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unclassified - 15 12 2001 - 14:43 - katatonik

The East in the West

“I am obviously not denying the importance for world history of these events and achievement associated with the Renaissance nor later with the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath, though comparisons with the East and the earlier West as well as some doubts about the way these claims are phrased lead me to entertain some queries. My main reservations have to do with the nature of the explanations for those changes, and their implications not simply for social science but for our perception of ourselves and of others. ...
... what I regard as inadequate is any theory that claims to find something profoundly ‘structural’ in Asia that prevented these developments from taking place, or in Europe that advanced them. In looking at Europe, and specifically England, our natural egocentricity has often led us to assume a priority at deep, socio-cultural levels whereas the evidence for this is either thin or non-existent. The reasons for achievements in both West and East are more contingent. ...
... Let me give one example. Following the humanist tradition rather too closely, I earlier argued the West had a ‘comparative advantage’ due to the development of alphabetic literacy in Greece. That argument I now regard as not entirely invalid but as exaggerated. Many of the achievements that are associated with the alphabet were also available to those making use of logographic or other systems of writing. In pre-industrial times, widespread literacy was not important for most purposes. In any case the levels of reading and writing in societies with non-alphabetic scripts were underestimated. That does not affect the socio-cultural significance of writing in any way. But it does affect the way lines are drawn between the East and the West in the context of scripts.”

Jack Goody, “The East in the West”, Cambridge University Press 1996.

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