What is Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is an anthropological concept used to define attitudes in which we regard our habits and conduct as superior to others.

This happens in all societies, due to the prejudices produced by the cultural dynamic itself and that leads us to adopt the familiar cultural patterns.

How does ethnocentrism occur?

Ethnocentrism occurs because our understanding of what existence would be, hindering our ability to perceive difference as something “normal”.

Of course, this kind of phenomenon is related to cultural shocks, but can be seen daily in our own culture.

In fact, ethnocentrism affects everyone, in every culture on the globe, to a greater or lesser extent.

This is because it is so “normal” to “ethnocentically” judge matters related to politics, sexuality, feminism, racial issues, drugs, etc.

Charge by Carlos Ruas shows us how ethnocentric thinking occurs

This phenomenon has intellectual (rational) and affective (psychological) dimensions that are the genesis of almost all prejudiced, radical and xenophobic attitudes and behaviors.

At best, the ethnocentric will regard his culture as natural to others, which he regards as “abnormal” and “absurd.”

Thus ethnocentric thinking becomes a danger when it inculcates ideas of racial and cultural superiority. This is because it puts an ethnic group at the center of everything, limiting or preventing any other possibility of existence.

What we know of the “other” is merely a representation determined by the ideologies that prevail in certain periods.

From this, ethnocentrism reinforces negative figurations of the “other” as a means of maintaining the status quo.


Ethnocentrism is a masculine noun of Greek root, formed by the prefix “ethnos” meaning nation, tribe, race or people, plus the suffix “centrism“, which suggests center.

Examples of Ethnocentrism in History

This was the case, for example, during the Discoveries, when Christendom declared its sacred mission to bring faith by the action of missionaries and conquerors.

Examples of Ethnocentrism in History

Image shows religious ethnocentrism

Subsequently, the Enlightenment will affirm the triumph of reason and will be the measure of all progress that justified Western colonialism.

Along with this, another more specific definition of ethnocentrism develops, namely “Eurocentrism”, by which the European was considered the model of “civilized man”.

In the following years, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, pseudoscientific evidence will support several data that will allow the establishment of an evolutionary line of culture in stages: wild, barbaric and civilized.

Similarly, scientific racism will constitute an ideology of white superiority. At that time, being white and European was considered the maximum of cultural and social evolution on the planet.

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Cultural Relativism is an anthropological line of thought that seeks to relativize cultures by establishing a general theory of cultural relativity.

This concept is supported by a methodology capable of analyzing the various cultural systems, without the determinism of the ethnocentric view.

The meaning of an act for Cultural Relativism is not taken absolutely, but considered in its own context.

From this perspective, we understand that the “other” also has its values, which must be considered according to the cultural system in which they are inserted.

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