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Ethnocentrism is the act of judging another culture based on preconceptions that are found in the values and standards of one's own culture – especially regarding language, behavior, customs, and religion.[1][2] These aspects or categories are distinctions that define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.[3]

Origins of the concept[edit]

The term ethnocentrism was coined by Ludwig Gumplowicz[4][5] and subsequently employed by social scientist William G. Sumner. Gumplowicz defined ethnocentrism as the reasons by virtue of which each group of people believed it had always occupied the highest point, not only among contemporaneous peoples and nations, but also in relation to all peoples of the historical past.[6]

William G. Sumner defined ethnocentrism 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 ethnocentrism as often leading to pride, vanity, the belief in one's own group's superiority, and contempt for outsiders.[7] These problems may occur from the division of societies into in-groups and out-groups.[8] Ethnocentrism is explained in the social sciences and genetics. In anthropology, cultural relativism is used as an antithesis and antonym to ethnocentrism.[9]


Although central to anthropology, sociology, psychology, and other disciplines, the concept of ethnocentrism has been defined and characterized so variously that some scholars have spoken of the "disutility of the ethnocentrism concept" and have wondered whether any conclusions could be drawn from the large body of research on ethnocentrism.[10]

William Graham Sumner proposed two different definitions. In the 1906 Folkways, Sumner stated that "ethnocentrism is the technical name for this 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."[11] In the 1911 War and Other Essays, he wrote that "the sentiment of cohesion, internal comradeship, and devotion to the in-group, which carries with it a sense of superiority to any out-group and readiness to defend the interests of the in-group against the out-group, is technically known as ethnocentrism."[12]

Forty years later, anthropologist Richard Adams undertook to clear up a confusion between two scholars. He noted that G.P. Murdock defined ethnocentrism as "the tendency to exalt the in-group and to depreciate other groups", which made out-group antagonism the inevitable concomitant of in-group solidarity, but that M. J. Herkovits defined ethnocentrism as "the point of view that one's way of life is to be preferred to all others". Adams pointed out that these were two different attitudes and that it was important to distinguish them. The first is in-group consciousness, a sense of communal interests found even in sub-human animals, but the second arises from the processes of socialization and enculturation and has no counterpart among sub-human groups.[13][clarification needed]

In 1996, Robert K. Merton commented that "although the practice of seeing one's own group as the center of things is empirically correlated with a belief in superiority, centrality and superiority need to be kept analytically distinct in order to deal with patterns of alienation from one's membership group and contempt for it."[14]

People raised in a particular culture that absorb the values and behaviors of that culture will develop a worldview that considers their own culture to be the norm.[15][16] If people then experience other cultures that have different values and behaviors, they will find that the thought patterns appropriate to their native culture are not appropriate for the new cultures. However, since people are accustomed to their native 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.[15][17]

Ethnocentrism can be explicit or implicit. Explicit ethnocentrism involves the ability to express feelings about outsiders (people from other groups). Implicit ethnocentrism refers to the inhibition of the feelings for outsiders.[18]


Anthropology in the 19th century had been committed to using evolution as a methodological framework in which European society and culture represented the apex of human development—all non-European societies and their cultures were described and ranked according to the degree to which they had developed a monotheistic religion, science, technology, and so on. Franz Boas committed himself to overthrowing this 19th century evolutionism and with his methodological innovations sought to show the error of the proposition that race determined cultural capacity.[19] Boas wrote:

It is somewhat difficult for us to recognize that the value which we attribute to our own civilization is due to the fact that we participate in this civilization, and that it has been controlling all our actions from the time of our birth; but it is certainly conceivable that there may be other civilizations, based perhaps on different traditions and on a different equilibrium of emotion and reason, which are of no less value than ours, although it may be impossible for us to appreciate their values without having grown up under their influence.[20]

Boas and his colleagues promulgated the principle that there are no inferior races or cultures. Cultural relativism in anthropology is a methodological principle, indispensable for investigating and comparing societies in as unprejudiced way as possible without using a developmental scale that is usually irrelevant.[19] Boas and Bronislaw Malinowski argued that any human science had to transcend the ethnocentrism of the scientist. Both urged anthropologists to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in order to overcome their ethnocentrism. Boas developed the principle of cultural relativism where context plays an important role in the understanding of other people's values[21] and Malinowski developed the theory of functionalism as guides for producing non-ethnocentric studies of different cultures. Classic examples of anti-ethnocentric anthropology include Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Malinowski's The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929), and Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture (1934). Mead and Benedict were two of Boas's students.

