Geographical and historical terminology for people

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Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-15 01:52pm

ray245 wrote:
2019-02-14 08:03pm
K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-14 09:22am
I see it as a geographic reference (just as “Asians” refers to people from Asia, which is neither ethnically nor culturally homogeneous). What about “European”? There is no homogeneous culture there either, if we are being honest.
Geographic reference is so often lumped together with cultural references that they are used together to sustain tropes or ideas about "Asians", or "Asians" in comparison to an "European". Europe is not homogenous, but it is a concept (the modern concept, not the one invented by the ancient Greeks) developed within Europe and had been used in the past to justify colonial efforts over the rest of the world.

Europe had been used as a unifying concept in the past to justify imperialism by a number of European states, whereas terms like Asia or African were very rarely used in the same manner. (Imperial Japan did use Asia to justify imperialism). They are historical reasons why we cannot think of them in the same way.
What else do you suggest? Do you always exclude minor groups that demonstrate a different cultural trait from the greater whole?
Yes. Because how we categorise broad non-European groups is strongly influenced by the historical process behind it. If we attempt to look at cultures from a regional perspective, it completely ignores how drastically different cultures can be within the "region" that you have created.

Take South-East Asia for example. The concept of SE Asia as a region did not exist until the mid 20th century. Trying to talk about southeast Asia as a region presuppose there is sufficient commonality within this region to be studied collectively together. How the various communities conceive of themselves end up being ignored, or it becomes a political project by the various political elite to create a sense of regional identity ( which is in turn a product of colonial mindset).

Broad categorisation of communities from a regional POV are not useful and can be harmful unless such ideas are internally generated. Externally imposed categorisation is problematic.
I admitted this is not an in-depth view of the myriad differences between individual tribal cultures. Just as when you talk about North Africa and, say, Arab states, you would not be going into detail over the individual differences of certain tribes in the Maghreb, or would you? In this case even saying “African Americans” is racist as well, because it does not account for the differences between various groups...
We can talk about the Arab states because they had been a long historical process of internal self-identifications. The idea of who is Arab and who isn't had been a contested issue within the Islamic world even at its height. It was an internally created category as opposed to an externally created category like "Asians".

There were tensions, disagreements and conflicts arising over who can be identified as an "Arab". As far as I know, there was never an internal development over who gets to be identified as an "native Americans". The "native Americans" communities never fought over or impose rules to define "native Americans" as a distinct identity in absence of US's actions. There was never a sense of "native Americans" regional identity the way Arabs did.
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=168016&start=75

I'm carrying on the discussion from here.

One work I am influenced by is Robert Bartlett's The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950–1350. I think Bartlett has made a strong argument that the concept of Europe, as a useful regional category was itself a product of cultural expansion. Cultures which did not conform to western Christendom (in a very loose sense, meaning association with the Catholic church) were subjected to threats and subjugation, and by and large destroyed.

What this entails for us is to be wary of seeing other geographical regions as being comparable to Europe. While you can make an argument for a sino-centered sphere, in which polities bordering China like Japan, Korea, Vietnam were heavily influenced by Chinese culture, this does not extend to the whole of Asia.

On top of that, the notion of "Asian-ness" is also cultural specific. In the UK, Asians by default is a reference to people of Indian, Pakistan and Bangladesh descent. People from China, Japan and Korea are simply called Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. In the US, Asians refers to the people from the Sino-sphere, reflecting the pattern of migration.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by Zwinmar » 2019-02-16 09:29am

Take a look at the old documents of colonists moving across North America and how the terminology changes as the years roll by. Makes for interesting reading and, as a side note, makes place names intriguing.

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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-16 01:21pm

Zwinmar wrote:
2019-02-16 09:29am
Take a look at the old documents of colonists moving across North America and how the terminology changes as the years roll by. Makes for interesting reading and, as a side note, makes place names intriguing.
Geography and imperialism had been intricately linked for a long time. But it's something that many people today still take for granted. ethnography is problematic when imposed by an external community. Sure, there may be people who accept such categorisation to achieve certain political goals, but that doesn't make it acceptable in a meaningful sense.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-16 03:55pm

OK, but should we then go to individual tribe names for tribal populations overrun by modern ones?

It is not that I do not see your point, ray, I just feel that it is hard to avoid somehow grouping the people when talking about regions.

Like, were the Chukchi different from other Northern tribes in Russia? Sure they were. There were also many instances were external descriptors are the only ones that survived in any meaningful way.

Do you know the self-description for the Chukchi? There is one, it is known by a few people and rarely if ever used, even in English literature...
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-16 05:53pm

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-16 03:55pm
OK, but should we then go to individual tribe names for tribal populations overrun by modern ones?

It is not that I do not see your point, ray, I just feel that it is hard to avoid somehow grouping the people when talking about regions.

