Ethnocentrism

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Ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism is the name given to a tendency to interpret or evaluate other cultures in terms of one's own. This tendency has been, perhaps, more prevalent in modern nations than among preliterate tribes. The citizens of a large nation, especially in the past, have been less likely to observe people in another nation or culture than have been members of small tribes who are well acquainted with the ways of their culturally diverse neighbours. Thus, the American tourist could report that Londoners drive "on the wrong side of the street" or an Englishman might find some customs on the Continent "queer" or "boorish," merely because they are different. Members of a Pueblo tribe in the American Southwest, on the other hand, might be well acquainted with cultural differences not only among other Pueblos but also in non-Pueblo tribes such as the Navajo and Apache. Ethnocentrism became prominent among many Europeans after the discovery of the Americas, the islands of the Pacific, and the Far East. Even anthropologists might characterize all preliterate peoples as being without religion (as did Sir John Lubbock) or as having a "prelogical mentality" (as did Lucien Lévy-Bruhl) merely because their ways of thinking did not correspond with those of the culture of western Europe. Thus, inhabitants of non-Western cultures, particularly those lacking the art of writing, were widely described as being immoral, illogical, queer, or just perverse ("Ye Beastly Devices of ye Heathen"). Cultural Relativism Increased knowledge led to or facilitated a deeper understanding and, with it, a finer appreciation of cultures quite different from one's own. When it was understood that universal needs could be served with culturally dive... ... middle of paper ... ...ctive, 2nd ed. (1971). The unique capacity for symboling that distinguishes humans from primates is discussed by Leslie A. White, "The Symbol: The Origin and Basis of Human Behavior," in his Science of Culture, 2nd ed., pp. 22-39 (1969); Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (1944, reprinted 1974); and Terence Dixon and Martin Lucas, The Human Race (1982). The many conceptions of culture are discussed in A.L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952, reprinted 1978). See also Leslie A. White and Beth Dillingham, The Concept of Culture (1973); and Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973, reissued 1975). The history of theory and method in social and cultural anthropology is traced in Fred W. Voget, A History of Ethnology (1975). (L.A.W./Ed.)

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