ethnocentrism as the anthropological concept of cultural relativism
Ostroh Academy National University, Ukraine
Аннотация: Этноцентризм это отрицательные суждения об другой
культуре стандартами собственной культуры. Этноцентрические суждения это
уверенность, что качества собственной культуры намного лучше, чем другие. Хотя
этноцентризм рассматривается как барьер в коммуникации, он присущий людям,
которые испытывают культурный шок в процессе этноцентрических суждений. Попадая
в новую культуру люди могут проходить этап, когда они считают всё о новой
культуре намного хуже, чем о своей собственной. Хотя после этого этапа, они
обычно начинают рассматривать какую–то культуру не такой плохой или лучше, а
просто рассматривают её как разную. Не смотря на современные коммуникационные
технологии, которые открывают людям доступ к возрастающему количеству
информации о вещах вокруг нас во всем мире, существует все еще тенденция, что
люди интересуются больше местными, государственными или национальными новостями.
Существуют разные отношения между странами, но международные путешественники
всё еще считают, что вещи совсем другие, чем они ожидали, что приводит часто к
переживаниям. Экстремальный этноцентризм приводит к отвержению богатства и
знаний других культур. Это препятствует общению и блокирует обмен идеями и
опытом между людьми. Исключая другие точки зрения этноцентризм, в своей
сущности, является лимитирующим и ограничивающим.
этноцентризм, межкультурная коммуникация, культура, приспосабливание, антропологическая концепция,
барьер, обычаи, различия, поведение, эмоции, обстоятельства.
We live in an increasingly complex world. It is believed,
that one element of this complexity is the
mixing of different languages, cultures and faiths. Intercultural communication is vital for success within the business world. Effective communication between colleagues
from different cultural backgrounds ensures a great team work.
Human beings have a great desire to be with people who are
similar to themselves. This is because they share the same ways of doing
things, the same values and operate by
similar rules. When we are with people who are similar to ourselves, the ways
of doing things just seem like common sense.
Today the world we live in is "a
global village" where no nation, culture or group can remain anonymous. It is well known, that what happens
in one part of the world affects all parts of the world. We are increasingly
interacting with people from many different cultures, as the world is becoming
smaller. While modern technology has made
it easier for us to communicate with people anywhere in the world, such interactions
can be difficult if we do not know how to deal with cultures and people
different from our own. While communicating with someone from a different
culture, we can expect cultural differences
to have an influence. Cultural differences stem from our differing
perceptions, which in turn determine how we communicate with people of other
cultures. By understanding how people perceive the world, their beliefs and values, we can better
understand what they say and can anticipate potential cross-cultural
This article is focused on recognizing and avoiding
breakdowns in intercultural communication,
cultural and ethnographic approaches and examines ethnocentrism as a barrier to
effective intercultural communication. Different cultures can take
significantly different approaches to personal space, and a lack of cultural
understanding can make some people uncomfortable
and insult others. While Western culture prefers an arm's length of physical
personal space while communicating, according to a 2006 article in the "Journal of Applied
Social Psychology," people from some Latin and Middle Eastern cultures
stand considerably closer together when speaking. To a Westerner, this personal
space violation can lead to discomfort, and the communicator may view a resulting step away as a sign of distrust.
According to an intercultural
communication article on the practical advice website Sideroad.com, human nature can lead one to make
assumptions about other people; some
cultures use stereotypical images to reaffirm these assumptions. Though
some stereotypes may stem from factual observations, many build on personal beliefs and fears that individuals may
hold. To communicate effectively across cultural boundaries, communicators must
put assumptions aside and
stereotypes. In the United States, communicators tend to maintain
eye contact with others during one-on-one
communication, and make sporadic eye contact with an audience while
communicating with large groups. Though direct eye contact also symbolizes respect in Western cultures, and in
others it can be viewed differently. Native American and some Eastern cultures, for example, consider direct eye
contact disrespectful, and a failure to understand these cultural norms
regarding eye contact can create
significant intercultural communication obstacles.
Different cultures maintain markedly
different approaches to time, and communicators who don't understand a
culture's time orientation may experience difficulty building relationships in
that particular culture. When Americans view time as a commodity, other
cultures take a much more lax approach to the subject; some Latin cultures, for example, expect parties to be
as much as 30 minutes late
business. It is necessary to mention, that communicators from a culture that
views time as a commodity must refrain from
becoming upset when a party from another culture arrives late, as the late
communicator may view such frustration as insensitive, offensive and
demanding. A cultural approach attempts to develop an ideal personification of
the culture, and then that ideal is used to explain the actions of individuals
in the culture. Liberman describes the unique form of public discourse that evolved
among the isolated Aboriginal people of central Australia: Consensus must be preserved through such strategies as
avoidance of direct argumentation,
unassertiveness, serial summaries
and deferral of topics that would produce disharmony so that the people think together and
"'speak with one voice." There
are no attempts to force a decision, and the discussion is abandoned, if any dissension is sensed.
