Ethnocentrism is the act of judging another culture based on preconceptions that are found in values and standards of one's own culture. Ethnocentric behavior involves judging other groups relative to the preconceptions of one's own ethnic group or culture, especially regarding language, behavior, customs, and religion. These aspects or categories are distinctions that define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.
William G. Sumner defined ethnocentrism as "the technical name for the view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it." He further characterized ethnocentrism as often leading to pride, vanity, belief in one's own group's superiority, and contempt for outsiders. These problems may occur because of the dividing of societies into in-groups and out-groups. Ethnocentrism is explained in the social sciences and genetics. In anthropology, cultural relativism is used as an antithesis and antonym to ethnocentrism.
Origins of the concept
The term "ethnocentrism" was coined by Ludwig Gumplowicz and subsequently employed by William G. Sumner. Gumplowicz defined ethnocentrism as the reasons by virtue of which each group of people believed it had always occupied the highest point not only among contemporaneous peoples and nations but also in relation to all peoples of the historical past (Der Rassenkampf, 1883). Sumner relied on observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the in-group and others, disseminating it in his 1906 work Folkways.
In 1996, Robert K. Merton commented that "although the practice of seeing one's own group as the center of things is empirically correlated with a belief in superiority, centrality and superiority need to be kept analytically distinct in order to deal with patterns of alienation from one's membership group and contempt for it."
People raised in a particular culture that absorb the values and behaviors of that culture will develop a worldview that considers their own culture to be the norm. If people then experience other cultures that have different values and behaviors, they will find that the thought patterns appropriate to their native culture are not appropriate for the new cultures. However, since people are accustomed to their native culture, it can be difficult for them to see the behaviors of people from a different culture from the viewpoint of that culture rather than from their own.
Ethnocentrism can be explicit or implicit. Explicit ethnocentrism involves the ability to express the feelings about outsiders (people from other groups), and implicit ethnocentrism refers to the inhibition of the feelings for outsiders.
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 where the "context" plays an important role to the understanding of other people's values, and Malinowski developed the theory of functionalism as guides for producing non-ethnocentric studies of different cultures. Classic examples of anti-ethnocentric anthropology include Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Malinowski's The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929), and Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934). (Mead and Benedict were two of Boas's students.)
Examples of ethnocentrism include religiocentric constructs claiming a divine association like "divine nation", "God's Own Country", "God's Chosen People", and "God's Promised Land". Although this may be seen as classic examples, a study published by Brill showed that religious attitudes do not effect on negative out-group attitudes.
In Precarious Life, Judith Butler discusses recognizing the Other in order to sustain the Self and the problems of not being able to identify the Other. Butler writes:
- 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.
Consumer ethnocentrism refers to the preference of buying products from one's own country with the purpose of protecting the economy and the jobs of people in the country. It involves the brand and quality of the products. In order to measure the levels of a consumer's ethnocentric tendencies, the CETSACALE was created and used for many countries and cultures.
The idea of cultural relativism refers to the idea that what is considered true in one culture may not be in another one. This is the opposite of ethnocentrism; referring to the idea of being aware that different beliefs and cultures exist. An example of this is linguistic relativism, defined as the use of certain words that may have a different meaning in another country. However, a person does not necessarily need to apply the concept of cultural relativism to not be ethnocentric.
In a research published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) suggested that ethnocentrism may be mediated by the oxytocin hormone. It was found that in randomized controlled trials "oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation".
In The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes that "Blood-feuds and inter-clan warfare are easily interpretable in terms of Hamilton's genetic theory." Simulation-based experiments in evolutionary game theory have attempted to provide an explanation for the selection of ethnocentric-strategy phenotypes.
There is not a single reason to determine the cause of ethnocentrism, as different areas of science try to explain how ethnocentrism works. The Social identity approach suggests that a person is ethnocentric due to a strong identification with their inter-culture which may lead to negative feelings toward outsiders. Social scientists believe that the lack of contact with outsiders may be a cause of stereotype toward other groups.
Realistic conflict theory assumes that ethnocentrism happens due to "real or perceived conflict" in between groups. This also happens with new members of a group where the dominant group may perceive the new ones as a threat.
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