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Eurocentrism, Modern Knowledges, and the "Natural" Order of Global Capital
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Nepantla: Views from South 3.2 (2002) 245-268

In recent debates about hegemonic knowledge in the modern world, a number of basic assumptions have emerged that allow us to characterize the dominant conception of knowledge as Eurocentric (Lander 2000a). After providing a concise description of its main assumptions, I will explore here the pervasiveness of the Eurocentric perspective in the principles or fundamentals that guide current practices by which the global order of capital is planned, justified, and naturalized (i.e., made less artificial). Along these same lines, I will demonstrate the presence of the fundamentals of Eurocentrism in the international norms of protection of private investment in the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and in the protection of intellectual property set out by World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements.

The perspective of Eurocentric knowledge is the central axis of a discourse that not only naturalizes but renders inevitable the increasingly intense polarization between a privileged minority and the world's excluded, oppressed majorities. Eurocentric knowledge also lies at the center of a predatory model of civilization that threatens to destroy the conditions that make life possible on Earth. For this reason, the critique of Eurocentrism and the development/recovery of alternate knowledge perspectives cannot be interpreted as merely an esoteric intellectual or academic preoccupation, or for that matter as a topic for interesting debates within a narrow community of scholars working on epistemological problems. In reality, these issues are closely related to vital political demands, both local and global, which are linked in turn to communities, organizations, and movements that (in a variety of ways) confront and resist the growing hegemony of transnational capital throughout the world.

Basic Assumptions of Eurocentric Knowledge

The main assumptions of the perspective of Eurocentric knowledge can be summarized in the following terms.

  • Eurocentric knowledge is based on the construction of multiple and repeated divisions or oppositions. The most characteristic and significant of these—but not the only ones, to be sure—include the basic, hierarchical dualisms of reason and body, subject and object, culture and nature, masculine and feminine (Berting 1993; Quijano 2000; Lander 2000b).
  • European regional or local history is understood as universal History. According to this perspective, Europe serves as the model or reference for every other history, representing the apex of humanity's progress from the “primitive” to the “modern” (Dussel 2000; Quijano 2000).
  • Differences from others are converted into value differences (Mignolo 1995), time-space distances (Fabian 1983), and hierarchies that define all non-European humans as inferior (“savage,” “primitive,” “backward,” “underdeveloped”). The category of race as an instrument for classifying the different peoples of the world—on a scale from superior to inferior—plays a central role here (Quijano 2000).
  • Scientific knowledge and technological development advance in an upward linear direction toward ever higher levels of knowledge and greater ability to usefully transform the environment.

The hegemony of these assumptions has had multiple consequences for the constitution of modern social knowledge. Here, I will simply highlight the following:

First, one particular kind of knowledge—Western scientific knowledge—is understood to be true, universal, and objective—the form by which all other ways of knowing are simultaneously defined as ignorance or superstition. In Western knowledge, the separation of reason and body lies at the base of a “disembodied,” desubjectified knowledge; these divisions sustain its pretensions to objectivity and detachment from time and space as a universal knowledge.

Second, through the oppositions of reason/body and culture/nature, a relationship of exteriority to “nature” is established. This is a condition for the appropriation/exploitation that grounds the Western paradigm of unlimited growth.

Third, by ignoring the colonial/imperial relationships between peoples and cultures—ones that made the modern world-system possible—Eurocentric knowledge understands modernity to be an internal product of European genius, owing nothing to the rest of the world (Coronil 1997, 2000). Similarly, the current condition of the other peoples of the planet is seen as having no connection to the colonial/imperial experience. Their present status of “backwardness” and “poverty” is the result, rather, of insufficient capitalist development. Instead of being...

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