Centrism / Cosmopolitanism / Culture / Philosophy

Centrism

Harp.png

„Centrism“ (as in Euro-Centrism) can be viewed as a mistake in the representation of knowledge. Subjects that should be on the same level of a classification are put on different levels. For example, the Wikipedia article on musical notation, in its present form (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Musical_notation&oldid=663167583) has a subsection about “Modern Staf Notation” and on the same level there is a subsection about “Notation in various countries” and “Other systems and practices”. In a balanced representation (which would be required by the rules of Wikipedia, by the way), the European system would have to be described in a sub-section of the “Notation in various countries”. In a centric view, one sub-branch is taken and moved towards the root of the classification tree, giving it more status then it should have. There are many examples of this on Wikipedia, in articles dealing with cultural phenomena, see for example the article on harps http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Harp&oldid=664774344. (I am referencing the current versions of these articles here since I am hoping that somebody might rework them in the future, to remove their centrism).

A counterexample, of a relatively balanced article is the article on writing systems http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_system. A centric article on this topic would have a large top-level section on the European alphabet and then, on the same level, a section about other writing systems around the world.

The centrism that one can observe in such articles reflects the biases and thinking habits of the typical Wikipedia authors, as well as the composition of the community of authors, the majority of whom are probably western white males.

Similar centristic tendencies can also be observed in the structure of the departments of many universities, in dictionaries (especially older ones), in libraries and book shops, in school books and school curicula, maps, children’s science books etc.

But centrism does not only exist in the humanities or cultural studies, one can find examples also in science. For example, the vertebrate/invertebrate distinction is an instance of centrism. Here, vertebrate scientists put the vertebrates on the same level as a rest-group of all other animals, although some of the sub-branches of that rest group are closely related to vertebrates (e.g. the echinoderms) and others are not (like the different groups of arthropods). In a natural grouping, echinoderms and some other phylae should be grouped together with vertebrates instead of being grouped together with arthropods.

Yet another example of centrism is the distinction of humans on one side and animals on the other.

As these examples show, centrisms are often closely connected to certain ideologies. They often are part of a pretext for exploitation, both of humans and of nature, and for claims of superiority. They are, in many cases, the results of power systems and also parts of these power systems, playing a role in the brain washing of the people involved.

I suggest training ourselves to recognize instances of centrism.

(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harp.png.)

8 thoughts on “Centrism

  1. Pingback: Centrism in Analytic Philosophy | The Bubbling of my Thoughts

    • No problem for you, I guess, since you are used to provocative stuff🙂
      But I don’t find it so provocative. It is just equal rights for all.
      To use the harp example: I think if the wikipedia article for harp describes the European concert harp and the Irish harp in some detail, it should provide the same amount of detail on the large variety of African harps, and on each of them. Otherwise, there should be an article about the European concert harp, an article on the Irish harp, an article on the Ugandan Enanga, etc. and all of these would just be referenced by the main article. Wikipedia (and the thinking of its contributors and users) must be decolonized.
      One problem is that some Wikipedia-authors are using very old (and therefore no longer copyrighted) versions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and similar very old dictionaries. These are from around 1900 to 1930 and are full of colonial thinking etc.

  2. I’ll tell you my pet peeve of centrism. It’s trivial but it bothers me. Let’s say the local high school has boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. The boys are called the Panthers and the girls are the Lady Panthers. This pattern is very common and I’ve always disliked it since it makes it seem that the girls are just a subset of Panthers and the boys get to be the real Panthers.

    As I said, trivial, and no one I’ve even mentioned it to has noticed it. Still, I don’t like it!

    • An intersting example. That nobody has noticed it is typical, I think. These are “normal” patterns of thought in the sense that many people do not notice something is wrong. Inequality is somehow built into our thoughts and many people do not notice anything.

    • They are not vertebrates but among the non-vertebrate phyla, the echinoderms are relatively closely related to vertebrates. Vertebrates and echinoderms are more closely related to each other than, for example, echinoderms and arthropods.

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