Sunday, September 17, 2006

Moment of self-reflective terminological angst

I can already see a problem with the dichotomisation western vs. non-western applied to warfare, politics, or economics. This distinction has a tendency to attribute suboptimal or bad features to the non-western world and optimal 'good' features like democracy, modern technology, and rationalised and fair social institutions to the western world. But that's not what I had in mind.

What I had in mind was drawing attention to a deficit in research and knowledge on the non-western world and the qualitative differences with the west, particularly in the pre-modern era. Whereas the classical Greek and Roman periods have been intensively studied in the west, serious attention to these periods reached a nadir in the colonial period, but this scholarship is embedded in a now discredited colonial approach to the subject matter. New work needs to be done.

In fact, I would eschew much standard terminology such as "democracy" for the idea of "participation" (participation, legality/constitutionality, transparency) because as most people point out places like South Korea or Thailand have democracy, but a home-grown democracy that differs in substantial ways from western democracy practiced in Europe, the US, and Australia. Many point out that longstanding traditional village governance, headmanship, has a high degree of participation (with varying degress of coercive consensus making that violate our notions of democracy).