Friday, July 27, 2007

Is Multiculturalism Ethnocentric?

Randall Collins works through the developments of philosophy in Asia before turning to the post-Greek West in order to show that the same principles, and even the same contents, run through the sociology of all philosophies. He makes the strong claim that there is not an essential East nor and essential West, in philosophy or otherwise. In fact, he claims that treating other cultures as having an enduring essence is just as ethnocentric as thinking that one's own culture does. Multiculturalism, he argues, has become politically correct, but it is just ethnocentrism at one remove.

I am still chewing on this one, but I incline to agree. Your thoughts?

19 comments:

Michael Kruse said...

Excellent observation. I wonder if you have ever read "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" by Jared Diamond? He certainly confirms the idea about the dynamic nature of cultures and the persistent pattern of cultural emergence and demise.

Gruntled said...

Indeed I do know the wonderful Guns, Germs, and Steel. Indeed, I teach it each year in my Introduction to Sociology class. He ably shows the common features of the material side of culture. Diamond shies away, though, from the core cultural concern that animates Collins, namely the content of philosophy.

José Solano said...

Multiculturalism can mean almost anything. We all live in a wide range of overlapping cultural subsets. The very language we speak bears witness to this. Ethnocentrism is merely an attitude favoring oneself and ones own. It is laughable and yet lamentable to hear people insisting on “English only” government. They have no idea that what they are saying is that they insist we only speak and write the English mongrel language consisting of Arabic, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, German, etc. We are inescapably products of numerous cultures perhaps dating back to Australopithecus.

It is possible to delineate particular sets of cultures so that we distinguish or differentiate those sets from others but not to the extent of divorcing these cultures from their common humanity which of itself inherently generates inter-cultural commonalities.

At another extreme from ethnocentrism is cultural relativism in which it is assumed that all cultures have equal validity. Like ethnocentrism this is a failure of objectivity so that we cannot recognize problems in cultures other than our own, strangely enough. One of my anthropology teachers went so far as to try and live as a Jibaro in Amazonia. He engaged in all of their practices except the head-hunting raid of their neighbors. He did nothing to stop the raid or condemn it but simply saw his inability to join them as a fault of his ethnocentrism. He particularly enjoyed homosexual relationships with them which he said was common among primitive people. Such was the relativity of his thinking. No objective concept of right and wrong.

Jon said...

Diamond also has a newer book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" that complements the materialism of Guns, Germs, and Steel. I've read Guns, but not the sequel. (If you are lazy, your library probably has the DVD documentary based on Guns.)

I think multiculturalism can actually advocate the type of argument you are making. (Or maybe it is more accurately labeled pluralism.) Certainly there is a type of multicularism that is essentializing, just as there is a type of gender studies that is essentializing (men are from mars, etc.). But multiculturalism gives us a sense of the ecclecticism and variety (and similarity) of many different systems.

I do think cultures have chosen to emphasize or adopt certain arguments. For instance, Western philosophies are probably more classically teleological and linear, but this doesn't mean that all Western philosophies are so, or that no Easter philosophies operate this way.

Interesting question!

R.K. said...

A problem I have with most attempts to analyze cultural collapse today, among sociologists and anthropologists, is their general desire to put all the blame on not changing in response to changes in environmental or other outside circumstances. Little or no examination is given of the equal (probably greater) likelihood that the changes adopted in response to these circumstances may, in many instances, be more harmful rather than less, and may in many instances be the actual cause of the collapse.

Mark Smith said...

You have to be able to separate "them" from "us" to be able to say "we want more of THEM to be part of US".

If we're all "us", the sentence makes no sense.

boberi said...

Dont ever be ethnocentric… What?!

Ethnocentric… Well ladies and gents, this word is one of the basic reasons behind every war and conflict in human history! It briefly means that one sees the world only from ones own culturally point of view and believe others should do the same.

Other people in the world does not view on issues as you do my friend… no they see it differently. And so the best way of solving any kind of disagreement, is by first trying to understand how the other part sees upon the issue, and why he or she does not agree with you, and obviously ask them to do the same. After this is done, it is so much easier uniting and reaching to wise conclusions.

But nooo, I am right, I have principals, this is not discusable, I do what I think is right…. I am ethnocentric! Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about striving for justice, but do understand that other people who are going in the opposite direction are many times doing what they truthfully believe is right as well.

Just to name an example; I am christian and with this comes certain values in my life. Then there are people who truly are Muslim believers (who knows, they might be stronger in their faith than me!) and they have a different set of values. Now if I tell them: Man, you are just dead wrong! They will tell me exactly the same thing!… leading to nothing but more frustration and the mere obsession of winning the argument. However would I choose to see/understand it from their point of view… maybe it would change from a discussion to a conversation and later on to a fika (swedish coffey-time).

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

The greatest anthropologist of all time was probably Jesus himself, He became man, grew a beard, had to eat, couldn’t just fly around, got a favorite colour, had to use sandals and became generally vulnerable and limited and went through so many human-culturally things that he actually can tell you like:

‘ey dude, I know what its like!… so peace out bro’

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