The process that gave rise to Eurocentrism in social sciences and history is somewhat comparable to the follies of youth. Little children have difficulty believing that their parents existed before their birth. Teenagers often think that they are the first ones to have the experiences they are having as they make their way into adulthood. Young people usually think of previous generations as stodgy and old-fashioned, and of themselves as uniquely special and innovative. And they imagine they will be forever so, as if time will stop moving after them.
Part of growing up, however, is gradually breaking out of such narcissistic naiveté. As we get older, we start realising that others before us had many experiences that resemble ours, even if they enjoyed different fashions and lacked certain technologies. Then the cycle repeats with the next generation. It is perhaps not particularly surprising that our social sciences, which came of age in the 19th and early 20th centuries – ie, ‘the youth’ of European/Western hegemony – also had a similar naiveté about world history. Europe/the West mattered the most at that moment, so it must have always been so. And perhaps it is a sign we are now nearing the twilight years of this hegemony that critiques (and self-critiques) of Eurocentrism have become so commonplace in most social sciences as to be banal.
But while it has been easy to level critiques of Eurocentrism against the social sciences – a low-hanging fruit if there ever was one – it has proven much harder to find solutions to it. There is always the danger that, in attempts to get away from Eurocentrism, we replace one kind of self-regarding history with another. It is also naive to think that only Europeans produce/have produced self-centred and whiggish narratives of history. A Sinocentric or Russocentric world history is no solution – it would just repeat the cycle. [Continue reading…]