EUROCENTRISM

  • SUMMARY
  • ACTIVITIES

Eurocentrism can be understood as a crosscutting, yet invisible paradigm that organizes society, social relations and perceptions of the world on an everyday basis. Its strength and reproductive power lies in its normative and performative force.

Europe is set as the point of measurement for moral, political, economic, educational and juridical development globally and omits that European wealth and the expansion of capitalism is built on colonialism, the enslavement, exploitation and genocide of populations, the expansion of the plantation economy and the establishment of settler-colonial societies.

It is set as a norm through iterative practices of overvisibilizing and invisibilizing and operates on the basis of the racialization and production of social hierarchies that permeate HEI.

The relevance of including Eurocentrism in the toolkit emerged from two group dialogues with Migra*BPoC students, PhDs and postdocs in Giessen, Germany. Participants shared negative experiences around being “othered” or having difficulties with institutions and bureaucracy while studying and working in HEI.

Eurocentrism in HEI operates through three main dynamics: first, they articulated mechanisms that othered them as Migra*BPOC on the interpersonal, group, and institutional level.

Secondly, their accounts reflected how they were disciplined and repressed by authorities in regard to their language skills, their academic faculties, and by reminding them of the established rules and customs in place. In this sense, ethnocentric mechanisms shaped the potential of success or failure in HEI.

And thirdly, silent dynamics, such as unquestioned double standards regarding name pronunciation or the provision of bureaucratic processes solely in German, reinforce a nexus between education and whiteness.

JLU and an.gekommen e.V. organized two participatory and interactive place-based workshops in January and February 2020, engaging with local pathways to education. The participants were Migra*/BPOC students (B.A. and M.A.), doctoral students and post-docs, as well as persons in the process of applying for asylum and international exchange students.

The first workshop was held on January 30th, under the title How do you feel about your academic experience in Germany?”. Here, the group was invited to make a collage with the question “How do I feel about my university/my academic experience in Germany?”. The second workshop, on February 27th, aimed at fostering empowering dynamics that deindividualize discrimination experiences and rather identify possibilities for institutional change. This workshop had the title “What gives you energy?”

Both workshops addressed two dimensions: first, creating awareness (concientizar) about the interplay of everyday individual experiences of discrimination; second, sharing strategies of self- and collective care as well as support structures of empowerment, on the other.

After each of the workshops, a smaller group met in order to reflect on the main observations, analysis and assumptions made in the workshop. A mind-map connecting the different examples was elaborated and final theoretical elaborations were made.

The relevance of including Eurocentrism in the toolkit emerged from two group dialogues with Migra*/BPoC students, PhDs and postdocs in Giessen, Germany. In both workshops, participants quickly started recounting specific stories of their studying experiences in Germany as well as everyday experiences.

Although all of the participants had different biographies and migration histories, they could relate to and often share the stories told by others in the groups, and connect these stories to their own lives. They also identified and explained the differences in experiencing discriminatory behavior due to ascribed group memberships e.g. along with gender and religion.

After these workshops, a smaller group (Migra*/BPOC students and doctoral students) worked with the material and shared their impressions and reflections, and identified three central dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in HEI along Eurocentrism in Giessen, Germany: 1), everyday practices of othering, often build on racist imaginaries. 2), ethnocentric mechanisms shaping the potential of success or failure in HEI. 3), HEI reproduce silently a nexus between education and whiteness. This mind-map was then again discussed in the smaller group and embedded in a theoretical framework.