Like, were the Chukchi different from other Northern tribes in Russia? Sure they were. There were also many instances were external descriptors are the only ones that survived in any meaningful way.

Do you know the self-description for the Chukchi? There is one, it is known by a few people and rarely if ever used, even in English literature...
The problem is we owe our intellectual traditions to a period shaped by imperialism and etc. We group communities because it benefits "us" (meaning those who inherited western intellectual mindset), and not to them. So communities that were grouped together as a result of imperialism will continued to be understood through an "imperialistic" lens.

Look at how much effort has been spent by scholars working with Said's ideas to deconstruct orientalism as a useful idea in scholarly work.

Our mindset and point of view is still perpetuating the many ideas created during the age of colonialism and imperialism. Until we force ourselves to give up those intellectual legacy, I don't think we have quite decolonised our academic world.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by Zwinmar » 2019-02-17 08:54am

I could well be wrong on this, and my google-fu is weak, but, the anecdote I was told was that the name "Cheyenne" (which is aglisized from the original) amounted to 'shit-head' or some such in Lakota.

My point to it is that one people was named to the U.S. by another that didn't like them at all. So even if we go by a specific name it may be the one that their enemies gave them, or it could just translate as 'the people', which really tells you nothing. The colonists to the Americas settled in the moldering ashes of an apocalypse interacting with the remnants of those dead civilization so even what they think a word means may have actually been something far different, even the opposite.

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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by LaCroix » 2019-02-18 10:47am

Zwinmar wrote:
2019-02-17 08:54am
The colonists to the Americas settled in the moldering ashes of an apocalypse interacting with the remnants of those dead civilization so even what they think a word means may have actually been something far different, even the opposite.
See "winnipeq/winebago", "Sioux", "Eskimo", "Apache"... A lot of these names are a bit loaded...

And then we get to words like "Squaw", where they just misunderstood that it meant a certain legal status, instead of a general word or the legal status they assumed...
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by MarxII » 2019-02-26 06:16pm

ray245 wrote:
2019-02-16 05:53pm

The problem is we owe our intellectual traditions to a period shaped by imperialism and etc. We group communities because it benefits "us" (meaning those who inherited western intellectual mindset), and not to them. So communities that were grouped together as a result of imperialism will continued to be understood through an "imperialistic" lens.

Look at how much effort has been spent by scholars working with Said's ideas to deconstruct orientalism as a useful idea in scholarly work.

Our mindset and point of view is still perpetuating the many ideas created during the age of colonialism and imperialism. Until we force ourselves to give up those intellectual legacy, I don't think we have quite decolonised our academic world.
Can you expand on the idea of giving up the intellectual legacy you mention?

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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-26 06:33pm

MarxII wrote:
2019-02-26 06:16pm
ray245 wrote:
2019-02-16 05:53pm

The problem is we owe our intellectual traditions to a period shaped by imperialism and etc. We group communities because it benefits "us" (meaning those who inherited western intellectual mindset), and not to them. So communities that were grouped together as a result of imperialism will continued to be understood through an "imperialistic" lens.

Look at how much effort has been spent by scholars working with Said's ideas to deconstruct orientalism as a useful idea in scholarly work.

Our mindset and point of view is still perpetuating the many ideas created during the age of colonialism and imperialism. Until we force ourselves to give up those intellectual legacy, I don't think we have quite decolonised our academic world.
Can you expand on the idea of giving up the intellectual legacy you mention?
Our intellectual legacy, whether we are talking about the countries that did the colonising or were being colonised/subjected to bad treaties, is by and large the same.

The way we approach academic research is rooted in a western framework and mindset. Take Asia as a concept. On it's own, people from the Asian continent would not have come up with the term Asia as a useful geographical concept to describe the region. Asian academics can challenge what the term means and try and redefine it, but they are still accepting the concept of Asia as a category.

Every modern academic discipline can trace its intellectual roots to the west, or at the least created as a result of heavily influenced by the western way of academic study.

This does not mean the methodology is wrong, but how we go about conducting research by and large benefit people who are most used to a "western" way of thinking/studying.

To put it simply, concepts like "Asia" benefits people from a "non-asian" background than people from an "asian" background.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by MarxII » 2019-02-26 06:51pm

ray245 wrote:
2019-02-26 06:33pm

Our intellectual legacy, whether we are talking about the countries that did the colonising or were being colonised/subjected to bad treaties, is by and large the same.

The way we approach academic research is rooted in a western framework and mindset. Take Asia as a concept. On it's own, people from the Asian continent would not have come up with the term Asia as a useful geographical concept to describe the region. Asian academics can challenge what the term means and try and redefine it, but they are still accepting the concept of Asia as a category.

Every modern academic discipline can trace its intellectual roots to the west, or at the least created as a result of heavily influenced by the western way of academic study.

This does not mean the methodology is wrong, but how we go about conducting research by and large benefit people who are most used to a "western" way of thinking/studying.

