Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism

Overview
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

, behavior, customs, and religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

.

The term ethnocentrism was coined by William G.
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Encyclopedia
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language
Language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

, behavior, customs, and religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

.

Origins of the concept and its study


The term ethnocentrism was coined by William G. Sumner, upon observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the ingroup
Ingroup
In sociology and social psychology, ingroups and outgroups are social groups to which an individual feels as though he or she belongs as a member, or to which they feel contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. People tend to hold positive attitudes towards members of their own groups, a...

 and others. He defined it 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 it as often leading to pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders. Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

 comments that Sumner's additional characterization robbed the concept of some analytical power because, Merton argues, centrality and superiority are often correlated, but need to be kept analytically distinct.

Anthropologists
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 such as Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

 and Bronislaw Malinowski
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bronisław Kasper Malinowski was a Polish-born- British-naturalized anthropologist, one of the most important 20th-century anthropologists.From 1910, Malinowski studied exchange and economics at the London School of Economics under Seligman and Westermarck, analysing patterns of exchange in...

 argued that any human science had to transcend the ethnocentrism of the scientist. Both urged anthropologists to conduct ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 fieldwork in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Boas developed the principle of cultural relativism
Cultural relativism
Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual's own culture. This principle was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and...

 and Malinowski developed the theory of functionalism
Structural functionalism
Structural functionalism is a broad perspective in sociology and anthropology which sets out to interpret society as a structure with interrelated parts. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions...

 as guides for producing non-ethnocentric studies of different cultures. The books The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia
The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia
The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia is a 1929 book by anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski...

, by Malinowski, Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist....

 and Coming of Age in Samoa
Coming of Age in Samoa
Coming of Age in Samoa is a book by American anthropologist Margaret Mead based upon her research and study of youth on the island of Ta'u in the Samoa Islands which primarily focused on adolescent girls. Mead was 23 years old when she carried out her field work in Samoa...

by Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s....

 (two of Boas's students) are classic examples of anti-ethnocentric anthropology.

Anthropology


People who are born into a particular culture and grow up absorbing the values and behaviors of the culture will develop patterns of thought reflecting the culture as normal. If people then experience other cultures that have different values and normal behaviors, they will find that the thought patterns appropriate to their birth culture and the meanings their birth culture attaches to behaviors are not appropriate for the new cultures. However, since people are accustomed to their birth 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.

Examples of ethnocentrism include religiously patterned constructs claiming a divine association like "divine nation", "One Nation under God", "God's Own Country
God's Own Country
God’s Own Country, often abbreviated to Godzone or less often Godzown, is a phrase that has been used for more than 100 years by New Zealanders to describe their homeland. It has subsequently been adopted by some other countries, notably Australia, but this has declined as the phrase has become...

", "God's Chosen People" and "God's Promised Land".

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler
Judith Butler
Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D...

 discusses recognizing the Other in order to sustain the Self and the problems of not being able to identify the Other. Butler notes 'that 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' (146). However, Butler's understanding of Self and Other is Eurocentric
Eurocentrism
Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European culture...

 itself because she writes that one cannot recognize Self unless it is through the Other. Therefore, Self and Other are limited through a language of binary codes. Considering that language is essential to culture, individuals will know themselves through the result of language plus culture. Dichotomous language is embedded in English and similar languages; however, dichotomous language is not universal. Indeed, there are few dichotomies in many Indigenous and non-European languages (Battiste and Henderson 76). It is by looking into the language of a culture that one will be able to see oneself in relation to one's environment and one's place in the world.

Biology and evolutionary theory


A 2011 paper in PNAS suggested that ethnocentrism may be mediated by the oxytocin
Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain.Oxytocin is best known for its roles in sexual reproduction, in particular during and after childbirth...

 hormone. It found that in randomized controlled trial
Randomized controlled trial
A randomized controlled trial is a type of scientific experiment - a form of clinical trial - most commonly used in testing the safety and efficacy or effectiveness of healthcare services or health technologies A randomized controlled trial (RCT) is a type of scientific experiment - a form of...

s "oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation".

In The Selfish Gene
The Selfish Gene
The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins coined the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the...

, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 writes that "Blood-feuds and inter-clan warfare are easily interpretable in terms of Hamilton's genetic theory
Kin selection
Kin selection refers to apparent strategies in evolution that favor the reproductive success of an organism's relatives, even at a cost to the organism's own survival and reproduction. Charles Darwin was the first to discuss the concept of group/kin selection...

." Simulation-based experiments in evolutionary game theory
Evolutionary game theory
Evolutionary game theory is the application of Game Theory to evolving populations of lifeforms in biology. EGT is useful in this context by defining a framework of contests, strategies and analytics into which Darwinian competition can be modelled. It originated in 1973 with John Maynard Smith...

 have attempted to provide an explanation for the selection of ethnocentric-strategy phenotypes.

See also



Further reading

  • Ankerl, G. Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INU PRESS, 2000, ISBN 2-88155-004-5
  • Reynolds, V., Falger, V., & Vine, I. (Eds.) (1987). The Sociobiology of Ethnocentrism. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press
    University of Georgia Press
    The University of Georgia Press or UGA Press is a publishing house and is a member of the Association of American University Presses.Founded in 1938, the UGA Press is a division of the University of Georgia and is located on the campus in Athens, Georgia, USA...

    .
  • Salter, F. K., ed. 2002. Risky Transactions. Trust, Kinship, and Ethnicity. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.
  • Seidner, S. S. (1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de recherche sur le pluralinguisme.
  • van den Berghe, P. L. (1981). The ethnic phenomenon. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Martineau, H. (1838). "How to Observe Morals and manners". Charles Knight and Co., London.
  • Wade, Nicholas, "Depth of the Kindness Hormone Appears to Know Some Bounds," New York Times, Jan. 10, 2011.

External links