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Twentieth-century Critics Of Eurocentrism

Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) was born in Martinique but trained mostly in France, serving in the French army during World War II. A strongly anticolonial theorist, he became involved in the Algerian war against the French and was the most articulate spokesperson for its cause. He did not live to see peace restored, dying of leukemia in Washington, D.C. in 1961. His most famous work is Les damnés de la terre (1961; The wretched of the earth), which is a passionate indictment of colonialism, especially that in Africa.

A major point of criticism of Eurocentrism in Fanon's work is his attacks on those Africans who internalize European culture at the expense of their own. He calls on Africans to promote their own culture as the symbol of their national consciousness. And that involves rejecting Europe and its sense of superiority, in other words Eurocentrism.

Edward Said (1935–2003) was a Palestinian Arab, who was born in Jerusalem but was trained in Cairo and the United States. He spent most of his professional career working at Columbia University in New York. Famous as a public intellectual and thinker generally, Said became a passionate critic of Eurocentrism.

So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe?

That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind.

Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.

SOURCE: Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, pp. 251–252.

Said's best known work is Orientalism (1978), a strong attack on Western scholarship on Islamic West Asia and North Africa, which he regarded as deeply ethnocentric or "Orientalist." By its nature, the theory of "Orientalism" applies to all non-Western societies, even though its focus is West Asia. He claims that in colonizing West Asia and North Africa, European states also "colonized" knowledge about these regions, meaning that there is a power factor of superior/inferior in Western scholarship concerning them, which is deeply "hegemonic." The result is that Western scholarship is generally simply an abstraction or invention shot through with various kinds of racism or imperialism. Certainly, it is incapable of examining Asian or African cultures and societies in their own terms. It is in line with a Western political agenda and suits Western interests generally.

Despite what many critics have claimed as an extreme view, Said does acknowledge the possibility that Western scholarship can be "decolonialized." His belief was that allegiance to a discipline, not to area studies, can lead to scholarship "that is not as corrupt, or at least as blind to human reality" as the Orientalist type (p. 326). Naturally, it is essential that all links between scholar and state be very specifically ruptured.

Said's work has attracted both support and criticism. Among the supporters is Ronald Inden, who has written works with similar thrust concerning India, especially Imagining India (1990). It has also sparked an opposite theory of "Occidentalism," which lies outside the scope of this entry.

The twentieth century saw numerous other critics of Eurocentrism closely involved in antiracist and anticolonial movements. A particularly distinguished American example was W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), a leader of the American civil rights movement as well as an advocate of black rights worldwide. A distinguished academic as well as a political activist, he wrote many books attacking Eurocentric and racist thinking, as well as defending black integrity, identities, and traditions. Du Bois was also notable in his understanding of the relationship between racism and sexism and in his high evaluation of the contributions of black women. He was born and lived most of his life in the United States, but emigrated to Africa in 1961, dying in Ghana.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical BackgroundEurocentrism - Examples, Twentieth-century Critics Of Eurocentrism, Eurocentrism, Anticolonialism, Modernity, Postcolonialism, Bibliography