Why is philosophical education so Eurocentric


Sebastian Conrad

To person

Dr. phil., born 1966; Professor of Modern History at the Free University of Berlin, Friedrich Meinecke Institute, Koserstraße 20, 14195 Berlin. [email protected]

The criticism of the Eurocentrism of historiography is already good form today. Since the 1970s, the demand for an "overcoming of Eurocentrism" and an equal inclusion of the "peoples without history" has gradually become part of the mainstream in the "West" as well. In other parts of the world, especially in colonized societies, this criticism is much older and goes back to the 19th century. Over the past few decades, approaches such as Transnational History have that postcolonial studies and global history contributed to exploring ways to a non-Eurocentric historiography. [1]

What is Eurocentrism and what is so problematic about it? In many representations, two levels are mixed up, which should be kept apart. On the one hand there is Eurocentrism as a point of view, as a pattern of interpretation; on the other hand there is the question of Europe's role in history. Both aspects are of course closely related, but for heuristic reasons it is helpful to distinguish between them.

Eurocentrism and European centricity

As a perspective, Eurocentrism again appears in different forms. Here, too, it is helpful to distinguish the two most important directions: The first relates to the idea of ​​Europe as the origin of historical progress, of Europe as the driving force of modernity. The second direction has above all to do with the norms, terms and narratives with which historians give meaning to the past - even when Europe is not mentioned at all. So this is less about the historical process itself than about the perspective with which this process is viewed. [2]

To begin with the first direction of Eurocentrism: The historian Robert Marks summarized the stylization of the historical process as dominated by Europe as follows: "The Eurocentric worldview regards Europe as the only active designer of world history, in a sense as its 'original source'. Europe acts , while the rest of the world obeys. Europe has creative power, the rest of the world is passive. Europe makes history, the rest of the world has none until it comes into contact with Europe. Europe is the center, the rest of the world its periphery . Only Europeans are able to initiate change or modernization, the rest of the world is not. "[3]

For a long time, such a view was a common pattern in world history. [4] In the meantime, historians are trying to bring out the complexity of the past. In this way, they give non-Western societies more space in their presentations, aiming at a more equal distribution of the subject matter and the inclusion of actors and societies in many regions of the world. The days when the historian Arnold Toynbee was criticized for devoting only one sixth of the space in his world history to England that he had reserved for Egypt - Toynbee countered that a sixtieth would have been appropriate - are over. [5]

Ultimately, this endeavor to achieve inclusion aims not only at geographical justice, but also at questioning and undermining the prevailing narrative of Western dominance. Indeed, recent research has made it clear that the teleological view of older representations - according to which a European superiority is built deep in world history - is unsustainable. One can hardly speak of a European-American hegemony before the early 19th century. The emergence of the modern world was the result of multiple interactions. What had long been considered a unique European achievement was often based on complex exchange processes to which actors in different regions had contributed. [6]

At this point it makes sense to briefly look at the relationship between Eurocentrism and European centricity. It is certainly important to reconstruct the whole range of historical experience in its regional diversity. But at the same time the challenge is not to go to the other extreme and to let the role of power structures disappear under a colorful patchwork of local stories. Overcoming Eurocentrism should not go hand in hand with marginalizing Europe (and the United States). When historians praise modern world historiography for being "a particularly suitable instrument for recognizing the contributions of all peoples to the common history of the world", then that sounds above all like good intentions - and at the same time harbors the danger of power structures and political hierarchies neglect. [7] Alternative interpretations of world history should not obscure the situations in which Euro-America played a dominant role.

There is an important difference between emphasizing the European centricity of a historical situation and its Eurocentric interpretation: to say that industrialization first occurred in England is not Eurocentric; to assume that she could only perform there, on the other hand. When many societies in the 19th century began to look to Western Europe and North America for models of modern schooling, it was an expression of the fact that the geopolitical terrain had shifted in favor of the West. It would be Eurocentric to claim that modern institutions could only have emerged in the West and not elsewhere. Even if both dimensions are connected, one can nevertheless heuristically separate the evaluation of the historical role of Europe - basically an empirical question - from the problem of Eurocentrism; this is all the more important, since Eurocentric patterns of interpretation are often used even when it is not about Europe or the "West" at all.

This brings us back to the question of Eurocentrism as a pattern of interpretation and leads on to a second aspect of this problem, conceptual Eurocentrism. The difficulties of emancipating oneself from the Eurocentric master narrative have been discussed in a particularly stimulating manner by the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty. His thesis is that "in the academic discourse on history (...) 'Europe' (is) still the sovereign, theoretical subject of all stories, including those we refer to as 'Indian', 'Chinese' or 'Kenyan'." All of these national stories are said to be "variations on a master tale" developed in and for Europe. [8]

Essentially, this is due to the fact that historical actors since the 19th century - by no means only in Europe - have declared European history to be a model of universal development. This view was anchored in the conceptual instruments of modern social sciences and thus repeatedly reproduced. Allegedly analytical terms such as nation, revolution, society or progress transformed a local (European) experience into a universalistic theoretical language, which already pre-structures the interpretation of the respective local past. "Only 'Europe' (...) is theoretically (...) recognizable; all other stories are the subject of empirical research that gives flesh and blood to a theoretical skeleton that is substantially 'Europe'. "[9] The specificity and historical differences of non-Western societies are then typically expressed in a" language of want ", in a Rhetoric of the "not yet" described and treated as deficits.