A polysystemist's response to prescriptive cultural relativism and postcolonialism

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-154
Journal / PublicationAcross Languages and Cultures
Issue number1
Online published12 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


Translation studies and other disciplines in the humanities have become increasingly politicized as scholars act on the presumption that the dominance of Western theories is the result of power differentials rather than academic merit. This postcolonialist mindset is based on the claim that cultures are equally valid, but there are objective and cross-culturally intersubjective standards for comparing certain aspects of cultures. The problems with such prescriptive cultural relativism are that the nation-state is regarded as the only legitimate unit of culture, that national differences are overemphasized, and that an "is" is turned into an "ought." Built on these misconceptions, postcolonialism challenges the political establishment in central countries but serves as an excuse to suppress the demand for progress from peripheral sectors in peripheral cultures. The attempt to export postcolonialism, a culture-specific theory, to the whole world is thus itself a colonialist act.

Research Area(s)

  • Cultural relativism, Eurocentrism, Intersubjectivity, Polysystem theory, Postcolonialism, Universalism