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The West—A Dialogic Prescription or Proscription?

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The taxonomy of humanity can be dictated by a number of categories: civilization, race, ethnicity, tradition, culture and so forth. While often perceived as only descriptive and ‘naturally fixed', none of these categories is capable of specifying the identity of a particular group without committing conceptual inconsistency or offering a reasonably coherent and systematic classification of the human kind in general. Yet, it is impossible to say that they are unreal or merely illusionary. On the contrary, they constitute social reality and serve significant roles in discriminating one set of people from and against others. The West—by the same token, with its symmetrical opposite, the Rest of humanity—is such a category that clearly lacks in the rationality of conceptual coherence. It does not have consistent unity. Rather it presents itself as a putative unity, and contains contradictions within itself, so that it can be unified only in the future. It is a social imaginary that mainly works as a myth on a global scale just like race. Yet, unlike race, it tends to have a cartographic association. For this affinity with cartographic imagining, the dichotomy of the West and the Rest is constantly appealed to as the schematic trope of dialogue in order to denote and comprehend various instances of social conflict and estrangement in spatial terms, but with the result of positing the West and the Rest as territories, as geographic enclosures. Then, this article asks, how does the West exist? How is it linked to and merged with other such categories, which distinguish one set of people from others, as gender, nationality, social class, and race? It inquires into the genealogy of the West, but the genealogy it attempts to portray keeps in sight the ever-changing configuration of other categories, in the midst of which the West may appear consistent and unified. In this sense the West is a topos both of displacement and condensation of social conflict and estrangement. Historically, therefore, one cannot dissociate the putative unity of the West from colonial modernity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2005

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