To put it simply, concepts like "Asia" benefits people from a "non-asian" background than people from an "asian" background.
Fair enough. That all makes sense, particularly with regard to terminology and where exactly the lines get drawn as to what people and places get what names and categories.

The biggest question for me in discussions like this is what the alternative would look like. I can certainly agree that to call the present academic and intellectual [everything] a true neutral "default" is a perilous idea, given the heavy hand the "west" (and I think you are quite right to apply the quotation marks) has had on its development. But what areas specifically do we trace back? What is characteristically western, and at what point of global adoption do we consider it something more? For that matter, what is an "Asian" (, say,) way of thinking/studying?

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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-26 08:05pm

MarxII wrote:
2019-02-26 06:51pm
Fair enough. That all makes sense, particularly with regard to terminology and where exactly the lines get drawn as to what people and places get what names and categories.

The biggest question for me in discussions like this is what the alternative would look like. I can certainly agree that to call the present academic and intellectual [everything] a true neutral "default" is a perilous idea, given the heavy hand the "west" (and I think you are quite right to apply the quotation marks) has had on its development. But what areas specifically do we trace back? What is characteristically western, and at what point of global adoption do we consider it something more? For that matter, what is an "Asian" (, say,) way of thinking/studying?
I don't think we can trace back a prior method of thinking, or recreate an "Asian" way of thinking/studying. The "non-western" world has by and large accepted the "western" framework of thinking as the global norm, with western academic institutions seen near-universally seen as the most prestigious institutions there is in the world.

What we can do is try and understand the origins of our framework, and create new frameworks even if less convenient and useful for us. Basically, what we think of as "useful" and "simple" is rooted a particular intellectual background, and that itself is problematic if we left it as something unquestioned.

Instead of trying to modify how we define "Asia", we can entirely reject that whole concept and try and find new ways of discussing how we can group places together, or entirely reject the whole idea of grouping places/people together. Maybe some places shouldn't be lumped collectively together, no matter how easy it will help us in studying them. Maybe if we lump and group places and people together, it actually hinders our understanding by ignoring the diversity and lack of commonality between certain groups.

From a history POV, it becomes even more problematic if historians tries too hard to project a sense of commonality between people and places. It can also lead to an artificial barrier between communities. In other words, maybe we should stop trying to simplify things. Maybe our whole desire to simplify the subject of our research is creating a misleading picture rather than advancing our understanding. Why should simplification of communities be seen as something desirable?

For example, I see Marxist historiography as problematic because it originates from a point of view that is far too western-centric, and it ends up creating problems for our understanding of non-western history. The assumption that there ought to be a feudal age of development is based on the history of western Europe. It creates problem when one tries too hard to locate a feudal period in China and etc. It may critique other historiographical approaches, but it is fundamentally trapped within "western" framework. I am not denying such framework is useful, but I am saying we need to be extremely cautious about taking such mindset for granted.

I don't think I can offer any realistic proposals on how we can actually change our way of thinking and approaches, but all I can say is we should question even the most basic stuff that we take for granted. If we say grouping "X people together with Y makes it easy for me", we need to question why we think it is "easy" for us in the first place.

The irony of everything that I've just said is that I'm also beholden to the "western" framework of thinking. Critiquing a "western" framework of thinking is also a product of a "western" framework of thinking. All I can say is we should be uncomfortable with how we think, especially when we are talking about communities. If talking about communities in a particular way makes us comfortable, we ought to question ourselves why.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 03:29am

Saying the Western academia is „more prestigious“ is just like saying Coca Cola is the best drink ever ie taking advertising and heavy marketing at face value.

It sure did not stop Western corporations and militaries from appropriating the intellectual novelties produced in the East, along with some of the most brilliant scientists that our school of thought produced.

Overpriced Western education actually leaves most people in heavy lifetime debt, overspecialized and lacking broad understanding and erudition about other areas of science.

Re: Marxist historiography. Marx actually developed a concept of an „Asiatic mode of production“ which he later abandoned in favor of a general „precapitalist“ state of society that could vary across regions (and he specifically noted that his view is applicable to W. Europe, while other regions eg Russia, should not derive conclusions from his analysis of factors unique to Western Europe).
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 04:04am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 03:29am
Saying the Western academia is „more prestigious“ is just like saying Coca Cola is the best drink ever ie taking advertising and heavy marketing at face value.

It sure did not stop Western corporations and militaries from appropriating the intellectual novelties produced in the East, along with some of the most brilliant scientists that our school of thought produced.

Overpriced Western education actually leaves most people in heavy lifetime debt, overspecialized and lacking broad understanding and erudition about other areas of science.

