Ethnocentrism is a common tendency, an attitude, in which one tries to impose one’s own culture and customs above those of the rest; and this, for the simple fact of being ours.


Ethnocentrism, etymologically speaking, is a term that arises from the mixture of two words from two different languages. Ethnos , from the Greek, which means ethnicity, and centrum , from the Latin, which means center. Furthermore, –ism means that it constitutes a doctrine. Thus, the literal meaning is the doctrine around an ethnic group. Ethnocentrism takes one’s own culture as the starting point in the analysis of everything else, including the study and analysis of other cultures.

This behavior, derived from ethnocentrism, is common and inherent in human nature. That is, it is in the nature of individuals to believe themselves better than the rest, and to think that their customs, traditions, music, language, history, etc. they are better than those of other groups or cultures.

Ethnocentrism in the social sciences

Ethnocentrism can be a real problem when conducting research in many fields; especially in the social sciences.

The social sciences are directly related to the danger of falling into this concept, since they study what is related to the human being and its relations with society. Therefore, the researcher must try to stay out of biases that may interfere with his study work. For example, if we want to know how the Chinese peasants of the 18th century behaved, if we look at them through the magnifying glass of Western society, and without taking into account the peculiarities of their own culture, they may seem absurd to us and we do not understand many of their behaviors and ways of living.

This ethnocentric decline was very common in 19th century social scientists, due to the limited globalization of the time. The distinction between civilization and savages or uncivilized peoples was much made. Which meant that these authors were in a position of superiority compared to the cultures studied.

Ethnocentrism as an engine of conflicts

Given the definition of the term and what it entails, it is not surprising that most wars, incursions, genocides and other military actions are promoted by ethnocentrism.

The greatest example is found in the Germany of the Third Reich. The exacerbated Nazi feeling that the Aryans and Germans were superior to the rest of the world, was the trigger that launched their attempt to dominate all of Europe and the extermination of many races and groups. It can be said that the pillar of nationalism is ethnocentrism.

The above does not mean that ethnocentrism is synonymous with conflict. A people, state or group can be proud of its culture and think that it is the best. But this does not mean wanting to invade other countries to impose it.

Types of ethnocentrism

Thus, we can identify three main types of ethnocentric tendencies:

  • Racial ethnocentrism : It involves believing that the ethnic group to which one belongs is superior to the others for biological reasons. Considering the rest as inferior.
  • Religious ethnocentrism : This is very common, since, in itself, religions are exclusive due to the postulates they defend. For this reason, religious ethnocentrism affirms that the religion to which one is ascribed is the only true one; therefore, and as a consequence of this, the rest have been wrong.
  • Linguistic ethnocentrism : Attitude that believes that the language that one speaks is more valid, useful or simply better than the others. This behavior is very common in multilingual states, leading to conflicts over the official status of their languages.

Cultural relativism

This concept is presented as the opposite alternative to ethnocentrism.

In this sense, it defends that, in such a globalized society, to favor relations of peace and tolerance among all communities, cultures should not be viewed and understood from the pattern imposed by another. Being the options chosen by one person as valid as those chosen by others.

For example, if we travel to a very different country in cultural terms, we do not believe that ours is better, but that theirs is different. For example, the Japanese sleep on the floor and sip their soup. From western culture it may seem picturesque to us, but it is neither better nor worse, they are characteristics of the future of each culture.