The cultural and ethnographic
approaches are complementary and together they can help our understanding of
breakdowns in intercultural communication. Every
subgroup culture in general provides its members with rules specifying appropriate
and inappropriate behavior. When you try to approach intercultural communication
from the perspective of attempting to learn the norms of all cultures and
subgroups, it would be an impossible task. There is no way that you could learn all the rules governing
appropriate and inappropriate behavior for every culture with which you came
into contact. You would always be doing something wrong; you would
always be offending someone. Your communication
would likely suffer, as your violation of norms would be a form of noise
limiting the effectiveness of your communication.
In fact, you would not even know if you were expected to
conform to the other's norms or if you were expected to behave according to
your own culture's norms while respecting the other culture's norms.
A better approach is to examine on a general level the barriers
to intercultural communication. LaRay M.
Barna has developed a
list of such barriers: assuming, anxiety,
instead of difference, stereotypes and prejudice, nonverbal misinterpretations
and language. These categories of barriers will be
used while discussing problems that can arise in intercultural encounters. Taking these common mistakes into consideration
can help you to improve your intercultural communication skills.
When you assume similarity between cultures you can be caught
unaware of important differences. When you have no information about a new
culture, it might make sense to assume there are no differences, and your
behavior would be the same as in your native culture. But each culture is different and unique to some degree.
You might see people in some circumstances as lacking emotion and others in other circumstances as displaying emotions
inappropriately, if you assume that display of emotions is similar to
your culture. The inverse can be a barrier as well. Assuming difference instead
of similarity can lead to your
unrecognizing the important things that cultures share in common. It's
better to assume nothing. It's better to ask, "What are the
traditions?" rather than assuming they are different ot the same everywhere.
One of the essential barriers to effective intercultural communication is ethnocentrism, or negatively judging
aspects of another culture by the standards of one's own culture. To be
ethnocentric is to believe in the superiority of one's own culture. Everything in a culture is consistent to that culture and
makes sense if you understood that culture.
Another name for ethnocentrism is the anthropological concept
of cultural relativism.
It does not mean that
everything is equal. It does mean that we must try to understand other
people's behavior in the context of their culture before we judge it. It also means that we recognize the
arbitrary nature of our own cultural behaviors and be willing to
reexamine them by learning about behaviors in other cultures. A less extreme form of
ethnocentrism can be labeled as cultural
nearsightedness, or taking one's own culture for granted and
neglecting other cultures. For example, people in the United States often use
the word Americans to refer to
U.S. citizens, but actually that word is the correct designation of all people in North and South America. It should be thought
as a form of ethnocentrism.
Cultural nearsightedness often results in making assumptions
about the fact, that simple things are the same everywhere. Designing forms for
something as simple as a person's name is not that simple if you recognize how
widely practices vary. For example, in
Mexico people may have two surnames, with the first from the father's first
surname and the second from the mother's surname. Often, only the first surname is used and the second abbreviated. When
a woman marries, she usually retains both of her surnames and adds her
husband's first surname. Or consider China with 1.3 billion people and only
about 3,100 surnames, with 90 per cent of the population sharing 100 of them. China has 87 million people sharing
the name Li – the most common surname in the world. The name Smith is
shared by 2.4 million people in the United States. Some other example is
Eurocentric ethnocentrism. This would include recognizing only Western holidays
in schools or basing curriculum only on Western history, art and music. The
terms "the East" and "the West" themselves have been
labeled Eurocentric ethnocentrism. Asia is east of Europe, but to call Asia "the
East" makes its identity dependent on Europe.
There is a difference between just respecting your own
culture and feeling superior to everyone
else's. That is why people change between high ethnocentrism and low ethnocentrism, depending on the
situation. Lukens has defined three degrees of ethnocentrism: high, moderate
and low ethnocentrism.
means that a person is insensitive in his interaction in dealing with other
cultures and treats them as different by for example talking slowly and louder than normal. It is also
characterised by the use of pejorative expressions for other groups.
Moderate ethnocentrism attempts to minimize contact with out-groups and try to
interact with the in-group only as much as possible.
The most extreme form is high ethnocentrism or cultural nearsightedness, which neglects foreigners and shows insensitivity
towards other cultures by using racist jokes, hate and violence. Ethnocentrism
has a lot of negative consequences in communicating and is therefore a big barrier in intercultural communication. Ethnocentrism
causes that people base their social interaction on their own cultural norms,
which can lead to misunderstandings and eventually to severe
miscommunication. Another consequence is
that because something is different, the other culture is perceived as wrong
and improper and that this becomes a stereotype for everyone from this culture.
