance of ethnocentrism, perhaps especially relevant because of its alignment with current and past real power structures in the world.

Being subject to eurocentrist practices may lead to the perception that Western concepts are deemed universal, or superior, or at least fundamentally different from those in other cultures or civilizations.

Assumptions of European superiority arose during the period of European imperialism, which started slowly in the 16th century, accelerated in the 17th and 18th centuries and reached its zenith in the 19th century. European cultures were contrasted with traditional hunting, farming and herding societies who populated many of the areas of the world being newly explored by Europeans, such as the Americas, Siberia and later the Pacific and Australasia. Perceptions of greater cultural and technological sophistication led to widespread assumptions of greater personal, intellectual and moral value. Such racist developments were used to justify slavery, genocide and other forms of political and economic exploitation.

The colonialising period involved the widespread settlement of parts of the Americas and Australasia with European people, and also the establishment of outposts and colonial administrations in parts of Asia and Africa. As a result, eurocentric may now encompass the views of people who are not actually European any longer, but who are descended from Europeans and have been brought up into what may be regarded as mainly European cultural traditions.

The source of a cultural tradition can be seen in the balance of emphasis given to various thinkers and ideas in discussing a subject. 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). Thus, if a university course on the history of human thought covered Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant and Marx, but omitted Kǒng Fūzǐ (Confucius), Ibn Sina and Gandhi, for example, it could fairly be regarded as eurocentric.

Other examples of eurocentrism as part of education and the world of letters may be found in reference works such as encyclopedias. In an overview of 17th century history, say, it would be eurocentric to list numerous dates, events and political figures from the many states of Europe, but only brief mentions for the Manchu conquest of China or the Mughals in India. Then as now, and for most of human history, well over half of the human population has lived in Asia.

In Britain eurocentric or eurocentrist may occasionally be used in political discourse to mean europhile.

See also:

  Results from FactBites:
Eurocentrism and Science (1265 words)
Several strategies have been used to reinforce the myth that regions outside Europe contributed nothing to the development of science and technology either in terms of hardware or software- the view that historically the majority of the world have been passive recipients of a so-called Western science and technology.
The birth of modern science is often associated with the 17th century, admittedly a period of intensified intellectual activity on the part of European scholars.
But it may be that Modern Science predates such eurocentric boundaries.It is as difficult to conceive of mathematics without the Hindu-Arabic numerals, the concept zero and algebraic notations as it is to think of optics without al-Haitham and al-Kindi.
  More results at FactBites »



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