Re: Marxist historiography. Marx actually developed a concept of an „Asiatic mode of production“ which he later abandoned in favor of a general „precapitalist“ state of society that could vary across regions (and he specifically noted that his view is applicable to W. Europe, while other regions eg Russia, should not derive conclusions from his analysis of factors unique to Western Europe).
It's more prestigious in the sense that it confers prestige even to "Asian", "African" students who studied there. This is in part due to financial resources of such institutions.

And I'm not talking about undergrad degrees. I'm talking about post-grad degrees which often comes with scholarships. What is happening is that places like China will send their top students to grad schools in the west before coming back to gain the top academic post in uni. Whether you disagree with western academia doesn't matter.

Also, I don't think you can call yourself an "easterner" as an meaningful intellectual background. The world as a whole has been under such heavy influence from the "western" school of thought that modern "eastern" thinking is just a sub-variant of the wider "western" school of thought.

Whether Marx had an "Asiatic" mode of production or not does not matter. He is still someone rooted in a "western" framework, and his framework was taken up by Marxist historians in China, even when such system creates more problem than it solves. The fact that Marx still thinks in terms of "Asia" as a useful category in contrast to "Europe" is a problem for people using his framework.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by MarxII » 2019-02-27 04:09am

It almost sounds as though there isn't much to be done as far as a reasonable uncoupling of "Western" influence, however heavy-handed or dominant, from the overall intellectual framework of the globe, and thus everywhere. If this is so, and still admitting the need to keep an open eye on the effect this influence has on thought in the broadest sense, is decolonizing the academic world (not that I pretend to have a firm idea what this is or would entail) even a desirable goal?

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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 04:27am

ray245 wrote:
2019-02-27 04:04am
It's more prestigious in the sense that it confers prestige even to "Asian", "African" students who studied there. This is in part due to financial resources of such institutions.

And I'm not talking about undergrad degrees. I'm talking about post-grad degrees which often comes with scholarships. What is happening is that places like China will send their top students to grad schools in the west before coming back to gain the top academic post in uni. Whether you disagree with western academia doesn't matter.

Also, I don't think you can call yourself an "easterner" as an meaningful intellectual background. The world as a whole has been under such heavy influence from the "western" school of thought that modern "eastern" thinking is just a sub-variant of the wider "western" school of thought.

Whether Marx had an "Asiatic" mode of production or not does not matter. He is still someone rooted in a "western" framework, and his framework was taken up by Marxist historians in China, even when such system creates more problem than it solves. The fact that Marx still thinks in terms of "Asia" as a useful category in contrast to "Europe" is a problem for people using his framework.
Marx did think of „Asia“ as a contrast to Europe at a certain time, when Europe‘s capitalist expansion has created a giant divergence & divide between the two. It was natural for a person of his time - but he was more forward-thinking than many. Marx and Engels eventually, in their letters, came to the idea of a necessary decolonization before the modern anti-imperialist thinking really took hold.

You deny the East a contribution to the modern philosophy, which is evident in the way you ascribe the entire modern philosophy to the West. This is also wrong, perhaps just as wrong as thinking about the East as a distinct cultural entity.

Modern Western thinking is heavily individualist, hence it is logical that by renouncing individualism I am already breaking with a huge part of Western thought.

Finally, it is funny for you to be lecturing me on how the East has no longer any academic tradition district from the West... I mean, to a large degree the „West“ was nonexistent to us for decades other than just an enemy (and its ideology and mode of thought beint considered down to the smallest aspects, as the enemy ideology and histile philosophies likewise), so certainly our academic circles were a lot more insulated from Western thought than many typical nations that are more open to the West.

I disagree that the East has no distinct traditions.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 04:42am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 04:27am
ray245 wrote:
2019-02-27 04:04am
It's more prestigious in the sense that it confers prestige even to "Asian", "African" students who studied there. This is in part due to financial resources of such institutions.

And I'm not talking about undergrad degrees. I'm talking about post-grad degrees which often comes with scholarships. What is happening is that places like China will send their top students to grad schools in the west before coming back to gain the top academic post in uni. Whether you disagree with western academia doesn't matter.

Also, I don't think you can call yourself an "easterner" as an meaningful intellectual background. The world as a whole has been under such heavy influence from the "western" school of thought that modern "eastern" thinking is just a sub-variant of the wider "western" school of thought.

Whether Marx had an "Asiatic" mode of production or not does not matter. He is still someone rooted in a "western" framework, and his framework was taken up by Marxist historians in China, even when such system creates more problem than it solves. The fact that Marx still thinks in terms of "Asia" as a useful category in contrast to "Europe" is a problem for people using his framework.
Marx did think of „Asia“ as a contrast to Europe at a certain time, when Europe‘s capitalist expansion has created a giant divergence & divide between the two. It was natural for a person of his time - but he was more forward-thinking than many. Marx and Engels eventually, in their letters, came to the idea of a necessary decolonization before the modern anti-imperialist thinking really took hold.