Scholars are generally agreed that Boas developed his ideas under the influence of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Legend has it that, on a field trip to the Baffin Islands in 1883, Boas would pass the frigid nights reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In that work, Kant argued that human understanding could not be described according to the laws that applied to the operations of nature, and that its operations were therefore free, not determined, and that ideas regulated human action, sometimes independent of material interests. Following Kant, Boas pointed out, for instance, the starving Eskimos who, because of their religious beliefs, would not hunt seals to feed themselves, thus showing that no pragmatic or material calculus determined their values.[22][23]


There is no broad consensus as to the cause of ethnocentrism.[24] Various areas of social and biological science have developed theories as to how ethnocentrism works. The social identity approach to psychology suggests that ethnocentricity is caused by a strong identification with one's own culture that links one's self-esteem to a positive view of that culture. It is theorized that in order to maintain that positive view, people make social comparisons that cast competing cultural groups in an unfavorable light.[25]

Research published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) suggested that ethnocentrism may be mediated by the oxytocin hormone. It was found that in randomized controlled trials "oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation."[26]

In The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes that "blood-feuds and inter-clan warfare are easily interpretable in terms of Hamilton's genetic theory."[27] Simulation-based experiments in evolutionary game theory have attempted to provide an explanation for the selection of ethnocentric-strategy phenotypes.[28][29]

Realistic conflict theory assumes that ethnocentrism happens due to "real or perceived conflict" in between groups. This also happens when a dominant group may perceive the new members as a threat.[18]


Ethnocentrism is discussed in “Ethnocentrism toward Foreign Culture in Elementary Social Studies”[30] in which an experiment was performed on twenty-three fifth grade classrooms in public schools with student bodies in suburbs with above average income. This experimental investigation was intended to measure the level of ethnocentrism in these students, verify the reasons for student ethnocentrism, and what factors affect the improvement of ethnocentric ideologies in students. The experiment found that students with higher socioeconomic backgrounds, higher levels of intellect, and those exposed to positive feedback on the Eskimo culture (the culture the students were exposed to) from teachers. The results of the experiment found that a student’s level of dogmatism can be used to predict that student’s likelihood to hold ethnocentric views. The results also found that the main external influences on positively changing the attitude towards the other culture were based on teacher interactions. Teachers that spoke positively on the other culture’s behalf while also allowing the expression of negative attitudes as well as allowing students to describe why they had those views, had the highest number of students that changed their negative ethnocentric views. These results show that ethnocentrism is passed down to children by familiar elders (who shape a student’s principles which lead to their levels of dogmatism) and directly influenced by their teachers’ views. It is worth noting that the experiment also concluded that improved attitudes did not effect the children’s views on their own culture.

A Theory of the Origin of Ethnic stratification discusses the role ethnocentrism plays in setting up systems of inequality in which the majority group benefits. Ethnocentrism is not victimless. In a society where there is unequal distribution of power based on the ethnic origin of citizens, ethnocentric beliefs can lead to anything from unfair treatment to life threatening actions. The article explains the cause of the origin of slavery in America, “We conclude that ethnocentrism, competition, and differential power provide a comprehensive explanation of the origin of slavery in the seventeenth century English colonies.” [31]

The colonizers dehumanized the Africans far more than the Native Americans because of how much different they were. They became “the object of relatively intense ethnocentric rejection.” Due to the stark difference in appearance and culture. We still see examples today of this ethnocentric rejection and dehumanization. In the American Psychological Association article, Policing in black & white, it is stated by with citations to multiple studies over the years that Non-Black American police are biased towards black individuals. Some of the studies discussed conclude that unarmed black people are more likely to be shot, be handcuffed while not under arrest, and otherwise be subjected to Police force more often that white individuals. (Weir, 2016)[32]

