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Examples, Twentieth-century Critics Of Eurocentrism, Eurocentrism, Anticolonialism, Modernity, Postcolonialism, Bibliography

Eurocentrism refers to a discursive tendency to interpret the histories and cultures of non-European societies from a European (or Western) perspective. Common features of Eurocentric thought include:

  • Ignoring or undervaluing non-European societies as inferior to Western;
  • Ignoring or undervaluing what Asians or Africans do within their own society or seeing the histories of non-European societies simply in European terms, or as part of "the expansion of Europe" and its civilizing influence.

Eurocentrism is very old indeed. Already in the fifth century B.C.E. the Greek historian Herodotus mentions "barbaric" Asian hordes who, despite splendid architecture, lack European individuality.

Although Eurocentrism has been common through the ages, it has not been constant, nor has it affected the way Europeans have viewed all non-European societies equally. Moreover, Europeans have not always been in full agreement with each other over the merits or failings of particular non-European societies. In some writers and periods we find a tendency to romanticize Asia and Africa. In general, Eurocentrism has been more pronounced during periods of greatest European assertiveness or self-confidence, the most outstanding example being the age of imperialism and colonialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There are certain beliefs, valid or otherwise, that have led Eurocentric thinkers toward ignoring, undervaluing, or condemning non-European societies. There is a wide range of these, some applying more broadly in chronological terms than others. They include the following:

  • Non-European societies tend to be despotic and servile, as against the West's freedom and individualism.
  • Non-European societies are Islamic, or pagan, or believe in strange religions, which are inferior to Christianity, or lack its truth.
  • Non-European societies are cruel and lack concern for human life. They practice barbaric customs toward women, such as female genital mutilation (north Africa), widow-burning (sati, India) or foot-binding (China).
  • Non-European societies are inflexible and unchanging. Some European thinkers have attributed this lack of change to topography or climate, for instance extreme dependence on a major river, such as the Nile or the Yellow River, or extreme heat or dryness.
  • Non-European societies are poor, backward, and underdeveloped, as opposed to the industrialized, progressive, and rich West.
  • Non-European societies lack rational modes of thinking and scientific approaches.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical Background