The Civilization reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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For alternative meanings see: Civilization (disambiguation).

The term civilization (or civilisation) - from the Latin civis meaning 'citizen' or 'townsman' - has been used in various ways at different times.

Table of contents
1 A stage of technical or political development
2 A standard of behaviour
3 A cultural phenomenon
4 Civilizations as systems
5 Oppressive aspects of Civilization
6 25 major civilizations in human history
7 Wiktionary
8 External links

A stage of technical or political development

Sometimes examples are given of the earliest civilizations, such as China, ancient Egypt, Indus Valley Civilization and Sumer. The features of these groups that are seen as distinguishing them from earlier settlements such as neolithic Jericho and Catalhuyuk:

A standard of behaviour

Encompassing concepts such as chivalry, barbarian. The concept of civilisation has at time formed part of the justification by which some groups have exerted control over others, e.g., during European colonization of the Americas or British India. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi's famous response to the question "What do you think of Western civilization?" – his reply: "I think it would be a good idea." In regard to behaviour, civilized can be said to mean all the customs and sanctions necessary to prevent people becoming violent, except as a last resort. Therefore the possession of deterrents to violence in the form of a standing army does not necessarily disqualify a people from claiming to be civilised.

A cultural phenomenon

One school of thought says that civilization is a cultural identity which represents the broadest level of identification in which an individual intensely identifies, broader than family, tribe, hometown, nation, or region. Civilizations are usually tied to religion or some other belief system.

The thesis that civilizations represent relatively homogeneous cultural spheres was central to the thinking of Oswald Spengler, who defined the coherence of a civilization as its organization around a single primary cultural symbol. Civilizations experienced cycles of birth, life, decline and death, often supplanted by a new civilization with a potent new culture, formed around a compelling new symbol. This cultural concept of civilization influenced the historical theories of Arnold J. Toynbee. Toynbee explored civilizational processes in his multi-volume A Study of History, which traced the rise and, in most cases, the decline of 21 civilizations and five "arrested civilizations". Civilizations generally declined and fell, according to Toynbee, because of moral or religious decline, rather than economic or environmental causes. This cultural definition of civilizations is also central to the political theories of Samuel P. Huntington who defines a civilization as "the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species." He argues that the defining characteristic of the 21st century will be the interaction and conflict between civilizations, supplanting the conflicts between nation states and ideologies that characterized the 19th and 20th centuries.

The concept of empire overlaps with that of "civilisation", so the empirical description of the 500-year old Western empire by Noam Chomsky and the more theoretical analysis by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt constitute other contemporary analyses of civilizations.

Civilizations as systems

Another group of theorists, inspired by systems theory, look at civilizations as systems or networks of cities that emerge from pre-urban cultures, and are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, and cultural interactions between them. An influential thinker in this school is urbanist Jane Jacobs, who, in her books The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, defined cities as the economic engines of human economies, and identified the process of "import replacement" as central to the development of city networks. Import replacement involves peripheral cities developing the capability to replace goods and services that were formerly imported from more advanced cities. Successful import replacement creates economic growth in these peripheral cities, and allows these cities to then export their goods to less developed cities in their own hinterlands, starting the process anew. Jacobs' work explores economic and technological exchanges across networks of cities rather than the development of distinct cultural spheres.

Systems theorists look at various spheres of relations between cities, including economic relations, cultural exchanges, and political/diplomatic/military relations; these spheres often occur of different scales. The total sphere of trade relations are called an oikumene; city and economic historians have observed that trade spheres were, until the nineteenth century, much larger than either cultural spheres or political/diplomatic/military spheres. For example, extensive trade routes, including the silk road through Central Asia and Indian Ocean sea routes linking the Roman Empire India, and China, were well established 2000 years ago, when these civilizations did not have political, diplomatic, or military, or cultural ties. "World systems" theorists argue that economic and political/diplomatic/military integration of the world's civilizations has already happened, and Huntington's 21st-century "clash of civilizations" is actually the clash of cultural spheres within a single, integrated economic-political-military civilization. Some theorists argue that this integration has happened over the last few hundred years, as Western Civilization expanded through the processes of colonialism and imperialism to dominate the globe; others argue that this process of civilizational integration started much earlier.

David Wilkinson's theory of a Central civilization posits that multiple civilizations, defined primarily as political-diplomatic-military networks of cities, emerged in different places around the world at different times, and formed autonomous civilizations; some of these historical civilizations include the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indic, Aegean, Chinese, Japanese, Mesoamerican, and Andean civilizations. Some historic civilizations, like Japan, are culturally homogeneous, while others were culturally heterogeneous but integrated in the economic-political-military sphere. By 1500 BCE, the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations merged into a "Central civilization", which expanded to include Europe, northern and eastern Africa, and Central Asia by about 1500 CE. Central civilization is culturally heterogeneous, but integrated politically, militarily, and economically; thus, according to Wilkinson, many civilizations identified by historians, including Byzantine, Western, Islamic, Hellenic-Roman, etc. were not separate civilizations, but were coherent cultural spheres within Central civilization. European expansion after 1500 brought the Americas, subsaharan Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Oceania into Central civilization, with China and Japan integrated in the 19th century.

Oppressive aspects of Civilization

Some postmodernists refuse the term as undesirable. It is argued that there are not 'advanced' and 'primitive' societies; many so-called 'primitive' societies are sustainable and better adapted to the social and environmental life conditions and resource base of their locale. The division of societies into 'civilized' and 'uncivilized' is arbitrary, has been the justification for colonialism, imperialism, genocide, and coercive acculturation.

Many feminist and ecologist critiques of civilization emphasize the violence and exploitation of people and the environment that has accompanied the historical development of civilization, sometimes referred to as dominator culture, and suggest that the partnership societies that preceded so-called civilized societies may be a more just and sustainable pattern of human development.

25 major civilizations in human history

Civilization Main Empires and Republics
Sumerian Sumerian Empire
Egyptian Middle Empire
Indus Valley Harappa
Minoan Minoan Empire
Hittite Hittite Empire
Chinese Ming Empire, Qin Empire, Republic of China, People's Republic of China
Hindu Indian Mauryan Empire, Gupta Empire
Austronesian Champa
Babylonian Babylonian Empire
Mesomerican Olmec, Toltec, Aztec
Greek and Roman Roman Empire
Mayan Maya civilization
Levantine Syria, Phoenicia, Canaan, Kingdom of Israel
Southeast Asian Khmer Empire, Srivijaya, Majapahit Empire
Islamic Arabian Empire
Mississippian Cahokia and other cities
Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate,post-Meiji Japan, post-WWII Japan
Mongol Mongol Empire
Western Viking, United States, British Empire, French Empire and Spanish Empire
Russian Russian Empire, Soviet Union
Zimbabwe Great Zimbabwe
Andean Inca Empire
Communist Soviet Union, People's Republic of China

Source (with some changes): Guinness Book of Historical Records

This classification is certainly subject to debate in various details. The Maya, for example, while achieving a high degree of civilization, were never an Empire which imposed their power over other peoples of Mesoamerica, whereas Teotihuacan and the Aztecs fit that criterion. Arguably, the cultures of modern Latin America also constitute a civilization.


External links