Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

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Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Despite the degree of similarities in humans, cultural differences appear to be more widespread than cultural universals. For instance, while all cultures possess language, the analysis of distinct conversational etiquette and language structures reveals significant differences. North Americans tend to maintain a bigger personal space and greater distance (Secord, 2015).  Middle Eastern cultures tend to keep close range while conversing. Even simple things such as drinking and eating vary significantly from one culture to the other. However, it would be imperative to commence by defining the pertinent terms. As outlined by (Bennett, 2015), culture describes the knowledge and characteristics of a distinct group of people, religion, encompassing language, social habits, cuisine, arts, and music. Culture represents the adhesive that binds individuals and groups together in societies. It includes the symbols, norms, and values, as well as other aspects of life. Subsequently, people interact with different cultures through two main ways: cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism describes the belief that an individual’s ethnic group or race is the most significant or that all or some characteristics of its culture are superior to those of the rest of the groups (Zechenter, 2018). On its part, cultural relativism refers to the belief that the values and concepts of a culture cannot be wholly translated into, or completely understood, in other dialects; that a particular cultural artifact, for instance, ritual, has to be comprehended in terms of the more significant symbolic structure of which it is a component. Cultural relativism is the most viable approach to understanding one’s and other people’s cultures.

Cultural Groups

Culture is based on various shared customs, objects, values, gender, and ethnicity, among other factors. Subsequently, some cultures place considerable value on things like ceremonial jewelry, artifacts, or clothing. Therefore, it is difficult to base one’s view of cultural belonging on a single aspect (Roberson, Ryan, & Ragins, 2017). For instance, the Christmas tree could be perceived as a cultural or ceremonial object, depending on the culture. I regard myself as belonging to the Western culture. The justification is that I possess some of the characteristics that ostensibly define that particular cultural group. As Bennett (2015) writes, the Western culture is recognizable by a host of philosophic artistic, legal, and literary traditions and themes; a heritage of German, Celtic, Slavic, Jewish, Latin, Hellenic, and other linguistic and ethnic groups, as well as the distinct religion of Christianity that played an integral role in molding Western civilization from the fourth century. My political thought, rational argument that favors freethought, democracy, the need for human rights, and the assimilation of human rights, as well as the English language, offer me justification for belonging to the Western culture (Hollman, 2017). Besides, my heritage spans a significant background of constant rationalism passed on from one generation to the next. I believe in the principle of universalism, which hypothesizes that there exists an underlying human unity that entitles all people, regardless of their regional or cultural antecedents, to particular fundamental minimal rights, referred to as human rights (Zechenter, 2018). The Western culture is known for propagating such thought.

My primary influence in determining my cultural group is the overall appeal to the betterment of life through innovation and universalism, as well as the concepts of democracy and up0holding human rights. The Western culture is famed for its embrace of democracy and propagation of the same (Secord, 2015); I see myself as somebody who desires to help accomplish a world worse population is free to make choices ranging from political, socioeconomic, to overall life decisions. My inspiration also lies behind the reality that Western culture is innovative and, instead of attempting to protect traditions, learns from, and influences others.

Cultural Norms

Throughout history, the norms of the Western culture have been derived from prevalent employment of logical argument favoring freethought, political thought, the need for democracy, equality, and the assimilation of human rights (Hollman, 2017). One of the most important norms of Western culture is independent, rational thinking. When one reasons, he can adopt, adapt, and eventually influence other cultures. Besides, the political pluralism of Western culture has contributed to the enlightenment and space for democracy. The choice of religion is open for individuals to make and architecture; story-telling, visual arts, music, and dance represent human universals that individuals can express in various ways.

Characteristics and Representations of the Culture

Western culture varies depending on the specific part of the country or continent where an individual resides. For example, a Californian is different from a New Yorker and different from a Georgian. While there are various overall characteristics, there are also distinct traits, implying that it would be irrational to judge an entire group using blanket features (Zechenter, 2018). Western culture is personified by various traditions and customs that cut across the spheres of art, music, dance, and traditions. Western or country-dance encompasses a variety of dance styles or forms that vary from one country to another. In Texas, country dancing is known as “kicker dancing,” and is in response to stylistic western music (Bennett, 2015). On its part, Western art mostly describes the art from Western Europe, although it is an overall term for art forms that are now widespread geographically but with roots in Europe.  

Western culture has various holidays and traditions that define people’s beliefs and customs at different times. For instance, trick-or-treat is a popular tradition of the Halloween holiday celebrated in October (Bennett, 2015). The tradition was started approximately 2,000 years ago by the Celts in present Ireland, northern France, and the United Kingdom. The underlying belief was that the departed souls returned to the world on Samhain. The Western-style of dressing borrows from the 19th-century style of Wild West dressing. AT present, the dressing style can be very informal, with blue jeans and a t-shirt form an elementary ensemble. Similarly, it might comprise tailored formal garments characterized by western accents.

Personal Perspectives

The way customs and traditions vary across cultures is a source of fascination for people. For instance, some travelers could return home feeling appreciative of their native fare (Hollman, 2017). Often, individuals in the United States show disgust at the cuisines of other cultures and think that it is uncultured to eat meat from a guinea pig or a dog, for example, while failing to question their habit of eating pigs or cows. Such attitudes depict ethnocentrism, which is the assessment and judging of other cultures based on how they match up to their cultural norms. They believe their culture is better than that of others and, therefore, ought to act as the threshold or reference standard (Zechenter, 2018). Almost everyone possesses some form of ethnocentrism. For instance, it is common for individuals from the U.S. to say that those from the United Kingdom drive on the wrong side, without considering the UK’s perspective.

On the other hand, cultural relativism involves evaluating a culture based on its standard, as opposed to perceiving it via one’s cultural lens (Zechenter, 2018). Cultural relativism demands an open mind and the willingness to consider and possibly adapt to new norms and values. However, it is not always possible to embrace everything regarding a new culture indiscriminately. It is difficult to reconcile all aspects of one’s own culture with those of others. I have been judged ethnocentrically during a meal I was invited to in a Thai restaurant. Because I was not used to chopsticks, I resorted to using a fork. I could see the revelers staring at me from their tables, probably wondering why I could not use a chopstick.

Culture provides the glue that joins individuals together within society. It is inclusive of symbols, norms, values, norms, traditions, and customs, among other aspects. The features could be shared or distinct. Humans tend to counter different cultures through two distinct approaches, which are cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism hypothesizes that individuals tend to assess and judge other cultures using their own culture as the reference point or threshold. They believe that their culture is superior to all the others and that the rest ought to adapt to their lifestyle. Cultural relativism, on its part, assesses and judges a culture based on its distinct features as opposed to forming a threshold. While ethnocentrism is present in virtually everybody, cultural relativism presents the best approach to assess other people’s cultures because it is not prejudiced.   


Bennett, T. (2015). Cultural studies and the culture concept. Cultural Studies, 29(4), 546-568.

Hollman, J. (2017). The power of diversity: Multiple generations working together. Printing Industries of America, the Magazine, 9(4), 2-3. Retrieved from

Roberson, Q., Ryan, A., & Ragins, B. (2017). The evolution and future of diversity at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(3), 483-499.

Secord, R. (2015). Managing cultural diversity. Leadership Excellence Essentials, 32(9), 24. Retrieved from\

Zechenter, E. (2018). In the name of culture: Cultural relativism and the abuse of the individual. Journal of anthropological research, 53(3), 319-347. Retrieved from

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