Eurocentrism can be understood as a crosscutting, yet invisible paradigm that organizes our society, our relations and our thinking on an everyday basis. Its strength and reproductive power lie in its unspokenness and in that it is reproduced unconsciously. ›Eurocentrism‹ refers to how society’s values, perceptions and predicaments are shaped by constructing Europe as the motor of technological advancement, modern futures and civility. This includes: (a) the principal agent of history; (b) the producer of scientific and technological pieces of knowledge; (c) the creator of universal ethical principles, norms and values; (d) and as the central point of measurement for aesthetic quality and artistic expression. This omits the foundational history, that European wealth and the expansion of European capitalism are built on colonialism, settler colonization and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, legitimized through a binary of superiority/inferiority by constructing ›Europeans‹ as ‘superior’ and their former colonized territories as ‘inferior’, as ‘Europe’s exteriority’ (Dussel 1995). This put forth a racialized, gendered and geographic system of social hierarchies (Quijano 2006) that regulated the division of work in capitalism, and required the control of the racialized/gendered population through physical violence including genocide, and epistemic violence, such as through neglecting the historical resistance of oppressed populations and their agency and by capitalizing on the knowledge transferal from other regions to Europe (e.g. through migration, exploitation and knowledge theft, and brain-drain from other regions) until today. This also led to exteriority within Europe (Lewis 2000; Gutiérrez Rodríguez 2010), marking Black and Brown racialized Europeans as Non-Europeans (El Tayeb 1999; 2011), and setting Europe as shaped mainly by Protestantism and Catholicism, minoritizing Jewish, Muslim and Christian Orthodox past and traditions in Europe (see, for instance, Attia/Popal 2016). As a consequence, many persons living in Europe will not be considered ›European‹, although having a European passport and/or being born on the continent (see, for instance, Brah 1996; Gutiérrez Rodríguez 1999). This is one of the many paradoxes that make Eurocentrism so powerful and a potential site of racism. Shaping our common sense, Eurocentrism becomes a normative matrix informing our behavior, thought and social relations in and out of Europe. This leads to structural, physical and symbolic violence on bodies, identities, minds and souls constructed outside that matrix.

In one of the workshops, one participant had chosen a broken heart in her collage to depict situations of disadvantage and racism she had experienced at the university. Through that symbol, she described the pain that she feels when she is being gazed at and objectified in seminars due to her headscarf. She voiced the feeling that she was being portrayed as ‘the person who had to go through all of it’, referring to the gendered violence others believe she must have suffered as a Muslim woman.

The participants also felt that white students were reacting differently towards the racialized body when the discussion about discrimination turned towards experiences made in Germany.

Situating Migra*/BPoC academics outside Europe/Eurocentric order includes not only their de-individualization, but also turns them into an object of study in HEI: They are being depersonalized, objectified and gazed at in seminars, either as geographical outsiders (from a foreign country), or as ontological outsiders (subalterns who come from a milieu in Germany, that is culturally outside ‘real Germany’.

In the second workshop, a participant expressed a general feeling that systemic change is difficult as the institution is formed by people who reproduce sexism and ethnic discrimination. In Thompsons and Zablotsky’s words regarding racist, queer- and/or trans*-phobic forms of violence, “this everyday violence is construed as exceptional. The rhetoric of diversity is contributing to the silencing of these forms of institutionalized violence which operate within the neoliberal university” (Thompson/ Zablotsky 2016: 89). Hierarchies, peer pressure and structures of dependence put change actors into a dilemma of »putting themselves out there« (see Popal 2016). Persons who face everyday practices of discrimination face even more hostile forms of discrimination if they are perceived as disrupters or intruders – by asking to change a system they do not equally belong to (see concept Migra*/BPoC).
Eurocentrism thus also becomes palpable through inaction and invisibility. This revers the invisibilization of migrant needs which can be and often are different from those without migration biography: »German universities tend to reproduce themselves as mono-lingual, -cultural, -ethnic and -racial entities« (Xian & Yi, 2011, in Gutiérrez 2015: 7). This became visible as a central burden for migrant students and employees. Not only because it situates both BPOC and migrant students as non-fitters outside that entity, but also because they are mostly denied a ‘special treatment’, such as writing papers in English instead of in German. Eurocentrism can then be perceived at HEI through a paradoxical process that, on the one hand, othered Migra*/BPoC and objectifies them, and, on the other, simultaneously expects their assimilation to the often unwritten and unexemplified German norms.
FILE DETAILS

Name

Giessen - EUROCENTRISM
Size
305 kb
Reading Time
13 min

Description

The following exercise is a board game that aims at making visible challenges and difficulties of everyday life – academic-related and otherwise – connected to Neoliberal Compliance, Eurocentrism, and Migra*BPoC Resistance, as well as enforcing strategies of mutual cooperation and support. The activity methodology is inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas on exercises of codification and de-codification, which entails a three phases activity.
 
Firstly, a common issue within the student group is identified in a quasi-ethnographic approach; i.e., through carefully listening to the group, educators/researchers identify topics that afflict the students.
 
Following, these topics are codified in one observable support – a board game in this case – in order to present and represent the issue in an observable manner. Lastly, the situations observed during the game should be discussed with the students under an organized moderation (the de-codification), connecting the circumstances observed during the game with the students’ everyday life.
 
The text is divided into three main parts:
  1. Background
  2. Objectives of the exercise
  3. Academic Carousel – The game
FILE DETAILS

Name

Giessen - TKWS - Academic Carousel
N° of activities
1
Activity Times
1 h - 1.5 h