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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. Eurocentrism is an instance of ethnocentrism, perhaps especially relevant because of its alignment with current and past real power structures in the world. Eurocentrism often involved claiming cultures that were not white or European as being such, or denying their existence at all.

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).

In Britain, eurocentric and eurocentrist are occasionally used in political discourse to describe supporters of European integration and the European Union, in other words as an antonym of eurosceptic.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Eurocentrism (also Western-centrism) is a worldview centered on and biased towards Western civilization. The exact scope of centrism varies from the entire Western world to only Europe or even just Western Europe (especially during the Cold War). When applied to history, it may refer to an apologetic stance towards European colonialism and other forms of imperialism.

The term Eurocentrism itself dates back to the late 1970s and became prevalent during the 1990s, especially in the context of decolonization and development aid and humanitarian aid offered by industrialised countries (First World) to developing countries (Third World).



The adjective Eurocentric, or Europe-centric, has been in use, in various contexts, since at least the 1920s. The term is popularised (in French as européocentrique) in the context of decolonization and internationalism in the mid 20th century. English usage of Eurocentric as an ideological term in identity politics is current by the mid-1980s.

The abstract noun Eurocentrism (French eurocentrisme, earlier europocentrisme) as the term for an ideology was coined in the 1970s by the Egyptian Marxian economist Samir Amin, then director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Amin used the term in the context of a global, core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development. English usage of Eurocentrism is recorded by 1979.

The coinage of Western-centrism is younger, attested in the late 1990s, and specific to English.

European exceptionalism

During European colonial era, encyclopedias under 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".

The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (Conversations-Lexicon) of 1847 still has an ostensibly Eurocentric approach and claims about Europe that "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".

European exceptionalism thus grew out of the Great Divergence of the Early Modern period, due to the combined effects of the Scientific Revolution, the Commercial Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires, the Industrial Revolution and a Second European colonization wave.

European exceptionalism is widely reflected in popular genres of literature, especially literature for young adults (for example, Rudyard Kipling's Kim) and adventure literature in general. Portrayal of European colonialism in such literature has been analysed in terms of Eurocentrism in retrospect, such as presenting idealised and often exaggeratedly masculine Western heroes, who conquered 'savage' peoples in the remaining 'dark spaces' of the globe.

European miracle, a term coined by Eric Jones in 1981, refers to this surprising rise of Europe during the Early Modern period. During the 15th to 18th centuries, a great divergence took place, comprising the European Renaissance, 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.

History of the concept


Even in the 19th century, anticolonial movements had developed claims about national traditions and values that were set against those of Europe. In some cases, as China, where local ideology was even more exclusionist than the Eurocentric one, Westernisation did not overwhelm longstanding Chinese attitudes to its own cultural centrality, but some would state that idea itself is a rather desperate attempt to cast Europe in a good light by comparison.

Orientalism developed in the late 18th century as a disproportionate Western interest in and idealization of Eastern (i.e. Asian) cultures.

By the early 20th century, some historians, such as Arnold J. Toynbee, were attempting to construct multifocal models of world civilizations. Toynbee also drew attention in Europe to non-European historians, such as the medieval Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun. He also established links with Asian thinkers, such as through his dialogues with Daisaku Ikeda of Soka Gakkai International.

The explicit concept of Eurocentrism is a product of the period of decolonisation in the 1960s to 1970s. Its original context is the core-periphery or dependency model of capitalist development of Marxian economics (Amin 1974, 1988).

Debate since 1990s

Eurocentrism has been a particularly important concept in development studies. Brohman (1995) argued that Eurocentrism "perpetuated intellectual dependence on a restricted group of prestigious Western academic institutions that determine the subject matter and methods of research".

In treatises on historical or contemporary Eurocentrism that appeared since the 1990s, Eurocentrism is mostly cast in terms of dualisms such as civilized/barbaric or advanced/backward, developed/undeveloped, core/periphery, implying "evolutionary schemas through which societies inevitably progress", with a remnant of an "underlying presumption of a superior white Western self as referent of analysis". Eurocentrism and the dualistic properties that it labels on non-European countries, cultures and persons have often been criticized in the political discourse of the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in the greater context of political correctness, race in the United States and affirmative action. In the 1990s, there was a trend of criticizing various geographic terms current in the English language as Eurocentric, such as the traditional division of Eurasia into Europe and Asia or the term Middle East.

Eric Sheppard, in 2005, argued that contemporary Marxism itself has Eurocentric traits (in spite of Eurocentrims originating in the vocabulary of Marxian economics), because it supposes that the third world must go through a stage of capitalism before "progressive social formations can be envisioned".

There has been some debate on whether historical Eurocentrism qualifies as "just another ethnocentrism", as it is found in most of the world's cultures, especially in cultures with imperial aspirations, as in the Sinocentrism in China; in the Empire of Japan (c. 1868-1945), or during the American Century. James M. Blaut (2000) argued that Eurocentrism indeed army beyond other ethnocentrisms, as the scale of European colonial expansion was historically unprecedented and resulted in the formation of a "colonizer's model of the world".

Race and politics in the United States

The terms Afrocentrism vs. Eurocentrism have come to play a role in the 2000s to 2010s in the context of the political discourse on race in the United States and critical whiteness studies, aiming to expose white supremacism and white privilege.

Afrocentrist scholars, such as Molefi Asante, have argued that there is a prevalence of Eurocentric thought in the processing of much of academia on African affairs. On the other hand, in an article, 'Eurocentrism and Academic Imperialism' by Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, from the University of Tehran, states that Eurocentric thought exists in almost all aspects of academia in many parts of the world, especially in the humanities. Edgar Alfred Bowring states that in the West, self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run more deeply and those tendencies have infected more aspects of their thinking, laws and policy than anywhere else. Luke Clossey and Nicholas Guyatt have measured the degree of Eurocentrism in the research programs of top history departments. In Southern Europe and Latin America, a number of academic proposals to offer alternatives to the Eurocentric perspective have emerged, such as the project of the Epistemologies of the South by Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos and those of the Subaltern Studies groups in India and Latin America (the Modernity/Coloniality Group of Anibal Quijano, Edgardo Lander, Enrique Dussel, Santiago Castro-Gómez, Ramón Grosfoguel, and others.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Eurocentrism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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