Oblivion of Origins: On Hegemonic Universals and Hybrid Civilizations


Peyman Vahabzadeh


This paper will argue theses such as “end of history” and “clash of civilizations” report a continued oblivion—indeed a repression of memory—about the hybrid origins of western civilization.  “Orientalizing” the Other —marking the other as an unknown — is an effect of paradigmatic, categorical knowledge, and that it is inevitable at the moment of projecting one’s own culturally conditioned knowledge on to what is not known.  The East rises to importance for the West as Europe wishes to distance herself from Asia.  Since finding a point of absolute demarcation is impossible, the Orient imposes itself as an incomprehensible knowledge bit that can only be approached through comparison to Europe.  Such an approach disregards the “accidental” historical ascension of Northwest Europe to a privileged economic, political, cultural, and military position.  As such, the West’s universalizing knowledge gained the form of hegemonic globalization. The historical movement captured through post-Kantian anthropology has continued to our day in the form of cultural diversity and multiculturalism which are indications of our late modern era in which plurality without a centre encroaches upon every normative aspect of life.  No longer can such colonial ideals as progress or security justify cultural homogenization, nor science’s normative social effect be taken as the ultimate measure for the quality of life.  Postcolonial knowledge, feminism and women’s movements, issues of sexual preference, the rise of aboriginal and indigenous peoples, or the creative resistances of the poor all attest to the changing course of our societies. The response to the “clash of civilization” thesis, which stems from a certain “politics of immanence,” which makes undemocratic conduct possible, is a “politics of transcendence,” to whom democratic conduct owes its manifestation.


Peyman Vahabzadeh is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria.  He is the author of Articulated Experiences: Toward A Radical Phenomenology of Contemporary Social Movements (SUNY Press, 2003) and A Guerrilla Odyssey: Modernization, Secularism, Democracy and the Fadai Discourse of National Liberation in Iran, 1971-1979 (Syracuse University Press, 2010), and the co-guest editor of the special issue of the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory on “Religion, Democracy, and the Politics of Fright” (2007).  His contributions have appeared in several refereed journals and essays, poems, short stories, and interviews have appeared in English, Persian, Kurdish, and German.


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