What Are Examples of Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism?

An example of ethnocentrism is believing that one’s way of traditional dress, such as wearing headscarves and hijabs, is strange or bizarre. An example of cultural relativism is words used as slang in different languages.

Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s culture is superior to another culture, and that their own culture showcases the best way to live life. Cultures can be viewed as superior in many ways, including a style of dress, economic activities, language and even etiquette such as using utensils versus hands at the dinner table to eat meals. Cultural relativism, in contrast, is the realization that there are differences among cultures with respect to certain shared commonalities, such as written language and body language. Cultural relativism, unlike ethnocentrism, does not consider one culture to be superior to another.

What is Ethnocentrism? Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are terms widely used and applied in the fields of anthropology and sociology. Anthropologists describe people who are ethnocentric as believing their way of living is correct, while another’s way of living is incorrect and inappropriate. Ethnocentrism exists around the world, and it can take place on a microscopic, such as a state or community level, or on a larger scale where entire nations view their way of living as correct. Ethnocentrism is sometimes called cultural ignorance. Ethnocentrism is believed to stem from the basic fact that people have not had a chance to experience another’s culture and way of life in great detail and for any length of time, which in turn makes them fail to understand why members of the other culture behave the way they do. One example of ethnocentrism is the use of chopsticks in Asian cultures and the use of silverware in the United States. In Asian countries, where all meals are eaten with chopsticks, citizens may view the use of forks, spoons, knives and other utensils as barbaric and inappropriate. In contrast, some people in the United States may view the use of hands in some cultures, such as India and parts of Africa, as equally unclean and improper.

What is Cultural Relativism? Cultural relativism purports that all societies are equal, but that they have different viewpoints on certain customs, traditions and beliefs. The fundamental belief behind cultural relativism is that all societies are equal in the realm of morality, law and politics. The relativism component comes into play in the sense that there is no “right” or “wrong” in a society’s interpretation of different life events and components, and that their views must be taken into context based on the society itself. In other words, one must put himself or herself in the shoes of a person in that society to understand what shapes and drives his or her interpretation of religion, education, gender roles and other issues. An example of cultural relativism is the perception of aesthetics among different societies. What some societies view as acceptable or commendable may not be the case in another. Women, for example, are considered more beautiful in some parts of the world if they are slender, while in other societies women with broader and fleshier figures are considered to be more attractive. There is no “right” or “wrong” in this case, cultural relativism believes, just differences.