What is Ethnocentrism?

Ethnocentric views are often closely tied to racism.
Ethnocentric views are often closely tied to racism.

Ethnocentrism is the process of judging another culture exclusively from the perspective of one's own. Ethnocentric people compare their culture to others on such elements as religion, behavior, language, customs, and norms. The term is frequently heard in situations where inter-ethnic relations and ethnic issues are of concern. Ethnocentrism can either be overt or subtle, and although it is regarded as a natural reaction, it has a negative connotation.

Where Did the Term "Ethnocentrism" come from?

Ludwig Gumplowicz, an Austrian sociologist, is credited with coining the term "ethnocentrism". The term was subsequently adopted by William G. Sumner, an American social scientist known for his classical liberal views. Sumner elaborated on the the term, stating it was the viewpoint that "one's group is the center of everything" and that it was "from this point of view that all other groups are judged".

Sumner stated that an ethnocentric lens often ended in vanity, contempt of outsiders, and pride, as well as the belief in one's own inherent superiority. The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas, as well as the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, both emphasized the importance of the scientific community's triumph over ethnocentrism. Both men encouraged scientists to engage in ethnographic fieldwork with the aim of overcoming their ethnocentrism. Malinowski popularized the theory of functionalism (judging society as a whole) while Boas introduced the principle of cultural relativism (the belief that one's culture should only be judged by within their own) to offer scientists methods of conducting research that were less ethnocentric.

Examples of Ethnocentrism

Please note: the following are useful examples of the way that ethnocentrism can permeate sociological views, in a way to improve understanding of the topic. It is not a complete list.

American Exceptionalism

The term American exceptionalism was first used in 1831 by French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville. Today, it can be used to describe the United States in three distinct ways:

  • The US is very unlike over countries found in the developed western world.This view has most likely been around since the time of the American Revolution, in the 1700s. It was then the idea of a unique American identity that was completely separate from its European counterparts was first born.
  • The idea that the US has a desire to shape the world to be more "American". This exists in the form of things like Manifest Destiny.
  • The idea that, because of their customs and belief systems, the US holds superiority over every other nation in the world.This is in itself close to the idea of ethnocentrism.


Religiocentrism operates from the viewpoint that one's religion is more true, important, or valid than the religion of others.


Sinocentrism refers to the belief that China is the center of the world. It has held complicated economic and cultural implications over times, often eliciting reactions from neighboring countries throughout history.

Consumer Ethnocentrism

Consumer ethnocentrism comes into play when people create groups of people, determined by the consumption of goods.


Chronocentrism refers to the attitude that certain periods throughout history were superior to others.


Afrocentrism is a worldwide through the lens of people living in, or with a close connection to, the continent of Africa. Unlike other types of ethnocentrism, many argue that Afrocentrism is not a negative concept, as many African voices and stories have in fact been silenced over recent centuries.


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