Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
When observing people from other cultures, many of us use our own culture as the yardstick by which we judge their behavior. Sociologists refer to this approach as ethnocentrism-the practice of judging all other cultures by one’s own culture (Sumner, 195911906). Ethnocentrism is based on the assumption that one’s own playoff life is superior to all others. For example, most schoolchildren are taught that their own school and country are the best The school song. the pledge to the flag, and the national anthem are forms of positive ethnocentrism. However, negative ethnocentrism can also result from constant emphasis on the superiority of one’s own group or nation. Negative ethnocentrism is manifested in derogatory stereotypes that ridicule recent immigrants whose customs, dress, eating habits, or religious beliefs are markedly different from those of dominant-group members. Long-term U.S. residents who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups, such as Native Americans, African Americans, and Latina/os, have also been the target of ethnocentric practices by other groups.
An alternative to ethnocentrism is cultural relativism- the belief that the behaviors and customs of any culture must be viewed and analyzed by the culture’s own standards, For example, the anthropologist Marvin Harris (1974, 1985) uses cultural relativism to explain why cattle, which are viewed as sacred, are not killed and eaten in India, where widespread hunger and malnutrition exist From an ethnocentric viewpoint. we might conclude that cow worship is the cause of the hunger and poverty in India. However, according to Harris, the Hindu taboo against killing cane is very important to their economic system. Live cows are more valuable than dead ones because they have more important uses than as a direct source of food. As part of the ecological system, cows consume grasses of little value to humans.
Then they produce two valuable resources=oxen (the neutered offspring of cows) to power the plows and manure (for fuel and finalizers as well as milk. floor covering, and leather. As Harris’s study reveals. culture must be viewed from the standpoint of those who live in a particular society. Cultural relativism also has a downside. It may be used to excuse customs and behavior (such as cannibalism) that may violate basic human rights. Cultural relativism is a part of the sociological imagination; researchers must be aware of the customs and norms of the society they are studying and then spell out their background assumptions so that others can spot possible biases in their studies. However, according to some social scientists. issues surrounding ethnocentrism and cultural relativism may become less distinct in he future as people around the globe increasingly share a common popular culture. Others, of course, disagree with this perspective. Let’s see what you think.