While ethnocentrism refers to the ways in which certain peoples or social groups may understand and interpret the world and other peoples from within their own socio-historical and cultural perspective, Eurocentrism refers to a specific form of ethnocentrism that became globalized, and which is closely associated with modernity and coloniality. While ethnocentrism refers to perspectives from within racial/ethnic boundaries and/or nation-state territorial lines, Eurocentrism is the distinct socio-historical and cultural perspective that produced those racial boundaries and nation-state territorial lines that today frame ethnocentrisms. Contrary to ethnocentrism, then, Eurocentrism moves beyond geographical, racial, and ethnic boundaries in its hegemonic reach. Indeed, Eurocentrism is inherently modern and colonial. The ‘geography of reason’ of Eurocentrism places Enlightenment thinkers (Hobbes, Locke etc.) essentially above peoples and cultures subjugated by these very ideals. The ‘temporality of reason’ of Eurocentrism places Europe as the beginning and the end of history, and operates from within a specific linear conception of time. In this way, Europe and dominant Imperial powers legitimate their own logic by claiming it inherently AS logic, and the rest as savagery, not worthy of inclusion or inexistent. As part of the modern colonial abyssal thinking, Eurocentrism is the hegemonic thought of the west/global north that essentialises itself while claiming to be universal, and categorising any perspective that points to this essentialism as being irrelevant, subjective, or uninformed.
Coloniality—the nexus of racism, capitalism, patriarchy, and the depredations of nature—is the pillar of Eurocentrism. As such, breaking with Eurocentrism implies breaking with coloniality. However, Eurocentrism produced the dominant idea of modernity that understands this last to be an internal product of Europe, and Europe was understood as a naturally superior way of being and thinking that owes nothing to the rest of the world. Similarly, contemporary global inequalities are seen as having no connection to the colonial/imperial endeavour, and in stead, Eurocentrism grounds the interpretation of these inequalities as being the result of the inherent “backwardness” and “unproductiveness” of people in the global South, and as being symptoms of the absence of modernity in specific places and among specific peoples.
Eurocentrism involves dualisms such as human-nature, mind-body, mind-spirit, reason-emotion, tradition-modernity, man-woman. These dualisms are however not in and by themselves characteristic of Eurocentrism. That which makes them characteristic of Eurocentrism is the fact that in Eurocentrism, these dualisms are organized by coloniality. Many attempts to break with Eurocentrism indeed pretend that the dualisms mentioned above are central, and that overcoming them means overcoming Eurocentrism. In doing so, these contributions continue ignoring that the condition of possibility of these dualisms is the colonial/racial ontology and politics: that which makes the separation between human and nature, mind and body, spiritual and secular, modernity and tradition, and so on, problematic, violent and epistemicidal, is their entwinement with coloniality and its death project.
Breaking with one or two of these separations does not equal to breaking with Eurocentrism, not to mention coloniality. It is possible to produce a well-written book that breaks with the idea that Europeans are modern (Latour, We Have Never Been Modern), while leaving concerns with coloniality largely unexamined. In doing so, one is basically continuing the colonial tradition of making invisible the problems of the other—and retaining the privilege of deciding what is a legitimate scientific or social problem. A person can contribute to breaking the spiritual-secular and human-nature divides by engaging seriously in the thinking of Indigenous peoples (Ingold, Rethinking the Animate, Re-Animating Thought), leaving untouched and unchallenged the problems of coloniality/racism, among them epistemic extractivism. As such, it is important to be wary of whether self-acclaimed challenges to Eurocentrism leave its pillar, coloniality, untouched. Leaving coloniality untouched and unchallenged means that the concerns with colonialism and its legacies are whitewashed and thereby neutralized. In other words, the whitewashing of the criticisms from the global south happens, among other reasons, through the selective and de-historicized challenges to separations that together articulate the ontological groundings of coloniality. Separating these dualisms from one another is to make invisible and negate coloniality; it is to engage in the practice of the death project.
References and further readings:
Lander, E. (2008), "Eurocentrism, Modern Knowledges and the ‘Natural’ Order of Global Capital", Kult, 6. 39-64. Available at
Santos, Boaventura de S. (2014), Epistemologies of the South. Justice against Epistemicide. London: Paradigm.
Suárez-Krabbe, J. (2016), Race. Rights and Rebels. Alternatives to Human Rights and Development from the Global South. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Julia Suárez-Krabbe is a Colombian-Danish scholar and activist. She is Associate Professor of Cultural Encounters at Roskilde University in Denmark. Her work addresses the problems of race and racism in relation to (human) rights, citizenship, development, social movements, 'other'/Southern knowledges and decolonization.
Como citarSuárez-Krabbe, Julia (2019), "Eurocentrism", Dicionário Alice. Consultado a 04.08.20, em https://alice.ces.uc.pt/dictionary/?id=23838&pag=23918&id_lingua=2&entry=24283. ISBN: 978-989-8847-08-9