Ethnocentrism 101: Eurocentrism, We Should be Mad


“When the ‘European’ or ‘Western’ experience is made central, its perspective the norm, its culture seen as superior, its morality as exceptional, and its violence made invisible.”

Eurocentrism can be defined as a paradigm and as a cognitive vice. As a paradigm on which the interpretation of reality in the past, present, and future is that European achievements and ethical superiority is based on scientific rationality; as a cognitive vice because it understands the western European historical experiences as the complete, right ones when compared to the non-European history, seen as incomplete or distorted. It is a way of ethnocentrism.


Eurocentrism considers western Europe as civilized culture, center, and main actor of history with their permanent superiority above any other region. This leads to the concept of the universalism of eurocentrism; it is at all times and places whose moral and convenient public policies are ideal and should be applied or at least followed by “the rest”.


This concept has been gaining more and more space into the interpretation not only of cultures and their ideals but also in the global public policies established and/or copied by countries outside Europe. The studies that used this term started around 1960 by postcolonial authors but it was in 1989 when a more complete and used definition of eurocentrism was given by the economist Samir Amin, who conceptualized the term. As a discourse, eurocentrism places emphasis on Western European concerns, values. Eurocentrism is more cultural than a geographical concept, and lately, it has been placed next to North America, mainly the United States. Eurocentrism is considered also, as a deformation, a consistent systematic, and important one because it works in a “spontaneous way” that has vague evidence and a lack of common sense (Samir, 1989)


When did it happen? Eurocentrism’s existence dates back to the XVI century, the period of Renaissance, and merges most strongly in the XIX century, and reaches an incredible rise after the Cold War because the west “won”. In the XXth Century, this eurocentrism is consolidated by the Single European Act (SEA) of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that later on was going to be replaced by the Treaty of Lisbon (2001).

“… ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the industrial revolution. Industry crossed with democracy, in turn yielded the United States, embodying the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [...] History is thus converted into a tale about the furtherance of virtue, about how the virtuous win out over the bad guys” (Wolf, 1982 in Çapan, 2017).

Some consequences of the universality of Eurocentrism are that it wants to apply the solutions that are deemed convenient to cultures and contexts that have other historical and social realities. Therefore, policies cannot be socialized, people cannot be made to think and operate the mechanisms proposed for the cultures that make up Eurocentric thought because there is no common memory or similar historical experiences. As much as a region aspires to the model of the European Union, they are simply not the same realities.


The Plumb-pudding in danger, or, State epicures taking un petit souper (1805) by James Gillray.

According to Wallerstein (2007), the main assumptions about European institutions are that they practice policies in defense of human rights and democracy. The second one is the idea of the civilizations' clash; always assuming the occidental one is the superior one for being able to base into those universal values and truths. The last one is the idea of the scientific truths of the market: There is no other option for governments than to accept the laws of the neoliberal economy and act according to them.




The questioning has been started some time ago especially by the non-European academy, the marginalized academy. The marginal cultures who were submitted to western cultures colonization have made a call to start decolonization, as a start Quijano (2000) says that the idea of the human civilization as something that started in a natural state and culminates in Europe and mainly, stop treating the Europe/Non-Europe differences as racial instead of power history.


As a consequence, contexts designated as being outside of ‘Europe’ or the West are written as being between ‘the two poles of the homologous sets of oppositions, despotic/ constitutional, medieval/modern, feudal/capitalist’ (Chakrabarty 1992).

One of the consequences of questioning eurocentrism has been applied to the process of the interpretation of a historical milestone known as the "discovery" of America. According to some authors, and others, more extremely, called it "the meeting of two worlds". This is based on conceptual differences because America was supposed to be unknown, unexplored, and unexploited by Europe; and once it was known by Europe, the arrival of Europeans who in the name of Christianism (or the crown) committed terrible crimes among Native Americans and their lands. By 1.542, America already had states, political organizations, armies, cultural expansion, many different systems of beliefs, and most of the cultures had their own respectful view about the cycles of nature and practiced agriculture with a preservation mentality, instead of wasting the land, for example. In America, there were also civilizations who had knowledge of astronomy, medicine, and a complex cosmovision. What vanished most of these cultures was not the diseases carried by Europeans, was mostly because of the practice of making indigenous people work until they died. Europe has been constructed under the act of sacrificing other civilizations and hiding it under the appearance of being concerned about “compensation” and human rights. (Quijano, 2000 on Sierra, 2004)



Mural of exploitation of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors (1929-1945) by Diego Rivera. Palacio Nacional de la Ciudad de México.

What has been proposed to overcome eurocentrism at least in regard to marginalized cultures, is the idea of dialogue in equal conditions, accepting and embracing the idea of pluriversity: European, Islamic, Vedanta, Taoist, Buddhist, Latin American, Bantu, and more. Basically, a new idea of the Good Living, away from aspirations to a speech given for so long by eurocentrism.












Sources:

  • Amīn, S. (1989). El eurocentrismo: Crítica de una ideología. Siglo Veintiuno editores.

  • Back To Basics: Eurocentric. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 August 2021, from https://skindeepmag.com/articles/back-to-basics-eurocentric/

  • Çapan, Z. G. (2017). Enacting the International/Reproducing Eurocentrism. Contexto Internacional, 39(3), 655–672. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0102-8529.2017390300010

  • Dussel, E. (1993). Eurocentrism and Modernity (Introduction to the Frankfurt Lectures). Boundary 2, 20 (3), 65. https://doi.org/10.2307/303341

  • Fourny, J.-F. (1994). Anatomy of Eurocentrism: On Samir Amin’s ‘Eurocentrism’ and Vassilis Lambropoulos’s ‘The Rise of Eurocentrism’. Research in African Literatures, 25(4), 189–198.

  • Sánchez-Antonio, J. C. (2020). Eurocentrismo, ciencias sociales y transmodernidad. Araucaria, 44, 177–202. https://doi.org/10.12795/araucaria.2020.i44.08

  • Sierra, J. L. (2004). Eurocentrismo, coloniaje, racismo y opresión: Realidad puertorriqueña. 7.

  • Xypolia, I. (2016). Eurocentrism and Orientalism. In S. Ray & H. Schwarz (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies (pp. 1–7). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119076506.wbeps126

Media Sources:

  • James Gillray | The Plumb-Pudding in Danger;–or–State Epicures Taking un Petit Souper | The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (n.d.). Retrieved 22 August 2021, from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/367748

  • Murales Rivera—Ausbeutung durch die Spanier 1.jpg—Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre. (n.d.). Retrieved 21 August 2021, from https://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Murales_Rivera_-_Ausbeutung_durch_die_Spanier_1.jpg

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Melisa Silva

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