Eurocentrism is a way of looking at the world through a perspective centered on Western culture and values.
In other words, it is a biased view that considers Western civilization (usually seen as consisting of Europe, North America, and Oceania) superior to non-Western ones.
Today, eurocentrism examples are apparent in global beauty standards, media coverage, and even in the job market.
Eurocentrism doesn’t just favor Western ways of doing things. It establishes them as the norm.
It is an attitude that has existed as early as the Greek culture and continues to impact our world.
In his book Orientalism, Edward Said defines eurocentrism in the following words:
“Eurocentrism is a way of seeing that is rooted in the geographic, economic, technological, and political dominance of Europe and its overseas empires in the modern period.” (Said, 1978)
According to Said, eurocentrism sees and portrays non-Western societies as backward and inferior.
Western values, on the other hand, are presented as the universal standard. They become the lens to evaluate the world—even if it means misunderstanding or neglecting other cultures.
“Eurocentrism” as an ideological term was first coined in the 1970s by Samir Amin, a Marxian economist.
Amin used the term in the context of the dependency theory, which states that capitalism causes the exploitation of underdeveloped (“periphery”) states by developed (“core”) states (Said, 1978).
As Amin’s coinage suggests, eurocentrism is closely linked to the history of European imperialism and capitalism.
The rise of colonialism—combined with the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution—allowed the European states to acquire political and economic dominance. In some ways, eurocentrism is a product of this global dominance.
10 Eurocentrism Examples
- In Art & Literature: The art of European societies has traditionally been privileged and valued over the art of other societies. Moreover, in European literature, non-European societies are depicted as exotic, primitive, and often stereotyped.
- Beauty Standards: Eurocentrism has heavily shaped our perception of beauty. Global popular brands like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder primarily use European models in their advertisements, which idealize western physical traits.
- In Academic Disciplines: Academic subjects like anthropology and sociology have traditionally been dominated by researchers from European societies. This has inevitably led to them disciplines acquiring their European perspective.
- Historicization: The histories of non-European societies have often been marginalized or ignored in favor of focusing on European history. Hegel (1987) famously wrote that non-European countries like India and China lie “outside the World’s History”, and his work had a massive impact on Western historiography.
- Hellenocentrism: Hellenocentrism refers to a worldview focusing on the Greek civilization, and it is often seen as the root of eurocentrism (Dussel, 2007). It is a belief that Greeks were unique in world history and their society was the birth of the civilized world.
- Biased Media Coverage: The selection and framing of news often have a eurocentric bias as they give much more attention to Western societies than to non-Western ones. Even when they do represent the latter, it is usually imbued with negative stereotypes.
- Justifying Colonialism: The belief in their superiority gave Europeans a justification—and even inspiration—to engage in cultural imperialism and exploit non-European countries.
- Racial discrimination: Besides colonialism, eurocentrism has been also used to justify practices like segregation. These practices have had a huge impact on non-Western societies, and they continue to promote racial inequalities today.
- Eurocentric cultural values: The values of individualism, reason, progress, etc. are largely eurocentric values. While these reflect the cultural context of European societies, they are not necessarily applicable to all cultures.
- Job market: European culture and values dominate the global job market. Most job postings reflect European cultural norms, prioritize European qualifications, and may even be discriminatory in interview selection.
- English as lingua franca: English has become the default language around the world in business and travel, allowing English-speaking countries to feel as if everyone should change how they speak to benefit English speakers.
- Orientalism: Viewing non-white people and indigenous as savages or even living an idealized way of life in the forest. This overlooks the nuanced lived experiences of non-white and indigenous people and reflects an ethnocentric worldview.
- Marginalization: Non-white and non-European voices have historically been marginalized in political and business discourse.
- Cultural imposition: This occurs when European culture imposes itself upon non-European cultures, such as through use of trade embargoes in order to encourage other cultures to embrace European values.
- World maps: It’s believed that the default world maps are a reflection of eurocentrism. Europe is often centered in these maps, and “eastern cultures” are given their name because they are to the east of Europe, placing Europe as the default center of the world and ensuring everything else is mentioned in relation to Europe’s centered position.
5 Detailed Case Studies
1. European Superiority & Colonialism
Eurocentrism has a circular relationship with colonialism: both reinforce each other.
By the 19th century, due to the combined impact of the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires, the Western world became the most wealthy and powerful civilization.
This phenomenon is known as the Great Divergence. Eurocentrism can be seen as a product of colonialism and the Great Divergence.
