Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Ethnocentrism is the idea that one’s own culture is the main standard in which the other cultures may be measured by. An ethnocentric is only concerned with how similar others’ cultural practices, symbols, and beliefs are similar to their own. A competing idea, cultural relativism is the belief that the culture of people serves particular needs and must be looked at in terms of the world the people inhabit. “Culture is a force in the world that shapes human behavior as surely as biology and family. We may define culture as beliefs, values and attitudes of a social group that are passed along from one generation of people to the next.” ( Conservatives lean towards ethnocentrism, while liberals lean towards cultural relativism.


A great example of Ethnocentrism would be the late Adolf Hilter. Nazi Germany is probably one of the most tragic examples, but goes to show how powerful the ethnocentric views can be. With Hitler’s belief that the Jew were inferior to his ethnicity and his belief that they should die because of this. Due to his views and beliefs thousands and thousands of people died. This all due to the thought of Hitler, because they weren’t of his ‘pure’ race, which was, according to him, superior among all.

Another example of Ethnocentrism I see almost daily, is religion/ethnicity beliefs. With the Muslim religion coming from Iran, I face a lot of female patients who are not allowed to speak during their appointments. Only their husband can speak for them. Even though other religions may not think this is correct, this is something their religion strongly believes in.

“Ethnocentrism may not, in some circumstances, be avoidable. We all often have instinctual reactions toward another person or culture’s practices or beliefs. But these reactions do not have to result in horrible events such as genocide or war. In order to avoid such awful things like those we must all try to be more culturally relative. Ethnocentrism is one solution to tension between one cultural self and another cultural self. It helps reduce the other way of life to a version of one’s own”. (Lumen Learning)

The concept of cultural relativism as we know and use it today was established as an analytic tool by German-American anthropologist Franz Boas in the early 20th century. When you go to a different country, they may have different food choices such as grass hoppers, crickets, or dried squid. As you taste these and say “ew!” or “omg what is this?!” you are displaying examples of Enthnocentrism. To avoid falling into this category, and to lead to Cultural relativism, avoid judgement of the cultural differences and try to understand why they may eat these types of foods.


Cultural relativism has been linked to a more “optimisitic” mind-set, in comparison to ethnocentrism which is more detrimental. Cultural relativism encourages us to have a more open mind and to be more excepting of the differences around us. Ethnocentrism divides and makes people feel inferior to others, based on the other thoughts and opinions.

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