The Concept of “Cultural Relativism” and “Ethnocentrism”

Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology may be described as a science that involves the study of humans and issues related to human beings. Cultural anthropology as described by Barnard and Spencer may simply be viewed as the study of human beings in relation to their cultural variations or realms which may include beliefs, norms, customs and other habits inherent in human beings. In addition, cultural anthropology gives rise to cultural relativism which holds that; no culture dominates the other and that the moral standards of a given society are relative to what that society holds as true or wrong.


Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own culture is superior to other cultures; it may also refer to the tendency of viewing other people’s culture from the perspective of one’s own culture. According to Barger ethnocentrism can be described as “making false assumptions about others’ ways based on our own limited experience”.

Examples of Ethnocentrism

Some of the world cultures have had no regards for women such that they have allowed forced marriages, wife battering and even denied women to own property. Another example is the view that US has the best democracy and has even gone further to attack Iraq and other nations that she feels democracy is lacking.

A personal example about ethnocentrism is the perception that Africa has a backward lifestyle full of hunger, poverty and a primitive culture, only to realize later that the opposite is the truth. The lack of understanding and ignorance leads into making the wrong assumptions about given people and their cultures.

Effects of Ethnocentrism

The negative assumptions held about others may cause conflict between social groups. In addition, since there is limitation in understanding, resolving this conflict constructively becomes a challenge. The America’s attack on Iraq is a good example of this. Democracy, just like moral values is relative and it’s therefore important to let the local people have their own definition of democracy and if possible use the natives of that country to bring about democracy. Such kinds of assumptions have caused social and international relations between countries.

In addition, fear has been instilled in some nations who may be viewed as not democratically mature. Lack of understanding may cause one to make invalid assumptions which may harm or hurt the feelings of others. For example, the assumption that Africa is backward may tend to hurt the feelings of the Africans and may also be viewed as racism even though there were no bad intentions in assuming so – it was lack of understanding.

Avoiding Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is a vice that should not be allowed to thrive in a society. Barger says that ethnocentrism results from recognition and biases; and that the solution to this ethnocentrism is through recognition and control of bias in order to create a clear and valid understanding. In addition, watching and recognizing our reactions towards others helps to understand when we are making wrong assumptions.

Ethnocentrism can also be avoided through getting people to learn that no culture is superior to the other. It’s also important to positively integrate other cultures in to one’s educational curriculum and allow the growing children develop a positive attitude towards other cultures from early age. It’s also important to organize exchange programs between countries and allow the different cultures to learn and borrow from each other.

Effects of Anthropology on Communication among Different Cultural Communities

Anthropology analyzes various cultures and provides a clear understanding of each one of them. Anthropology, therefore, can get people to appreciate each other’s culture and create peace and understanding. Cultural anthropology is therefore very important in creating understanding amongst different cultures. The acceptance of the fact that cultural ideas vary from one culture to another, is very important in promoting, tolerance, appreciation, and peace amongst people of different cultural backgrounds. We, therefore, need to appreciate the fact that there are perspectives different from our own and that our ethnocentric assumptions may blind us from those alternatives.

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