These prejudices are attributed to America’s history of racism and the stereotypes that arose due to times of higher inequality. “ There can be a lot of dehumanization that occurs in the conversations people have, and that’s explicit.” Says social psychologist John Dovidio, PhD, he adds that there can be a “paramilitary approach to law.. and sometimes adopt an “us-versus-them” attitude toward black communities…” (Weir, 2016)[32]

Globalization and Ethnocentrism[edit]

With the internet connecting billions of computers and smart devices on a global scale, a question of ethnocentrism and globalization begs to be answered. What is globalization’s effect on ethnocentrism? The article “Does Globalization Render People More Ethnocentric?”, finds that globalization has a reductive effect on ethnocentrism. Although this is the article’s conclusion, the author admits that the dataset used had to be set with a controlled timeline and multiple controlled variables. The timeline was set to post 9/11 and Pre-Great Recession, the other controls included: sex, age, level of education, and current economy. While the date used in this study is not wholly conclusive of the effect of globalization on ethnocentrism, it does help identify the polarization thesis[citation needed] as the least applicable effect. “... the analyses suggest that people do not necessarily become hostile to other cultures even in the face of globalization.”(Machida, 2012)[33][34]

Globalization through the web can also be used to spread ethnocentrism. “The Stereotypes of Muslims and Support for the War on Terror” discusses how Muslim stereotypes in America helped gain support for the war due to lessened sense of empathy after the 9/11 attacks. The study cites a 2004 American National Election Study to depict the level of “warmth” different American groups felt toward Muslims, the results showed that white, black, Hispanic and Asian Americans all felt a heightened sense of anger towards Muslims. The study also pulls data from the 2007 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies which results in Americans voting that Muslims are intelligent and hardworking but also leaned towards violent and untrustworthy. This matters because, as the article states, “... those with a negative overall view of Muslims should be more likely to support the War on Terror.” [35]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ John T. Omohundro (2008). Thinking like an Anthropologist: A practical introduction to Cultural Anthropology. McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-319580-3.
  2. ^ Colman, Andrew M. (2006). A dictionary of psychology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192806321.
  3. ^ Margaret L. Andersen, Howard Francis Taylor (2006). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-534-61716-5.
  4. ^ Naturalism in Sociology of the Turn of the Century (by Alexander Hofman and Alexander Kovalev), A History of Classical Sociology. Ed. by Igor Kon. Moscow, 1989, p. 84. ISBN 5-01-001102-6
  5. ^ Boris Bizumic (Research School of Psychology, the Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia). Who Coined the Concept of Ethnocentrism? A Brief Report, Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2014, Vol. 2(1), doi:10.5964/jspp.v2i1.264
  6. ^ Louis Gumplowicz. La lutte des races. Recherches sociologiques (Guillaumin et Cie., Paris, 1893), p 349. (Cited from: Naturalism in Sociology of the Turn of the Century (by Alexander Hofman and Alexander Kovalev), A History of Classical Sociology. Ed. by Igor Kon. Moscow, 1989, p. 84. ISBN 5-01-001102-6)
  7. ^ Sumner, W. G. Folkways. New York: Ginn, 1906.
  8. ^ Hammond, Axelrod, Ross A., Robert (December 2006). "The Evolution of Ethnocentrism". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 50 (6): 926–936. doi:10.1177/0022002706293470.
  9. ^ William A. Haviland; Harald E. L. Prins; Dana Walrath; Bunny McBride (2009). The Essence of Anthropology. Cengage Learning. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-495-59981-4.
  10. ^ Bizumic, Boris; Duckitt, John (2012). "What is and is Not Ethnocentrism? A Conceptual Analysis and Political Implications". Political Psychology. 33 (6): 887–909. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00907.x. JSTOR 23324197.