Ethnocentrism also exaggerates differences between cultures. An ethnocentric
person feels superior towards people with other values and habits and therefore
the out-group often gets treated inferior, which increases the distance between
Ethnorelativism is the opposite of ethnocentrism and refers
to the idea that habits in a certain culture can only be judged by using the
standards of that culture as the norm for judgment. We need to remember that
our culture is not the only one and
definitely not always the 'right' one, because what we consider normal is frequently
perceived as weird in another culture. In order to deal with other cultures we
need to try to look from a different perspective than our own culture. Ethnocentrism is the
belief in the superiority of one’s own values and behaviors, which is a natural
attitude inherent in all cultures. People believe that their own values and behaviors are the best and others are not the best,
which will cause negative effects in communicating across cultures. Globalization of business spans national borders
and the businesspeople are likely to communicate across international cultures.
Therefore they have to face challenges of
cultures clash in business communication and in the workplace, one challenge
of which is ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism, which comes from the Greek root ethnos that
means a people or group, is the belief in the superiority of one's own race.
People believe that their own values and behaviors are the best: the most
natural, beautiful, right, or important, and others are inhuman, irrational,
unnatural, or wrong. Because people are
growing up with their own culture, ethnocentrism is a natural attitude inherent
in their cultures that there is no one who is not ethnocentric to some degree,
no matter how liberal and open-minded he or she might claim to be (Freidl,n.d.). Moreover, ethnocentrism is
deceptive precisely because people of any culture take it for granted that
their own values and behaviors are logical. Ethnocentrism is the
chief obstacle in cross-culture business communication.
Ethnocentrism causes people to judge others by their own values; they
assume that other people's attitudes and lives should be like theirs; they will
always find some aspect of another culture distasteful, unacceptable. They
forget that they are likely to misinterpret the actions of others, and they
lose sight of the possibility that their
words and actions can be misunderstood too (Bovee & Thill, n.d.). Thus, Problems arise
Firstly, misunderstandings often arise when business
participants are unable to recognize the differences culturally determined. In
western society, time is money and it is natural for businesspeople to keep an
appointment. So they can not understand why it is so common for Egyptians, for
example, to be always late at business meeting. Secondly, consumer ethnocentrism provokes negative attitudes toward both
foreign advertisements and foreign products (Kwak & Jaju & Andras, 2006), especially in developed
countries. Ethnocentric consumers believe that the purchase of foreign products is unpatriotic, leads to loss of jobs, and
thus hurts the domestic economy. Obviously this belief will damage
international business development. Thirdly, conflicts due to
ethnocentrism increase the chance of failure during international business
cooperation and expansion. Business cooperation is set up on common ground of
mutual benefit, in which communication on equal status is necessary.
Unwillingness to compromise because of ethnocentrism will destroy the common
ground and increase the differences between them. For example, the failure of
the acquisition of UK Rover through Germany BMW shows the influences of
national culture on the management practice and characteristics of both
companies are the reasons. Finally, prejudice caused by ethnocentrism brings on
unfair recruitment and promotion in a work place. People with ethnocentric
perspectives pass judgments and make evaluations of people from other cultures
in a biased way (Theta, 2003). Therefore there is a so-called
"glass ceiling" over minority employees
who have different cultural background, particularly from developing countries.
So, how to overcome ethnocentrism and
develop intercultural harmony is a serious question that must be solved
in today's global business communication. Businesspeople should recognize that
ethnocentrism is a main barrier from achieving intercultural accommodation.
Being aware of the differences between one's
own culture and others is the first step. Every culture has unique heritage and
features. Don't ignore the
differences between another culture and your own, which would cause problems. The greater the difference
between cultures, the greater the chance for misunderstanding (Bovee & Thill, n.d), and the more attention
must be paid to acknowledge these differences.
Respecting other cultures is a
fundamental attitude in business transaction. Moreover, it is worth encouraging
and appreciating the rich diversity and genius existing in the globe. So win
your audience's attention by being respectful, avoid judgment. Rational
people want to be treated the way they treat others. Treating others with respect, sensitivity and
consideration are vital in conveying business message. Reconciling
cultural differences supports effective interaction in diverse values. It is a
series of behaviors that "reveals a propensity to share understanding of
the other's position in the expectation of reciprocity". Particularly it will create wealth in alliances (including mergers and
acquisitions) and in recruitment. Respecting, accepting, and reconciling cultural
differences should work with tolerance and empathy, which often result in
harmonious compromise. Learning new
attitudes and behaviors help bridge gaps between cultures.