You deny the East a contribution to the modern philosophy, which is evident in the way you ascribe the entire modern philosophy to the West. This is also wrong, perhaps just as wrong as thinking about the East as a distinct cultural entity.

Modern Western thinking is heavily individualist, hence it is logical that by renouncing individualism I am already breaking with a huge part of Western thought.

Finally, it is funny for you to be lecturing me on how the East has no longer any academic tradition district from the West... I mean, to a large degree the „West“ was nonexistent to us for decades other than just an enemy (and its ideology and mode of thought beint considered down to the smallest aspects, as the enemy ideology and histile philosophies likewise), so certainly our academic circles were a lot more insulated from Western thought than many typical nations that are more open to the West.

I disagree that the East has no distinct traditions.
Whether Marx was better than his peers at the time is of little consequences to the impact he had. I would say Said would still consider him as someone heavily influenced by orientalism in seeing the east in a particular way.

I am not saying people from the "east" didn't contribute to modern philosophy. I'm saying that even if they are from the east, contact with the west has fundamentally reshaped how we treat disciplines like philosophy and history as a field of enquiry.

Whether the "East" was in political opposition to the west is of little consequences here. Ideas from the west, such as Marxism had flowed to the west and fundamentally influenced the way "easterner" approach their field of enquiry. I would see Marxism as a "western" idea even if it was more applied in the "east".

I personally would not consider Russia as an Eastern country even if it is not "western Europe".
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 04:58am

So, you go for post after post about Orientalism impacting the social sciences and perceptions. To a large degree valid, justified criticism.

Next thing you do though, you say Russia is not an „Eastern“ country... because it is not „oriental“ enough? :lol:

Contact with the West has reshaped how we treat history? Perhaps so, but likewise the contact with the East has influenced and transformed many Western concepts. And not just in social sciences.

I agree that Marxism is a Western idea by origin, but most of its conceptual and practical development have been connected to the East. As a universal methodology, it does not demand to belong exclusively to the West - unlike imperial / civilizational theories which remain organically connected to the West and cannot be separated from Western culture, ie the ideas about Western Protestant supremacy-helping cultural factors and such. Marxism would remain universally applicable and relevant even if the development of the capitalist centers would happen in Japan as opposed to Britain, because it is a nationality-neutral study method.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 06:05am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 04:58am
So, you go for post after post about Orientalism impacting the social sciences and perceptions. To a large degree valid, justified criticism.

Next thing you do though, you say Russia is not an „Eastern“ country... because it is not „oriental“ enough? :lol:

Contact with the West has reshaped how we treat history? Perhaps so, but likewise the contact with the East has influenced and transformed many Western concepts. And not just in social sciences.

I agree that Marxism is a Western idea by origin, but most of its conceptual and practical development have been connected to the East. As a universal methodology, it does not demand to belong exclusively to the West - unlike imperial / civilizational theories which remain organically connected to the West and cannot be separated from Western culture, ie the ideas about Western Protestant supremacy-helping cultural factors and such. Marxism would remain universally applicable and relevant even if the development of the capitalist centers would happen in Japan as opposed to Britain, because it is a nationality-neutral study method.
I am not saying Russia is not "eastern" or "oriental" enough. I am saying the whole concept of the "East" as being sufficiently distinct from the "west" should be questioned.

Yes, "western" ideas were shaped by ideas from the "east", but that's not what I am talking about. I'm talking about the architecture of academic discipline, the underlying foundation of academic disciplines. The way we go about organising knowledge.

Even if a theory has been applied more often in the "East", its "western" origins still had a massive role in reshaping how knowledge itself was organised and studied in the "east". I'm saying we should abandon the East-West dichotomy which in itself is a result of a "western" approach.

My central thesis is that our intellectual world has been so utterly "colonised" and influenced by the west that there is no real distinct "east" to speak of. The "east" today is just a sub-variant of the "west". Any "eastern" approach only have validity if it had been reframed in a "western" approach.


I am not sure the "eastern" intellectual tradition could have come up with concept of Marxism even if they were the one who industrialised first.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 06:19am

Well that is strange. First you say we should abandon the East-West dichotomy, then you say the “East” would not be able to produce intellectual concepts roughly equivalent to their Western counterparts even if they were the first to industrialize?

I feel that it is a very contradictory (not to mention, a bit supremacist) position to hold.

The foundation of academic disciplines is laid down by philosophy, which is universal, and the East or its individual civilizations have contributed a lot to this body of knowledge-frameworks. It is not all “West”, although clearly the mark of class rule and imperialist dominance heavily distorts everything.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 06:32am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 06:19am
Well that is strange. First you say we should abandon the East-West dichotomy, then you say the “East” would not be able to produce intellectual concepts roughly equivalent to their Western counterparts even if they were the first to industrialize?

