The Concepts of Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Cultural Relativism
  • Conclusion


Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism both have the same essential ideas with a couple of major differences, they both relate to how we judge another’s culture. Ethnocentrism is when we evaluate a culture with the standards of our own. Cultural relativism is the idea that we should understand their values and such based on their own culture, with no one else’s in mind.


As it says in our book, ‘ethnocentrism, a tendency to use our own group’s way of doing things as a yard stick for judging others.’ Sociologist William Sumner developed this concept in 1906. I strongly believe that an abundance of people in America would agree with this, simply because with ethnocentrism, you are judging a culture by what you think is right, when there is no rule book on how to live your life. In today’s society, this concept relates to racism because we are discriminating against one another because our cultures aren’t exactly the same. For example, you are out at the mall and you see a girl dressed in a different style than you, automatically you would judge them because you don’t dress in the way that they do. In a sense, we lose our perspective and can only see things our way. Although many of us would deny it, we all do it in life at one time or another.

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Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism is a concept that believes that we should view everyone’s culture with an open mind instead of thinking that your way is right, which means the other way is automatically wrong. Franz Boas established this concept in the early decades of the twentieth century. Cultural relativism allows the cultures background to be taken into account and how this culture came to be, unlike ethnocentrism. With this concept, you are truly able to understand a culture for who they are and enjoy all of their values without judging them for being different than you. For example, you go to Europe for the summer and for lunch they serve snails; even though this is not common in America, you try it with an open mind. I believe that must of us in todays world try to believe in cultural relativism.


To conclude, I favor cultural relativism but still believe that I can be, without noticing, ethnocentric at times. I went to New York City for Christmas a couple years back, and even traveling a little less than 12 hours away, I experienced culture shock. I had never seen so many taxis, buildings, and traffic all in one city before. As a person who favors cultural relativism, I believe it is important to be open-minded about other cultures different to ours because it can be eye opening experience and you may end up being intrigued with the culture. Our culture is who we are and I believe we need to start valuing differences in them more to create diversity.

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