This is my comment of the month:
Pontifications about “Western culture” bother me. The people who use the term seem to assume that “we” are part of “Western culture” and know what it is. No explanation is necessary. But if you stop and think about it, in what sense are a Hungarian peasant farmer and a Morgan Stanley executive part of the same “culture”? How far does this culture extend? In space? In time?
When someone like Marshall Sahlins (famous cultural anthropologist) talks about Western culture, he quotes figures like Hobbes and Kant … as if Western “culture” were epitomized by philosophy and not by such pragmatic matters as kinship, economics, religion, cuisine. Probably because if you started talking about specifics, any semblance of uniformity would collapse.
I’ve also noticed that the post-modern school of anthropology is remarkably culture-bound, even in this limited philosophical sense. There are thinkers one must have read and are allowed to quote (Marx, Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu) — who all happen to be European white males. It reminds me of Christians debating (volleys of scripture texts from each side), Muslims disputing (Quranic verses and hadith), and Chinese scholars quoting Confucius or famous poets.
No one is citing Ibn Khaldun.
The attitude that the commenter is pointing to is one reason I’ve been beating the drum about taking the end of the age of white supremacy seriously. Sloppy default positions predicated on a Western/non-Western model will be as useful as the heuristics of the Confucian bureaucrat in the wake of defeat by the British during the Opium Wars within the generation. A post-colonial mindset takes the Western/non-Western dichotomy for granted as the primary axis around which all power relations are organized. But in a world where whites are declining in relative power this is no longer so useful.
I would grant that there is something one can term “Western” culture. Or at least one can make an argument about what it is, and what unifies it. But, I think the commenter is spot on in pointing to the reality that the enthusiastic promoters of deconstruction, problematization, and “thick description,” take Western culture for granted as a useful and self-evident category or term. The standard rules don’t apply when it comes to what is invariably their culture. Which of course makes them very similar to Orientalists of old, if I may say so.