I feel that it is a very contradictory (not to mention, a bit supremacist) position to hold.
I am saying by framing the world in a East-West dichotomy, we become trapped in a peculiar way of thinking that overly homogenised people. I myself finds it hard to disentangle this dichotomy because I've been brought up intellectually in this way.

The main issue is that say Chinese intellectual and historiographical framework was radically different from the one we have in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, and we should not make assumption that it would develop in similar terms. Thinking they would develop concepts roughly equivalent is in itself a product of our "western" intellectual framework. We tried too much to find concept that is equivalent to the ones that was developed in the west, but there is a big danger of ignoring the differences.
The foundation of academic disciplines is laid down by philosophy, which is universal, and the East or its individual civilizations have contributed a lot to this body of knowledge-frameworks. It is not all “West”, although clearly the mark of class rule and imperialist dominance heavily distorts everything.
Whether they have contributed is not the main issue here. The issue is the shape of the framework is in itself "western". For example, the idea of history as a modern academic discipline today, even in "eastern" countries owes its origins to the "west" more so than the "east". We owe our modern intellectual framework to historians like Ranke than say any chronicler of Southeast Asia history.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 06:43am

I am not saying there would be full equivalence, mind you. But I am saying that the concepts do depend on the material factors and the relations of production.

The introduction of paper money and banking, for example, happened as China achieved a certain level in both means of production and production relations. These were not equivalent to the Western concepts of the same!! But they served some of the typical roles of money and banking - and, under further indigenous expansion, even without contacting the West, their functions would change and align with the new relations in society. Although, it would develop in accordance with the unique specifics of the national economy and society, and as such would not be a carbon copy of Western concepts: some aspects would be similar, others could be overemphasized and some traits might be totally absent. But in the end, we and the world would come to understand the meaning of this concept - “money” - and build further upon it.

To say otherwise would be strange - denying that anywhere humans are capable of developing concepts with the use of abstract thought. Indeed the concepts would not be identical; but they would generally correspond to the state of the society that developed them! Alternative is ahistorical and the denial of both knowledge as such and of the materialistic concept of the scientific method.

Also I would say that Chinese historiography developed towards a more materialistic and modern view even without Western contact (ie Records of the Grand Historian vs previously mythologized accounts), so there is a general conceptual evolution which is unique for every civilization, but has common traits that are imparted by the general historical process of social development.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 06:53am

MarxII wrote:
2019-02-27 04:09am
It almost sounds as though there isn't much to be done as far as a reasonable uncoupling of "Western" influence, however heavy-handed or dominant, from the overall intellectual framework of the globe, and thus everywhere. If this is so, and still admitting the need to keep an open eye on the effect this influence has on thought in the broadest sense, is decolonizing the academic world (not that I pretend to have a firm idea what this is or would entail) even a desirable goal?
Post-structuralism has done its fair bit in challenging our assumptions. So that's something. But the issue is I don't think post-structuralists have paid sufficient attention to the way the "non-western" world has been "westernised" during the colonial period. I think trying to "decolonise" the way we study history ( I dare not speak too much about other fields because I am not well-versed about them) must go beyond simply talking about the effects of colonial experiences, and question our fundamental methodological approach on a more basic level.

If for example we accept the notion of creating history as a distinct academic discipline at universities, are we accepting the western framework ( which sees the usefulness of separating history from other fields of intellectual enquiry)? While people may contest with me by saying we can repurpose it to help local communities ( by focusing on the colonial experience and local history) , the issue is we still end up perpetuating the fundamental "western" framework. That in itself is participating in a process of shaping local intellectual tradition to something more similar to the global western world.

I just think we should be mindful of ourselves when we eagerly accept ideas without considering the origins of those ideas and how the act of accepting and re-purposing them might end up reshaping or eliminating local patterns of thinking.
K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 06:43am
I am not saying there would be full equivalence, mind you. But I am saying that the concepts do depend on the material factors and the relations of production.
I'm saying the act of trying to find some equivalence is problematic. On what basis do we assume finding equivalence is a positive thing? What purpose does finding equivalence serve? Are in the process of trying to reshape a distinct culture into something more "digestible" for people like me who grew up in a western framework?
The introduction of paper money and banking, for example, happened as China achieved a certain level in both means of production and production relations. These were not equivalent to the Western concepts of the same!! But they served some of the typical roles of money and banking - and, under further indigenous expansion, even without contacting the West, their functions would change and align with the new relations in society. Although, it would develop in accordance with the unique specifics of the national economy and society, and as such would not be a carbon copy of Western concepts: some aspects would be similar, others could be overemphasized and some traits might be totally absent. But in the end, we and the world would come to understand the meaning of this concept - “money” - and build further upon it.
But we should not accept the notion that all cultures will necessarily embrace the notion of paper money. For example, we know that various cultures have issues with certain technology ( The Byzantines had issues with embracing paper, and the Arabs have reservation about embracing the printing press). We should not expect cultures to align. The idea that they would align is a product of us wanting to see alignment.

