Manual Eurocentrism

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As the intentionally provocative opening remarks by Peer Vries made clear, it is all too easy to ritualistically denounce Eurocentrism, something which only the most dyed-in-the-wool Whiggish economic historians would explicitly defend.


Although as the examples of Niall Ferguson, David Landes, and Thomas Friedman make clear, such people are not without their influence in the wider world, however modest their status within global history. Although a variety of different schools of thought in contemporary historiography of the field were represented at the workshop, an important conclusion of the discussion was the need to clarify the concept of Europe itself. But to give this effect means to think beyond Eurocentrism, not merely anti-Eurocentric: it means to realize that for some historical purposes, certain parts of Europe may have had more in common with other parts of the world than with other parts of the same macro-region, and to recognize Europe as a construction of convenience, hiding as much internal diversity as any other part of Eurasia.

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For this reason, it is encouraging that much of our discussions were based on further developing new thinking in terms of space and time in the Eurasian and indeed world historical context. If we can reconceptualise how we think about trends, networks, and larger causal patterns across the Eurasian landmass and across the great oceans, the political geographies whose names are derived from European antiquity may no longer be so relevant.

While at the macro-level networks may replace retrojection of modern nation-states, at the micro-level we may better understand the differences within Europe as part of larger patterns.

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We can therefore plausibly say that recent attempts at reconceptualising Eurasia within global history have sought in different ways to navigate between the polemics of the anti-Eurocentric school and the technological-demographic determinism of traditional economic models of historical change. For the purposes of economic anthropology, it is fascinating to see two parallel developments in this: on the one hand the revival of ideas about the relationship of markets, elite political rule, and economic transformation that draws explicitly from Marx and Polanyi, and on the other hand the increasing significance of institutionalist economics.

These perspectives try, each in its own way, to reintroduce into their models the importance of the embeddedness of causally significant economic phenomena such as long-distance trade in Eurasia or the emergence of finance capital in the Dutch Republic and the UK.


This opens up an excellent opportunity for productive exchange of theories and insights between global economic historians or historical sociologists and the tradition of economic anthropology. Such exchanges have not in recent years been very fertile. The possibility of renewing these traditions, where anthropological perspectives on the meaning of the economic exceed the small scale of particular field sites and address larger historiographical problems of differentiation and continuity in economic life, is too important to be missed.

Blaut, James. New York, NY: Guilford.

What does it mean to go beyond Eurocentrism? | Max Planck Institut für ethnologische Forschung

Hann, Chris. Kurlansky, Mark.

Bibliographic Information

How to cite. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Amin S Eurocentrism trans: Russel M. Chakrabarty D Provincializing Europe: postcolonial thought and historical difference.

Eurocentrism and the Politics of Global History

Coronil F Beyond occidentalism: toward nonimperial geohistorical categories. Dussel E Beyond eurocentrism: the world-system and the limits of modernity.

Lander E Eurocentrism and colonialism in Latin American social thought. Nepantla Views South 1 3 — Google Scholar. Quijano A Coloniality of power, eurocentrism, and Latin America. Said EW Culture and imperialism.