Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture.[page needed] Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and subdivisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity. Ethnocentrism may be overt or subtle, and while it is considered a natural proclivity of human psychology in everyday life, it has developed a generally negative connotation. In anthropology, cultural relativism is seen as an antithesis and an antonym to ethnocentrism.
The term "ethnocentrism" was coined by Ludwig Gumplowicz and subsequently employed by William G. Sumner. Gumplowicz defined ethnocentrism as the reasons by virtue of which each 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 (Der Rassenkampf, 1883). Sumner relied on observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the in-group and others, disseminating it in his 1906 work Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals. He defined it 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 it as often leading to pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders.
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."
Anthropologists such as Franz 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 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.)
People born into a particular culture that grow up absorbing the values and behaviors of the culture will develop a worldview that considers their culture to be the norm. If people then experience other cultures that have different values and normal behaviors, they will find that the thought patterns appropriate to their birth culture and the meanings their birth culture attaches to behaviors are not appropriate for the new cultures. However, since people are accustomed to their birth 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.
In Precarious Life, Judith Butler discusses recognizing the Other in order to sustain the Self and the problems of not being able to identify the Other. Butler writes:
A 2011 paper in PNAS suggested that ethnocentrism may be mediated by the oxytocin hormone. It found that in randomized controlled trials "oxytocin creates intergroup bias because oxytocin motivates in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation".
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." Simulation-based experiments in evolutionary game theory have attempted to provide an explanation for the selection of ethnocentric-strategy phenotypes.
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