To say otherwise would be strange - denying that anywhere humans are capable of developing concepts with the use of abstract thought. Indeed the concepts would not be identical; but they would generally correspond to the state of the society that developed them! Alternative is ahistorical and the denial of both knowledge as such and of the materialistic concept of the scientific method.
Humans are capable of developing such concepts. But concepts don't develop in isolation of the culture. For example, you accepted the notion of there being a fundamental state of society. I will argue that not all societies will develop such a concept of there being stages of society. The whole stages of society is a product of the western European historical experience, which had produced the "ancient-medieval-modern" dichotomy. There are cultures which never developed such periodisation in the first place.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-27 07:24am

Stages of society may not be universally understood until society progresses far enough so that it can, by looking back, see these stages in historical process.

I already noted that Sima Qian moved Chinese historiography beyond the mythological, and further accounts proceeded to have a more materialistic view. This is explainable if society and concepts develop and advance in tandem.

But it lends further credibility to the idea that sufficiently advanced civilizations would tend to advance to “philosophy” - namely the science of science itself. I mean, China had the Shitong prior to Western contact as well, which is already a methodological book, a framework of historiography even if we do not call it such.

Similarly, the theories of Zhu Xi were already distinct from the ordinary Taoist, or Confucian teachings in what concerned the concepts of learning, and knowledge itself.

Fairly logical that the idea of stages could originate in a society that discovered the forward movement of history by itself, slowly, even if it would have taken longer due to certain factors unique to a given society or territorial polity.

The “scientific revolution” itself would be impossible without some concepts that originated outside the “West” back in the Middle Ages.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by ray245 » 2019-02-27 11:07am

K. A. Pital wrote:
2019-02-27 07:24am
Stages of society may not be universally understood until society progresses far enough so that it can, by looking back, see these stages in historical process.

I already noted that Sima Qian moved Chinese historiography beyond the mythological, and further accounts proceeded to have a more materialistic view. This is explainable if society and concepts develop and advance in tandem.


What about societies that don't? It's not a linear progress. In what way is further accounts seen as having a more materialistic view? What is your definition of the mythological?

But it lends further credibility to the idea that sufficiently advanced civilizations would tend to advance to “philosophy” - namely the science of science itself. I mean, China had the Shitong prior to Western contact as well, which is already a methodological book, a framework of historiography even if we do not call it such.
But development of philosophy doesn't necessarily move away from the mythological or "divine" elements. In regards to history as an academic discipline, while the Chinese did develop history as a distinct field of enquiry, the modern approaches towards historical enquiry in China is influenced by the western framework. The idea of a "medieval" or "middle-ages" in China did not exist as a historical concept until Chinese intellectuals in the 19th and 20th century desperately tried to reconcile Chinese historiography with western historiography. The further influence of Marxism in China also further challenged the older historiographical approaches.

Similarly, the theories of Zhu Xi were already distinct from the ordinary Taoist, or Confucian teachings in what concerned the concepts of learning, and knowledge itself.
But that does not make it equivalent of science. Nor should we necessarily see it as the precursor to modern science if left to its natural development. Many of Joseph Needham's students now challenged his approach of drawing too much equivalence between Chinese scholarly disciplines and western scientific disciplines.

Fairly logical that the idea of stages could originate in a society that discovered the forward movement of history by itself, slowly, even if it would have taken longer due to certain factors unique to a given society or territorial polity.

The “scientific revolution” itself would be impossible without some concepts that originated outside the “West” back in the Middle Ages.


Why is it logical? On what basis do we assume this would be the case? Not all societies would develop the idea of the forward movement of history. You mentioned that Sima Qian discovered the idea of there being some forward movement of history, but he also created( or is heavily responsible for) the whole notion of a dynastic cycle. People can easily develop a notion of there being a cyclic notion of history as opposed to a purely linear one. Even the Roman historiographical tradition cannot be said to be one that discovered the forward movement of history. Instead, the topos of decline permeates Roman historiographical tradition. The idea that there was some forward movement of history came much, much later. The idea of stages in history is very firmed rooted in the Western European historical experiences, which had experienced a prolonged period of fragmentation of central authority and lack of strong taxation based regimes.

