Ethnocentrism: Wikis


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Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.[1]

The term ethnocentrism was coined by William G. Sumner, upon observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the ingroup and others. He described it as often leading to pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders.[2]

Anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski argued that any human science had to transcend the ethnocentrism of the scientist. Both urged anthropologists to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Boas developed the principle of cultural relativism and Malinowski developed the theory of functionalism as guides for producing non-ethnocentric studies of different cultures. The books The Sexual Life of Savages, by Malinowski, Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict and Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead (two of Boas's students) are classic examples of anti-ethnocentric anthropology.


Theoretical underpinnings

Ethnocentrism occurs when one culture or nation places itself at the top of an imagined hierarchy of cultures and nations and subsequently assigns other cultures and nations equivalent or lower value on that scale. The idea that Nation 'A' is intrinsically 'better' than any other is inculcated in the population until it becomes naturalized', that is, a commonly held belief that Nation 'A' has always been the best. It has never been any other way, and that all other nations can be judged according to the model Nation 'A' represents. Nation 'A' is the centre and all other ethnicities must strive to emulate it in order to move up in the imaginary hierarchy.

An example ethnocentrism is provided by Elizabeth Spelman in her work 'Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought in which she deems feminist legal theory as 'feminist ethnocentrism'. This is the belief in superiorty of the feminist movement in that they speak for all women, which in reality, proves to be very different.

However, it is not unusual for a person to consider that whatever they believe is the most appropriate system of belief or that however they behave is the most appropriate and 'natural' behaviour. To be fair, a system of belief in which someone doesn't consider his or her own as the right one is inherently inconsistent, for it is admitting its own falseness. With this in mind, it is important to examine the bases for our beliefs regarding other cultures and nations: Emmanuel Levinas's philosophical 'Other'.

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler discusses the humanizing and dehumanizing effects of recognizing the Other in order to sustain the Self and the problems of not being able to identify the Other. Butler notes 'that identification always relies upon a difference that it seeks to overcome, and that its aim is accomplished only by reintroducing the difference it claims to have vanquished. The one with whom I identify is not me, and that 'not being me' is the condition of the identification. Otherwise, as Jacqueline Rose reminds us, 'identification collapses into identity, which spells the death of identification itself' (146)[3]. However, Butler's understanding of Self and Other is Eurocentric itself because she writes that one cannot recognize Self unless it is through the Other. Therefore, Self and Other are limited through a language of binary codes. Considering that language is essential to culture, an individual will know oneself through the result of language plus culture. Dichotomous language is embedded in English and similar languages; however, dichotomous language is not universal. Indeed, there are few dichotomies in many Indigenous and non-European languages (Battiste and Henderson 76)[4]. It is by looking into the language of a culture that one will be able to see oneself in relation to one's environment and one's place in the world.

A person who is born into a particular culture and grows up absorbing the values and behaviors of the culture will develop patterns of thought reflecting the culture as normal.[5] If the person then experiences other cultures that have different values and normal behaviors, the person finds that the thought patterns appropriate to their birth culture and the meanings their birth culture attaches to behaviors are not appropriate for the new cultures. However, since a person is accustomed to their birth culture it can be difficult for the person to see the behaviors of people from a different culture from the viewpoint of that culture rather than from their own..[6]

The ethnocentric person may also adopt a new culture, repudiating their birth culture, considering that the adopted culture is somehow superior to the birth culture. Throughout history, warring factions have been composed of fairly homogeneous ethnic groups.[citation needed] Ethnic strife is seen dominating the landscape in many parts of the world even to this day. Evolutionary psychology posits that the reason for these groupings stems from the alignment of interests among members of these groups due to their genetic similarity.[citation needed] In this vein, van den Berghe (1981) sees ethnocentrism as a natural outgrowth of nepotism.


Endogamy describes a preference for mates of the same ethnicity, a tendency to favour the in-group, which is seen by some as the natural preference for mating.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Margaret L. Andersen, Howard Francis Taylor (2006). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0534617166. 
  2. ^ Sumner, W. G. Folkways. New York: Ginn, 1906.
  3. ^ Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004.
  4. ^ Battiste, Marie and James Youngblood Henderson. Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage: A Global Challenge. Saskatoon: Purich publishing, 2000.
  5. ^ Stanley S. Seidner, Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de recherche sur le pluralinguisme, 1982.
  6. ^ Seidner, Ethnicity, Language, and Power.....

Further reading

  • Ankerl, G. Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INU PRESS, 2000, ISBN 2 88155 004 5
  • Reynolds, V., Falger, V., & Vine, I. (Eds.) (1987). The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
  • Salter, F. K., ed. 2002. Risky Transactions. Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.
  • Seidner, S. S.(1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de recherche sur le pluralinguisme.
  • van den Berghe, P. L. (1981). The ethnic phenomenon. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Martineau, H. (1838). "How to Observe Morals and manners". Charles Knight and Co., London.

External links

Simple English

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to judge all other groups according to group standards, behavior and customs.

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