Categories Uncategorized

I.2.1.2 Ethnocentrism vis-à-vis Cultural relativism


The world ethno comes from Greek and refers to a people, nation, or cultural grouping, while centric comes from Latin and refers, of course to the centre.

The term ethnocentrism refers to the tendency for each society to place its own culture patterns at the centre of things. It is belief that one’s own values , traditions, customs are better and preferable to those of other’s culture. Ethnocentrism is the practice of comparing other cultural practices with those of one’s own and automatically finding those other cultural practices to be inferior. It leads to measure all other cultures as good or bad, high or low, right or queer in proportion as they resemble ours. Ethnocentrism is simply a fact of life.

Significance- The functions of ethnocentrism in maintaining order are more apparent than those which promote social change. Ethnocentrism encourages the solidarity of the group. Ethnocentrism promotes continuance of the status quo and it discourages change. Ethnocentrism hinders the understanding of the cooperation with other groups. Extreme ethnocentrism is likely to promote conflict, as the records of past wars, and religious and racial conflicts reveal. Conflict often leads to social change and in that sense ethnocentrism becomes a vehicle for the promotion of social change. Ethnocentrism leads to intolerance, superiority complex, sub-nationalism, and self motivation. Ethnocentrism is exclusive in nature and leads to cultural insensitivity.

Levels of ethnocentrism

  1. Positive- maintaining order, encouraging the solidarity of the group, promotes continuance of the status quo
  2. Negative – discourages change
  3. Extreme – promote conflict like wars, and religious and racial conflicts

William Graham Summer- “Folkway” gave the concept of a. in groups and b. out groups

Cultural Relativism

It is study of culture with objectivity and neutrality which try to understand , analyse it in terms of internal consistence, logic and rationality of the people practicing it. It is based on the principle that all cultural pattern are equally valid and to be seen in terms of its own logic, rationale and context.

This is a method whereby different societies or cultures are analyzed objectively without using the values of one culture to judge the worth of another. We cannot possibly understand the actions of other groups if we analyze them in terms of our motives and values. We must interpret their behavior in the light of their motives, habits and values if we are to understand them. Cultural relativism means that the function and meaning of a trait are relative to its cultural setting. A trait is neither good nor bad in itself. It is good or bad only with reference to the culture in which it is to function.

The concept of cultural relativism does not mean that all customs, traditions are equally valuable, nor does it imply that no customs or traditions are harmful. Some patterns of behavior may be injurious  but even such patterns serve some purpose in the cultural context and the society will suffer unless a substitute is provided. The central point in cultural relativism is that in a particular cultural setting certain traits are right because they work well in that setting while other traits are wrong because they would clash painfully with parts of that culture.

E.g. Fur clothing is good in the Arctic but not in the tropics.

In some hunting societies which occasionally face long periods of hunger to be fat is good; it has real survival value and fat people are admired. In our society to be fat is not only unnecessary but is known to be unhealthful and fat people are not admired.

Beef eating among non- Hindus

Cousin marriage among many communities

Franz Boas- white people regarded themselves superior to Black people which resulted in racial arrogancy and Human rights violations. Franz Boas used cultural relativism to counter this.

Significance- Conflict resolution , tolerance , world peace , prosperity

Conclusion-  Ethnocentrism and Cultural relativism both together helps in understanding the culture, society and civilization.

Leave a Reply