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Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize how the anthropological concepts of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are applied to sociology. 

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Notes on "Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism"

Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

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Welcome to this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial. So today, we're looking at ethnocentrism and cultural relativism.

Now both these are two different ways for looking at other cultures. And you can think of them as almost two different sides of a coin. So the coin is this other culture you're looking at. And you're looking at through one of these two different ways.

Ethnocentrism is judging another culture by one's own cultural standards. So when you're when you're judging another country by your own cultural standards, you are putting judgments on their society based on where you come, from your culture. The other side of that coin is cultural relativism.

Now cultural relativism is just you're judging culture based on its own cultural standards. Let me give you an example to help illustrate this. So if you're using ethnocentrism, we're again looking at a culture through our own cultural lens. And so one thing that's pretty common cultural element is that when we're talking to people, we look them in the eyes. And that's a form of respect.

Now this isn't true for all cultures. In fact, there is some Native American traditions were a sign of respect is actually to look down, rather than look directly at somebody. So if you're judging them through ethnocentrism, you are putting a judgment on that saying, oh, this person is not respecting me, because they're not looking at me in the eye, whereas if you're using cultural relativism, you'd understand that in their society that you're going to take their perspective. And so you're not going to judge them as that being disrespectful. In fact, you're going to see that as respectful, just like they would, because you're using their own standards.

Now another way when looking at other cultures is culture universals. And cultural universals are just things that everyone knows. There are aspects of culture that are common across all human cultures worldwide.

Here's the best example, smile. A smile the smile anywhere. There's some different cultural cues about when to smile and how much smile is acceptable and those kind of things, but a smile that smile across the world.

So today's takeaway message, ethnocentrism is judging another culture by one's own cultural standards, whereas cultural relativism is judging our culture by its own cultural standards. Culture universals are aspects of culture common to all human cultures worldwide. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Cultural Relativism

The view that a culture needs to be understood on its own terms, from within, and judged by its own standards, rather than by those of an outside observer.

Cultural Universals

Cultural patterns that are found in all human societies.


The attitude that our own culture is superior to others and that our values, beliefs, and behaviors are "more correct."