Ethnocentrism, Racism, Genocide ...

John Lechte


As introduction, I shall examine some aspects of the background to this paper concerning the transition, as I see it, from ethnocentrism in the eigh-teenth century to genocide in the twentieth. When I came to reflect on the cultural construction of race, I posed some fairly obvious questions; How can one understand the concept (or 'idea', as Robert Miles in this volume has argued) of 'race' in the eighteenth cen-tury when European voyagers began 'discovering' different societies at an increasingly rapid rate? Is it the same as the term we use today? Or is it that we tend to conflate two things; ethnocentrism, which has been with us for centuries, and today's term 'race'? I came to the view that the least one could do was pay some attention to what has been written about race, how it emerged within twentieth-century context, especially as regards Natural History and the writings of voyagers and naturalists. To begin in this way means that conclusions other than those we are used to have to be enter-tained. We have to consider, for instance, the possibility that 'race' as it in-itially appeared in Western thought had nothing to do with the notion of race we understand today, even if many historians fail to recognise this. I

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