Ethnocentrism is the process of judging another culture exclusively from the perspective of one’s own. Ethnocentric people compare their culture to others on elements such as religion, behavior, language, customs and norms. The term is often heard in situations where inter-ethnic relations and ethnic issues are worrying. Ethnocentrism can be obvious or subtle and, although considered a natural reaction, it has a negative connotation.
Where does the term “ethnocentrism” come from?
Ludwig Gumplowicz, an Austrian sociologist, is credited coining the term “ethnocentrism”. The term was later adopted by William G. Sumner, an American social scientist known for his classical liberal ideas. Sumner elaborated the term, stating that it was the point of view that “one’s group is the center of everything” and that it was “from this point of view that all the other groups were judged”.
Sumner claimed that an ethnocentric lens often ended with vanity, contempt for strangers and pride, as well as belief in one’s own intrinsic superiority. The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas, as well as the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, emphasized the importance of the scientific community’s triumph over ethnocentrism. Both men encouraged scientists to engage in ethnographic field work in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Malinowski popularized the theory of functionalism (judging society as a whole) while Boas introduced the principle of cultural relativism (the belief that one’s own culture should be judged only by
Examples of ethnocentrism
Note: the following are useful examples of how ethnocentrism can permeate sociological visions, so as to improve understanding of the subject. It is not a complete list.
The term “American exceptionalism” was first used in 1831 by the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville. Today, it can be used to describe the United States in three distinct ways:
- The United States is very different from the countries in the developed western world. This point of view has most likely passed from the time of the American revolution, in the 1700s. It was then that the idea of a unique American identity was born that was completely separate from its European counterparts.
- The idea that the United States has the desire to shape the world to be more “American”. This exists in the form of things like manifest destiny.
- The idea that, because of their customs and belief systems, the United States holds superiority over every other nation in the world. This is itself close to the idea of ethnocentrism.
Religious centrism operates from the point of view that one’s religion is truer, more important or valid than the religion of others.
Synocentrism refers to the belief that China is the center of the world. It has had complex economic and cultural implications over time, often provoking reactions from neighboring countries throughout history.
Ethnocentrism of consumers
The ethnocentrism of consumers comes into play when people create groups of people, determined by the consumption of goods.
Chronocentrism refers to the attitude that certain periods of history were superior to others.
Afrocentrism is a world through the lens of the people who live in, or closely connected with, the African continent. Unlike other types of ethnocentrism, many argue that Afrocentrism is not a negative concept, as many African voices and stories have been silenced in recent centuries.