Eurocentrism

From Academic Kids

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.

For example, the very definition of a continent was expanded to separate the Eurasian continent into two parts, Europe and Asia as to place Europe itself into more prominence. In addition, Cartesian maps have been designed throughout known history to center the northwestern part of Europe (most notably Great Britain) in the map.

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. Greater technological sophistication led to widespread assumptions of greater cultural, personal, intellectual and moral value. Such racist developments were used to justify slavery, genocide, 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 also the establishment of outposts and colonial administrations in parts of Asia and Africa. As a result, eurocentrism 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 encyclopaediae. 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, or the Aksum Christian period in Ethiopia. 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:

nl:Eurocentrisme

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