The West

My View of the West: An Imagined Community Par Excellence

Jukka Jouhki

I got interested in the concept of the West while conducting anthropological fieldwork on the relationship between expatriate Europeans and local Tamil villagers in South India almost two deades ago. First, I was interested in Orientalism in the European views of India, but at some point I noticed how exotic ‘the West’ was to the local Tamil people (read my dissertation here), so I got interested in Occidentalism as well.

After my doctoral dissertation (2006), I have conducted anthropological research in several countries such as China, India, South Korea, Spain, The Gambia, and Finland, and while talking to people I have come across various kinds of conceptualizations of Western society – even if it hadn’t always been the purpose of my research. When I realized that social scientists had rarely concentrated on and problematized the concept of Western culture or Western society, I thought that the rare scholars who had, should organize. Hence, The West Network was founded by me and my colleague Dr. Henna-Riikka Pennanen who had similar interests.

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Theoretically, I am nowadays interested in what I call banal Occidentalism (see e.g. this article), a combination – or extension – of Michael Billig’s banal nationalism and Edward Said’s Orientalism. I am particularly interested in how ‘the West,’ ‘Western society,’ ‘Western people’ etc. are utilized to connote a unified Western whole, and the kind of instances where ‘the West’ is evoked as a rhetorical tool. In addition to banal nationalism, I am interested in the Occidentalisms of people who do not identify as Western.

The author is a Senior Lecturer of Anthropology and Docent of Ethnology in University of Jyväskylä, Finland. In addition to the West, his research interests include Finnish expats (in Spain and India), child marriage in The Gambia, and social robots – to name a few ongoing projects. Dr. Jouhki is also the Editor-in-Chief of Human Technology journal.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.

The 2nd International Conference by The West Network (5-7 June 2019)

Conference

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

June 5-7, 2019

The West Network, an international and multidisciplinary research network coordinated from the Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä, is organizing its 2nd international conference titled:

The End of Western Hegemonies?

If we look at ‘the West’ as a group of states, we can say it has been globally hegemonic in many areas of life, such as scientific innovation, the economy and consumption, military force, medicine, technological development, press freedom, political regimes and ideology. In addition, there are views according to which the West has imposed its own vision of the world by having hegemony over the production of knowledge in intellectual domains, such as philosophy, political science, and sociology, the West has imposed its own vision of the world. This is how the ‘Western paradigm’ has been built. Adopting this paradigm has long been held as a global criterion of success. However, as long as there have been Western hegemonies, there have been contestations of them.

History did not end in the triumph of Western liberal democracy, and there are societal developments in the US and Europe that are seen as undermining (the unity of) the West. It is feared that the era of Donald Trump will disengage the US from the Western and global political arenas. The imminent separation of Britain from the European Union is raising concerns about the unity of Europe. The overall rise of right-wing populism is seen to jeopardize such core Western values as internationalism, liberalism and solidarity. Increasing individualism and identity politics, racism, toxic masculinity, unemployment or a lost sense of purpose are seen to erode Western society from the inside by dividing people into different sides of cultural wars.

Moreover, the so-called emerging countries, China in their lead, are often seen as a threat to Western geopolitical, economic and cultural hegemonies, if not to the contemporary world order. Western military ventures have been seen as the source of deep fractures, not only between the West and other countries, but also within non-Western societies, since they have helped to cause the rise of militant Islam and the unleashing of wars in these countries. This interventionism, however, has not been without consequences in the West as well, for these wars have caused flows of refugees, and brought crowds of immigrants into Western countries. This situation has fueled further political conflict within Western societies whose people debate about the nature of Western civilization and its role in helping others.

Will the ‘non-West’, the emerging countries, or China surpass the West? If so, in which areas of life? Can the West hold on to its hegemonies in science, liberal democracy, economy, civil liberties, and the military sphere? Or is it bound to become one of many equal players – or a relic – in a new multi-polar world order? At the same time, the West – and all of humankind – is developing further in terms of technology, health, human rights, democracy and peace, and many think there is no reason to believe the West would lose its hegemonies.

If one holds that the West is mainly an imagined community, one can doubt that it ever could have exercised any concrete domination. One can thus easily problematize the basic concepts of ‘the West’ as well as its ‘hegemonies’. In contrast, the very notion of hegemony invites explorations in specific areas in which one can postulate a hegemonic or dominating position of the West, today or in the recent past. If one accepts that the West enjoyed a strong leadership in certain domains, one may ask why and how it occurred. Or one might, enquire about the present and future of this domination. Will it come to a close? If so, why and how – politically, culturally, socially or narratively?

We invite scholars, particularly from social sciences and humanities, to present empirical or theoretical papers on the topic of the conference by focusing on the following sub-themes, issues and/or phenomena or other topics relevant to the theme of the conference (the list is not exclusive):

Brexit, Christianity, civilization, climate change, Cold War, collectivism, democracy, dystopia, economy, energy, environment, ethnicity, emerging countries, ethnicity, fragmentation, freedom, gender, geopolitics, identity, imagined communities, individualism, Islamism, leadership, the Left, liberalism, nationalism, NATO, Occidentalism, Orientalism, popular culture, political ideology, populism, post-WWII, protectionism, race/racialization, regional powers, religiosity, science/scientism, secularism, super powers, technology, terrorism, tribalism, utopia, Whiteness.

Keynote speakers

Roundtable discussion lead by Dr. Marie-Josée Lavallée. Participants will be announced at a later date.

Deadlines

  • Abstract proposals (300-400 words) 6 January 2019
  • Accepted presenters will be notified by 5 February 2019
  • Extended abstracts (800-1200 words) 30 April 2019

Participation fees

  • Basic: 80 euros, including lunch, refreshments, reception buffet
  • Basic + dinner: 115 euros (dinner on 2nd day)
  • Basic + dinner + cruise: 160 euros (lunch cruise on Lake Jyväskylä on third day).

Payments by March 15, 2019 at https://payments.jyu.fi/events/the-end-of-western-hegemonies-conference.

Accommodation and travel

More information on the conference hotel and other options for accommodation as well as travel information will be provided at a later date.

Organizing committee

Jukka Jouhki & Marie-Josée Lavallée, Pertti Ahonen, Antero Holmila, Matti Roitto

Abstracts + inquiries: westernhegemonies@gmail.com

Useful links