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Foundations of
Eurocentrism in Mathematics
Joseph,
George Ghevarughese, "Foundations of Eurocentrism in
Mathematics," Race and Class, XXVII, 3(1987), p.1328.
Joseph suggests that "there exists a widespread Eurocentric bias
in the production, dissemination and evaluation of scientific
knowledge." He diagrams the "classical" Eurocentric approach as
follows:
Joseph
claims that this Eurocentric approach served as a "comforting
rationale for an imperialist/racist ideology of dominance" and
has remained strong despite evidence that there was significant
mathematical development in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China,
preColumbian America, India and Arabia, and that Greek
mathematics owed a significant debt to the mathematics of most
of those cultures.
A somewhat grudging acceptance of the debts owed to Greek
mathematics and to Arabic contributions led some mathematical
historians to accept "the 'modified' Eurocentric trajectory":
The
modified trajectory still does not take into account the
contributions of India and China, nor does it indicate the route
through which Hellenistic, Chinese, Indian and Arabic
mathematical translations, refinements, syntheses and
augmentations arrived in Western Europe. Joseph therefore
suggests the following "alternative trajectory" (from 8th to
15th century):
Among
the interesting history presented by Joseph is that the earliest
known general proof of the Theorem of Pythagorus is contained
the Sulbasutras (circa 600800 B.C.) from India, that
"there is no evidence that Pythagorus had either stated or
proved the theorem," that Arabic geometers laid the foundations
for Saccheri's work in nonEuclidean geometry, that Spain and
Sicily were the main points of contact for dissemination of
mathematical knowledge to Western Europe, and that "practically
all topics taught in school mathematics today are directly
derived from the work of mathematicians originating outside
Western Europe before the twelfth century A.D."
Joseph
refutes the suggestion that preGreek mathematics lacked the
concept of proof and insists that criticism of Egyptian and
Babylonian mathematics as "more a practical tool than an
intellectual pursuit" is symptomatic of Western intellectual
elitism and racism. Joseph urges the "countering of Eurocentrism
in the classroom." His concluding paragraph appears to be a
strong statement of support for Ethnomathematics in the
classroom and is reproduced below in its entirety:
"Finally, if we accept the principle that teaching should be
tailored to children's experience of the social and physical
environment in which they live, mathematics should also draw on
these experiences, which would include in contemporary Britain
the presence of different ethnic minorities with their own
mathematical heritage. Drawing on the mathematical traditions of
these groups, indicating that these cultures are recognized and
valued, would also help to counter the entrenched historical
devaluation of them. Again, by promoting such an approach,
mathematics is brought into contact with a wide range of
disciplines,including art and design, history and social
studies, which it conventionally ignores. Such a holistic
approach would serve to augment, rather than fragment, a child's
understanding and imagination
.GeorgeJoseph
Gheverghese c.v