The scientific revolution was profoundly influenced by ideas coming from the east, but the "architecture" or the shape of the knowledge is still one that is constructed within a western framework.
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Re: Geographical and historical terminology for people

Post by K. A. Pital » 2019-02-28 05:02am

ray245 wrote:
2019-02-27 11:07am
What about societies that don't? It's not a linear progress. In what way is further accounts seen as having a more materialistic view? What is your definition of the mythological?
Europe did not universally develop an idea of stages either until a very late stage. Voltaire, for all his contributions, did not interpret history in terms of formations, but rather only as nations and epochs. Which, however, was already different in that it emphasized the history of customs, arts, commerce and other aspects. The ideas of modernization and history as a staged process were not universally accepted in the West either, with plenty non-teleological works coexisting with the more cyclical views (e think of Spengler). A more materialistic view in the sense of rejection of supernatural and striving to improve the quality of sources behind the historical narrative (which also relates to Voltaire, for example, who was instrumental to shaping modern Western historiography). The mythological is a conflation of untrue (eg supernatural) with a narrative that purports to tell history. Note how myths are, the early stage of event-reflection by the mind, likewise universal and existing in many cultures simultaneously even without any contact between them. And how progression from inclusion of the mythological into what constitutes „real history“ towards a more facts-and-sources based historical narrative occurred in likewise separate civilizations.
But development of philosophy doesn't necessarily move away from the mythological or "divine" elements. In regards to history as an academic discipline, while the Chinese did develop history as a distinct field of enquiry, the modern approaches towards historical enquiry in China is influenced by the western framework. The idea of a "medieval" or "middle-ages" in China did not exist as a historical concept until Chinese intellectuals in the 19th and 20th century desperately tried to reconcile Chinese historiography with western historiography. The further influence of Marxism in China also further challenged the older historiographical approaches.
True, there had been incidents of vulgar application of Western methods - it does not mean that if China arrived at other methods, its own methods, that would occupy the same role in human investigative activity that we call „science“, they would not be applied in a vulgar fashion themselves. The drive for knowledge is a universally present feature of civilization, as civilization itself relies on the accumulation of knowledge. From these fundamental processes we can infer that each civilization would arrive at some form of science, the more it developed. The fact that China had no idea of „Middle Ages“ is unsurprising: Europe had self-defined this period as „middle ages“ purely out of chronological reasons. China had a different system and it could have perhaps never developed a view of „Middle Ages“ if it industrialized first. But it would call the pre-industrial age something, we just do not know what. The general drive for factual knowledge accumulation was evident, the Yongle Dadian is a prime example of the fact that with the growth and rising complexity of civilization‘s social and economic structures the accumulation of knowledge plays an important role and will happen; and will progress from pure myth to fact, and also later from a form of metaphysics, the strive for universal concepts, towards the materialistic concepts that originate due to the scientific exploration process itself.
But that does not make it equivalent of science. Nor should we necessarily see it as the precursor to modern science if left to its natural development. Many of Joseph Needham's students now challenged his approach of drawing too much equivalence between Chinese scholarly disciplines and western scientific disciplines.
I am not drawing equivalence. I said that it is the first stage where knowledge accumulation starts to shed the supernatural, and operate more on the basis of fact. It is a long way from that to the modern scientific method. But the idea that such a method could, even in pure theory, only be developed by Europeans is racist nonsense. Of course a movement towards the scientific method in other nations would look different than of that in Europe, but since the accumulation of knowledge is a process of reflecting actual material conditions, it would still happen one way or the other. You can develop certain concepts to solve practical problems of a civilization, so it is happening in reality. Also as you know, Chinese mathematicians in the late middle Ages started to reframe the thought in terms of general solutions as opposed to individual solutions, which reflects a process that is undeniably a feature of the advancement of abstract thinking.
Why is it logical? On what basis do we assume this would be the case? Not all societies would develop the idea of the forward movement of history. You mentioned that Sima Qian discovered the idea of there being some forward movement of history, but he also created( or is heavily responsible for) the whole notion of a dynastic cycle. People can easily develop a notion of there being a cyclic notion of history as opposed to a purely linear one. Even the Roman historiographical tradition cannot be said to be one that discovered the forward movement of history. Instead, the topos of decline permeates Roman historiographical tradition. The idea that there was some forward movement of history came much, much later. The idea of stages in history is very firmed rooted in the Western European historical experiences, which had experienced a prolonged period of fragmentation of central authority and lack of strong taxation based regimes.

The scientific revolution was profoundly influenced by ideas coming from the east, but the "architecture" or the shape of the knowledge is still one that is constructed within a western framework.
I mentioned above that concepts such as Marxism arrived very late in European history - it is an outcome of a lot of preceding philosophical developments and thus even in Europe itself this view was far from being universally accepted in historiography. Note that fascination with decline permeated European works (Gibbon, Spengler).

In essence though both China and Europe had some unique experiences that drove the development of pre-scientific and partially scientific concepts in their own ways. However, all of this relates to a general process of accumulation of knowledge. The recognition of the value of knowledge in society and the idea that knowledge is in principle accessible to each human deciding to learn, are pre-requisites for the development of a scientific method. Europe had some other unique factors related to Antiquity and its powerful philosophical thrust, that helped to originate the methods earlier, but it is by no way an exclusive ability of the Europeans to systematically refine the process of accumulation of knowledge until it can be called science.

This is all I wanted to say.
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