Ethnocentrism In Sociology: Definition, Examples & Impact

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one”s own society or culture as superior and the standard by which other societies and cultures are judged. It is the judging of other cultures by the standards of one”s own culture.

Ethnocentrism usually involves the belief that one”s own way of life is natural and correct, and that any deviation from it is strange or incorrect. It can also involve the belief that one”s own race or ethnic group is superior to others (Hammond & Axelrod, 2006).

Ethnocentrism is often the basis for prejudice, discrimination, and racism. It can lead to a lack of understanding or appreciation for other cultures, and can make it difficult for people from different cultures to communicate or interact with each other (Hammond & Axelrod, 2006).

Examples of Cultural Ethnocentrism

American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is unique and different from other countries, and that it has a special mission or destiny.

This belief often leads to the idea that America is superior to other nations, and that its way of life is the only correct way (Weaver, 1995).

Many Americans believe that their country is the best in the world, and that it is an example for other nations to follow.

This belief can lead to a sense of superiority, and a lack of understanding or tolerance for other cultures. It can also make Americans blind to their own country”s flaws, and make them less likely to listen to criticism from other nations (Weaver, 1995).

One consequence of American Exceptionalism is manifest destiny. In the 19th century, many Americans believed that it was their destiny to expand across the entire continent, from “sea to shining sea.”

This belief led to the displacement and mistreatment of Native American peoples, notably on the “trail of tears,” as well as the annexation of Mexican territory (Weaver, 1995).

Today, American exceptionalism is still a powerful force in the country. Some claim that this is the motivation for low passport-holding rates among Americans.

This belief can lead to tension and conflict with other nations, and has arguably caused Americans to keep less nuanced views of other countries” national stereotypes (Weaver, 1995).

Female Beauty

Throughout much of history, and in many cultures, women have been judged primarily on their physical appearance. This has led to the development of ethnocentric beauty standards, which are the idea that there is one correct way to be beautiful, and that any deviation from this standard is incorrect (Martin, 1964).

These standards are often based on the belief that certain physical features are more attractive than others. For example, many cultures value women who have light skin, long hair, or a slender figure. Women who do not meet these standards may be considered ugly or undesirable.

For example, in India and much of southeastern Asia, women are often judged on their skin tone. Those with lighter skin are considered to be more beautiful, and are often given preferential treatment in many areas of life.

This can lead to a sense of inferiority among those with darker skin, and can create division within society. In response, an industry has appeared around women lightening their skin sometimes using harmful chemicals (Li et al., 2008).

Ethnocentric beauty standards can lead to a number of negative consequences for women. They can cause low self-esteem and body image issues, as well as anxiety and depression. They can also lead to eating disorders and other mental health problems (Martin, 1964).


Language is a key part of culture, and it can be used to promote ethnocentrism. For example, some languages have words that can only be used to refer to people from a certain nation or ethnic group.

These words often have negative connotations, and they can be used to belittle or mock someone from another group (Benson, 2002). In English, there are many examples of this.

The word “gook” is often used to refer to East Asians, while the word “wetback” is used to refer to Mexicans. Both of these terms are considered derogatory, and they are not used in polite conversation.

Linguistics can also be used to support ethnocentric views.

For example, some language families are grouped together based on shared features, even if those features are not actually all that similar. This can create the impression that certain languages are more closely related to one another than they actually are, and that speakers of those languages are somehow more similar to one another than they really are.

Furthermore, linguists may study languages with the assumption that their native language forms the basis of how they interpret a different language”s structure (Benson, 2002).

Ethnocentric Curriculum

Ethnocentric curriculum is a sociological concept that describes a system of education reflecting the culture of one ethnic group, usually the dominant culture in a society.

This type of curriculum is often used in schools as a way to promote patriotism and national pride.

For example, America-centric curriculums often focus on the accomplishments of American citizens, and downplay the role of other cultures. Many children are taught about the American Revolution, the country”s expansion, and how America aided the allied powers in the second world war, but they may not learn fully about the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, or the interment of Japanese Americans in the process (Tomilson, 1989).

Ethnocentric curriculums can also lead to tension and conflict between different groups. For example, in 2017, a group of parents in Canada complained about an ethnocentric curriculum being used in their children”s school.

The curriculum in question focused heavily on Canadian history and culture, and did not include any mention of the country”s Indigenous peoples. This led to accusations of cultural appropriation and racism.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on multiculturalism in education. This approach aims to create a more inclusive and diverse curriculum that celebrates the cultural differences of different groups of people (Tomilson, 1989).

Effects of Ethnocentrism on Sociology Research

Ethnocentrism can have a number of effects on sociology research. It can lead to researcher bias, as well as a lack of understanding or awareness of the culture being studied.

Ethnocentrism involves examining an issue from the view-point of a particular cultural background, and there obtaining a biased opinion of it. In sociology, it is mainly white sociologists who are said to be ethnocentric, though the term can be applied to any sociologist affiliated with a particular perspective and cultural tradition.

This can make it difficult to accurately study and interpret data (Myers, 2015).

Ethnocentrism can also lead to the misinterpretation of data.

For example, if a sociologist is not familiar with the culture being studied, they may misinterpret certain behaviors. This can lead to inaccurate conclusions about the culture in question.

Additionally, ethnocentrism can lead to a lack of funding for research projects.

This is because many funders are only interested in supporting research that benefits their own cultures or ethnic groups. As a result, sociologists who want to study other cultures may have difficulty finding financial support for their projects (Myers, 2015).

Ethnocentrism in its extreme form gives rise to and supremacism, while cultural relativism allows the propagation of certain practices that basic human rights.

What’s the Opposite of Ethnocentrism?

Cultural relativism posits that there are no universal beliefs, but that each culture must be understood in its own terms, because cultures cannot be translated into terms which are accessible everywhere.

The implication of cultural relativism is that no one society is superior to another, they are merely different.

In terms of sensitivity, ethnocentrism is insensitive to other cultures, while cultural relativism shows high cultural sensitivity. These views involve examining culture and all its aspects and evaluating them (Myers, 2015).


Benson, P. (2002). Ethnocentrism and the English dictionary. Routledge.

Catton Jr., W. R. (1960). The functions and dysfunctions of ethnocentrism: A theory. Soc. Probs., 8, 201.

Hammond, R. A., & Axelrod, R. (2006). The evolution of ethnocentrism. Journal of conflict resolution, 50 (6), 926-936.

Hughes, Everett C. 1961. Ethnocentric Sociology. Social Forces 40 (1): 1-4.

LeVine, R. A., & Campbell, D. T. (1972). Ethnocentrism: Theories of conflict, ethnic attitudes, and group behavior.

Li, E. P., Min, H. J., & Belk, R. W. (2008). Skin lightening and beauty in four Asian cultures. ACR North American Advances.

Martin, J. G. (1964). Racial ethnocentrism and judgment of beauty. The Journal of social psychology, 63 (1), 59-63.

Myers, M. B. (2015). Ethnocentrism: a literature overview and directions for future research. In Proceedings of the 1995 Academy of Marketing Science (AMS) Annual Conference (pp. 202-207). Springer, Cham.

Tomlinson, S. (1989). The Origins of the Ethnocentric. Education for All: a landmark in pluralism, 26.

Weaver, J. (1995). Original simplicities and present complexities: Reinhold Niebuhr, ethnocentrism, and the myth of American exceptionalism. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 63 (2), 231-247.