Changing attitudes requires an open
mind. In general, you may attempt to understand a
person by stereotyping—deciding
unfairly that a person has particular qualities or
abilities because he or she belongs to a particular race. For example, Japanese often
stereotype Americans as people who are disrespectful of age and status, and are extravagant (Bovee & Thill, n.d.). Every person is a unique
human being; you can generalize the common characteristics of a group, but then
you have to move to know individual features. Training is the best approach or
tool for developing intercultural competence. Culture is learned. Learning
about other cultures helps us to understand that our own cultures are just as
important as others (SLCC, 2006). There are two
main different types of training - experiential
and cognitive training.
In order to decrease ethnocentrism one needs to become aware
of one's cultural values, norms,
perceptions and beliefs. Everyone has different values and norms and it
is important to think about this while communicating with people from other
cultures, this is called cultural awareness. Stephanie Quappe and Giovanna Cantatore have divided cultural
awareness in different stages. The first is 'My way is the only way' and refers
to the ignorance of cultural differences. People in this stage are only aware
of their own 'way' and perceive this as the right way. In the second
stage people become aware that there are other ways of doing things, but still
stick to their own because they feel that is the best way. In the third stage
'my way and their way' people are aware of different ways of doing things and
do not stick to their own way anymore, but choose the best way depending on the
situation. They are more positive about other cultures and are using them to create solutions and
alternatives. The last stage is called 'our way' because in this stage
people from different cultures create a new culture of shared values and habits. People in this stage are
willing to adapt their own habits to other cultures or exchange them
To increase your cultural awareness you can do several things
to change your attitude towards different cultures: first of all by
acknowledging that you do not know what the norms and values of other cultures
are, secondly by not stereotyping other cultures and trying to get as much
valid information about the culture as
possible. Also check you assumptions to increase your understanding and try to
look from the other person's point of view. And finally, do not try to
make everything equal, celebrate diversity! Experiential training aims to
develop intercultural effectiveness skills, while cognitive training aims to
develop cultural awareness and interpersonal skills. Different training promotes various aspects of competence. There is no cure-all, "not everyone has seen
the principal solution to these problems as lying in intercultural
training". So more
conscious effort is required to improve the training continually. Finally,
overcoming ethnocentrism can decrease friction and increase harmony, and then make your business more
productive and effective.
The six steps to intercultural communication are basic
pointers that all working in intercultural teams should be aware of to ensure
culture becomes a vehicle for positive advancement rather than a barrier.
1. Break Assumptions
Everyone makes or has assumptions about others. Assumptions
are beliefs rather than objective truth and are usually influenced by a number
of subjective factors.
For intercultural communication to
truly work, people need to assess their assumptions and ask themselves why they
hold those ideas or beliefs. By doing so and even openly examining them with
others, the initial barrier to intercultural communication is overcome.
In order to come to appreciate and understand people from
different cultures, empathy is vital. Through putting yourself in someone
else's shoes you come to see or appreciate their point of view.
Involving others in tasks or decision making empowers and
builds strong relationships. Using intercultural diversity is in essence a more
creative approach to problem solving as it
incorporates different points of view.
4. Discourage Herd Mentality
Herd mentality refers to a closed and one dimensional
approach. Such a way of thinking curbs creativity, innovation and advancement
as people are restricted in how to think, approach and engage with people or
Intercultural communication can only flourish and therefore
contribute if people are encouraged to
think as individuals, bring their cultural influences to the table and
share ideas that may be outside the box.
People can and do behave in culturally insensitive ways. By
attacking someone's person, you attack their culture and therefore their
dignity. This can only be divisive.
Intercultural communication is based upon people thinking
through words and actions to ensure they do not act inappropriately. When
insensitive behaviour is witnessed it is the responsibility of all to shun it
and ensure it remains unacceptable.
6. Be Wise
Wisdom is not called wisdom for nothing.
People need to be aware how to interact with
people with respect and knowledge. Intercultural communication is essentially
founded upon wisdom, i.e. showing maturity of thought and action in dealing
with people. Through thinking things out and have background knowledge to
intercultural differences much of the communication problems witnessed within business could be
Consequently, even though modern communication technology
allows people access to increasing amounts
of information about things happening all over the world, there is still
a tendency for people to be more interested in local, state, and national news. In the United States, the most popular news
shows do not cover international events in as much detail or accuracy as
they do national and local news. It is common for people to form opinions about
other countries using only the knowledge acquired through the media. International
travelers still often find that things are very different from what they had
expected, which sometimes leads to feelings of anxiety.
Extreme ethnocentrism leads to a rejection of the richness
and knowledge of other cultures. It impedes
communication and blocks the exchange of ideas and skills among peoples.
Because it excludes other points of view, an ethnocentric orientation is
restrictive and limiting.
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