But, at the same time, colonialism itself was driven by eurocentric attitudes—“the white man’s burden” as Kipling famously wrote.
The Europeans used their supposed superiority as a justification to colonize other countries.
They argued that they were bringing civilization and progress to otherwise primitive societies.
2. White Beauty Standards
Eurocentrism dominates global beauty standards. European features such as light skin, straight hair, and other physical features are traditionally presented as being more attractive.
These beauty standards are used to judge appearance even in non-European societies. Kathy Deliovsky argues how whiteness is a universal beauty standard for women: white femininity is not even viewed as “white” but simply as “femininity” (Deliovsky, 2008).
In 2012, Mexican researchers recreated the Clark doll experiment in which children are asked to choose from four dolls with different skin colors.
Most children chose the white doll, emphasizing the huge influence of eurocentric beauty standards around the world.
3. Biased Media Coverage
The 2022 media coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is an apt example of eurocentrism.
For example, journalists like Charlie D’Agata of CBS pointed out the “Europeanness” and “civility” of the Ukrainians.
The Ukrainians were not like the people of Iraq or Afghanistan, who were supposedly “used to wars”.
Arab journalists rightfully criticized this kind of racist coverage:
“[it] reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalists of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America,” – AMEJA
They added that such reporting dehumanizes the non-Europeans suffering in war, making their experience seem normal.
4. In Literature
Thomas Macaulay once said, “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.
It perfectly sums up the eurocentric view of non-European art, which is always considered inferior.
Moreover, in European literature, the non-Europeans are often depicted as exotic and primitive.
For example, in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Africans are shown to be irrational and barbaric. Only the strange exoticism of their culture is foregrounded.
The European characters, on the other hand, are portrayed as rational and civilized. It almost makes it seem that European imperialism is justified.
5. Prioritization of Western Values
Eurocentrism is also apparent in the way European values are often considered superior to non-Western ones; the former is presented as being universal and applicable to all cultures.
However, many non-Western societies consider collectivism—the prioritization of the community over the individual—to be more important. This value is often neglected or marginalized in Western societies, causing a divide between individualistic and collectivist cultures.
We see a similar pattern for several other values related to gender, education, environment, etc. Essentially, the western values about these issues are prioritized and presented as being universal.
Criticism of Eurocentrism & The Way Forward
The criticism of eurocentrism has a long history. It goes back to Diogenes (4th century BC), who criticized the narrow-mindedness of Greek culture, but the explicit term was formulated in the 1970s during the period of decolonization.
By focusing solely on the experiences and values of the Western world, eurocentrism promotes a narrow understanding of the world. It ignores the rich diversity of non-Western societies, instead presenting them through simplified stereotypes.
These stereotypes also present non-Western people as being primitive and backward, which besides being unfair, also has real-world implications like racial discrimination. Eurocentrism also reinforces imperial power dynamics, which carry forward the legacy of colonial exploitation.
It is necessary to challenge eurocentrism, and some of the ways we can do this include:
- Recognizing & addressing power dynamics: The first step is to recognize how eurocentrism manifests in various forms. Once we recognize the power dynamics and biases supporting European perspectives, we will slowly be able to challenge them.
- Making education more inclusive: This involves incorporating a diverse range of academic texts—especially from non-European countries—which will decolonize academia and help us learn from the experiences of marginalized communities.
- Engaging with cultures: Instead of focusing solely on European cultural productions, there is a need to engage with and promote cultural differences and the cultural heritage of non-European societies. Intercultural dialogue would allow us to go beyond simplistic stereotypes and recognize the rich diversity of marginalized cultures.
- Postcolonialism: Postcolonialism refers to a philosophy that attempts to de-center eurocentric viewpoints and draw attention to indigenous perspectives.
Eurocentrism refers to the tendency to look at the world through a perspective centered on Western civilization. It is a narrow view that favors European culture and values while trivializing the experiences of non-European cultures.
It is a form of exceptionalism whose roots go as far back as Hellenocentrism, and it allowed Europeans to justify their colonial exploitations. The remnants of these imperial encounters still exist today, such as in the global beauty standards, media coverage, etc.
In the late 20th century, during the period of decolonization, Eurocentrism was first explicitly formulated. Today, it is vital that we recognize power dynamics and biases favoring European values, so that we can address them and create a more equitable world.
Deliovsky, K. (2008). “Normative White Femininity: Race, Gender and the Politics of Beauty”. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice.
Dussel, E. (2011). Politics of Liberation: A Critical World History. London: SCM Press
Hegel, G. W. F. (1987). Lectures on the Philosophy of History.
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.