Ethnocentrism is the act of judging another culture based on preconceptions that are found in values and standards of one's own culture.[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4] These problems may occur because of the dividing of societies into in-groups and out-groups.[5] Ethnocentrism is explained in the social sciences and genetics. In anthropology, cultural relativism is used as an antithesis and antonym to ethnocentrism.[6]

Origins of the concept

The term "ethnocentrism" was coined by Ludwig Gumplowicz[7][8] 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[9] (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."[10]

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.[11][12] 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.[11][13]

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.[14]


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,[15] 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".[6] 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.[16]

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.[17]

Consumer ethnocentrism

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.[18]

Cultural relativism

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.[19] 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.[20]


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".[21]

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."[22] Simulation-based experiments in evolutionary game theory have attempted to provide an explanation for the selection of ethnocentric-strategy phenotypes.[23][24]

There is not a single reason to determine the cause of ethnocentrism,[25] 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.[14]

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.[14]

See also



  1. John T. Omohundro (2008). Thinking like an Anthropologist: A practical introduction to Cultural Anthropology. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-319580-4.
  2. Colman, Andrew M. (2006). A dictionary of psychology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192806327.
  3. Margaret L. Andersen, Howard Francis Taylor (2006). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-61716-6.
  4. Sumner, W. G. Folkways. New York: Ginn, 1906.
  5. Hammond, Axelrod, Ross A., Robert (December 2006). "The Evolution of Ethnocentrism". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 50 (6): 926. doi:10.1177/0022002706293470 via SAGE Journals.
  6. 1 2 William A. Haviland; Harald E. L. Prins; Dana Walrath; Bunny McBride (2009). The Essence of Anthropology. Cengage Learning. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-495-59981-4.
  7. Naturalism in Sociology of the Turn of the Century (by Alexander Hofman and Alexander Kovalev) // A History of Classical Sociology. Ed. by Igor Kon. Moscow, 1989, p. 84. ISBN 5-01-001102-6
  8. Boris Bizumic (Research School of Psychology, the Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia). Who Coined the Concept of Ethnocentrism? A Brief Report // Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2014, Vol. 2(1), doi:10.5964/jspp.v2i1.264
  9. Louis Gumplowicz. La lutte des races. Recherches sociologiques (Guillaumin et Cie., Paris, 1893), p 349. (Cited from: Naturalism in Sociology of the Turn of the Century (by Alexander Hofman and Alexander Kovalev) // A History of Classical Sociology. Ed. by Igor Kon. Moscow, 1989, p. 84. ISBN 5-01-001102-6)
  10. Robert King Merton (1996). Piotr Sztompka, ed. On social structure and science. University of Chicago Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-226-52070-4.
  11. 1 2 Seidner, Stanley S. (1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de Recherche sur le Plurilinguisme. OCLC 51685367.
  12. Gelfand, Michele (2015). "The Inevitability of Ethnocentrism Revisited: Ethnocentrism Diminishes As Mobility Increases". Scientific Reports. 5: 17963. doi:10.1038/srep17963. PMC 4672305. PMID 26644192 via PMC.
  13. Barger, Ken (February 14, 2018). "Ethnocentrism". Indiana University Indianapolis.
  14. 1 2 3 Darity, William A. (2008). Ethnocentrism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Macmillan Reference USA. ISBN 0028661176.
  15. Howson, Alexandra (2009). "Cultural Relativism" (PDF): 1, 2 via EBSCO.
  16. Capucao, Dave (2010). Religion and Ethnocentrism: An Empirical-theological Study. Brill. p. 247. ISBN 9789004184701.
  17. Butler, Judith (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso. pp. 145–146. ISBN 9781844675449. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  18. Shimp, Terence; Sharma, Shubhash (1987). "Consumer Ethnocentrism: Construction and Validation of the CETSCALE" (PDF). Journal of Marketing Research. 24 (3): 280–289. doi:10.2307/3151638.
  19. Johnson, Allan G. (2000). "In The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. "cultural relativism"". CREDO.
  20. Nolan, Cathal J. (2002). "Greenwood encyclopedia of international relations. "ethnocentrism"". CREDO.
  21. De Dreu, C. K. W.; Greer, L. L.; Van Kleef, G. A.; Shalvi, S.; Handgraaf, M. J. J. (2011). "Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (4): 1262–1266. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015316108. PMC 3029708. PMID 21220339.
  22. Dawkins, Richard (2006). The selfish gene. Oxford University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-19-929115-1.
  23. Hammond, R. A.; Axelrod, R. (2006). "The Evolution of Ethnocentrism". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 50 (6): 926–936. doi:10.1177/0022002706293470.
  24. Max Hartshorn, Artem Kaznatcheev and Thomas Shultz, "The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation" Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 30 June 2013
  25. Forbes, H.D. (2013). ""Prejudice." Encyclopedia of Race and Racism". CREDO.

Further reading

  • Ankerl, G. Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INU PRESS, 2000, ISBN 2-88155-004-5
  • Kinder, Donald R.; Kam, Cindy D. (2009): US against THEM. Ethnocentric foundations of American opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226435717.
  • Martineau, H. (1838). "How to Observe Morals and manners". Charles Knight and Co., London.
  • 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.
  • van den Berghe, P. L. (1981). The ethnic phenomenon. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Wade, Nicholas, "Depth of the Kindness Hormone Appears to Know Some Bounds," New York Times, 10 January 2011.
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