  11. ^ Sumner, William Graham (1906). "Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals". Ginn and Company. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  12. ^ Sumner, William Graham (1911). "War, and Other Essays". Yale University Press. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  13. ^ Adams, Richard N. (1951). "Ethnocentrism and Ingroup Consciousness". American Anthropologist. 53 (4): 598–600. doi:10.1525/aa.1951.53.4.02a00380. JSTOR 664284.
  14. ^ Robert King Merton (1996). Piotr Sztompka (ed.). On social structure and science. University of Chicago Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-226-52070-4.
  15. ^ a b Seidner, Stanley S. (1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de Recherche sur le Plurilinguisme. OCLC 51685367.
  16. ^ Gelfand, Michele (2015). "The Inevitability of Ethnocentrism Revisited: Ethnocentrism Diminishes As Mobility Increases". Scientific Reports. 5: 17963. Bibcode:2015NatSR...517963D. doi:10.1038/srep17963. PMC 4672305. PMID 26644192 – via PMC.
  17. ^ Barger, Ken (14 February 2018). "Ethnocentrism". Indiana University Indianapolis.
  18. ^ a b Darity, William A. (2008). Ethnocentrism. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Macmillan Reference USA. ISBN 978-0028661179.
  19. ^ a b Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology, 4th edition, London: Pluto Press, 2015, pp.10-18
  20. ^ The Mind of Primitive Man, New York: Macmillan. 1911:207
  21. ^ Howson, Alexandra (2009). "Cultural Relativism" (PDF): 1, 2 – via EBSCO.
  22. ^ Boas, Franz (1921). "The Mind of Primitive Man". New York: The Macmillan Company. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  23. ^ Janine Hitchens, "Critical Implications of Franz Boas' Theory and Methodology," Dialectical Anthropology, 19 (1994), p. 244. JSTOR 29790560
  24. ^ Forbes, H.D. (2013). ""Prejudice." Encyclopedia of Race and Racism". CREDO.
  25. ^ Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (2001). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In M. A. Hogg & D. Abrams (Eds.), Key readings in social psychology. Intergroup relations: Essential readings (pp. 94-109). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.
  26. ^ De Dreu, C. K. W.; Greer, L. L.; Van Kleef, G. A.; Shalvi, S.; Handgraaf, M. J. J. (2011). "Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (4): 1262–1266. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108.1262D. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015316108. PMC 3029708. PMID 21220339.
  27. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The selfish gene. Oxford University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-19-929115-1.
  28. ^ Hammond, R. A.; Axelrod, R. (2006). "The Evolution of Ethnocentrism". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 50 (6): 926–936. doi:10.1177/0022002706293470.
  29. ^ Max Hartshorn, Artem Kaznatcheev and Thomas Shultz, "The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation" Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 30 June 2013
  30. ^ Source: Martin, D. (1975). Ethnocentrism toward Foreign Culture in Elementary Social Studies. The Elementary School Journal,75(6), 381-388. JSTOR 1000607
  31. ^ Noel, Donald L. (October 1968). "A Theory of the Origin of Ethnic Stratification". Social Problems. 16 (2): 157–172. doi:10.2307/800001. JSTOR 800001.
  32. ^ a b "2016 APA Convention Programming on Race Relations, Racism, Community Policing". 2016. doi:10.1037/e510492016-001.
  33. ^ MACHIDA, SATOSHI (April 2012). "Does Globalization Render People More Ethnocentric? Globalization and People's Views on Cultures". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 71 (2): 436–469. doi:10.1111/j.1536-7150.2012.00835.x. ISSN 0002-9246.
  34. ^ Machida, Satoshi (2012). "Does Globalization Render People More Ethnocentric? Globalization and People's Views on Cultures". The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 71 (2): 436–469. doi:10.1111/j.1536-7150.2012.00835.x. JSTOR 23245230.
  35. ^ Sides, John; Gross, Kimberly (29 May 2013). "Stereotypes of Muslims and Support for the War on Terror". The Journal of Politics. 75 (3): 583–598. doi:10.1017/S0022381613000388. ISSN 0022-3816.

Further reading

External links[edit]