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Anthropology Ethnocentrism
by
Elizabeth Elliott Cooper

Introduction

Ethnocentrism is a term applied to the cultural or ethnic bias—whether conscious or unconscious—in which an individual views the world from the perspective of his or her own group, establishing the in-group as archetypal and rating all other groups with reference to this ideal. This form of tunnel vision often results in: (1) an inability to adequately understand cultures that are different from one’s own and (2) value judgments that preference the in-group and assert its inherent superiority, thus linking the concept of ethnocentrism to multiple forms of chauvinism and prejudice, including nationalism, tribalism, racism, and even sexism and disability discrimination. Ethnocentrism is a concept that was coined within anthropology and formed the cornerstone of its early evolutionary theory before becoming one of the discipline’s primary social critiques. It continues to both challenge and inspire anthropologists, shifting in meaning and application with theoretical trends and across the subdisciplines. For many anthropologists in the Boasian tradition, ethnocentrism is the antithesis of anthropology, a mind-set that it actively counters through cultural relativism, education, and applied activities such as cultural brokering. Physical anthropologists have tended to define the concept more generally as preferential cooperation with a defined in-group and to interrogate its potential evolutionary origins, while the postmodern trend has been a growing suspicion of the anthropologist’s own ability to transcend cultural bias in his or her analysis and presentation of the “other,” leading to an emphasis on reflexivity and subjective diversity. Outside of the discipline, ethnocentrism is a topic of study for biologists, political scientists, communication experts, psychologists, and sociologists, particularly in the areas of politics, identity, and conflict. Marketing has seized on the term to describe consumers who prefer domestically produced goods, and the derivative ethnocentric has become a common criticism in the era of globalization for those assuming their own cultural superiority.

General Overviews and Foundational Texts

It is difficult to identify a definitive text for the concept of ethnocentrism, given its shifting meanings and common usage as an implicit critique. Sumner 1906 provides the original formulation of the term, defining it as a “view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it.” While Sumner is commonly credited with coining the term, ethnocentric was previously used in McGee 1900 to characterize what he termed the primitive mind-set. Levine and Campbell 1972 provides one of the most comprehensive and research-friendly definitions, drawing on the literature from anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics to create a set of twenty-three testable characteristics. Yet while Levine and Campbell 1972 combines in-group and out-group directed characteristics, many theorists have argued for a decoupling of these concepts, further problematizing the issue of defining ethnocentrism (see Definitions). See Murdock 1949 for a classic formulation of ethnocentrism as a universal form of in-group consciousness and Herskovits 1948 for a standard reading of the term as a human cultural feature with an implied value judgment.

  • Herskovits, Melville J. 1948. Man and his works. New York: Knopf.

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    Classic definition of ethnocentrism as a feeling of superiority regarding one’s own culture or way of life.

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  • Levine, Robert A., and Donald T. Campbell. 1972. Ethnocentrism: Theories of conflict, ethnic attitudes, and group behavior. New York: Wiley.

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    The author draws on literature from anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics in this text to define ethnocentrism as a set of twenty-three characteristics, nine of which are attitudes toward a perceived in-group (e.g., perceptions of superiority and virtue, sanctions against murder and theft) and fourteen of which are toward a perceived out-group (e.g., blaming, distrust, fear).

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  • McGee, William J. 1900. Primitive numbers. Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report 19:821–851.

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    Early source predating the classic Sumner 1906 definition. In this work, McGee uses the term ethnocentric to describe the dominant orientation characterizing primitive thought and action.

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  • Murdock, George P. 1949. Social structure. New York: Macmillan.

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    Provides a useful alternative understanding of the concept of ethnocentrism, defining it as a “tendency to exalt the in-group and to depreciate other groups” (pp. 83–84).

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  • Sumner, William G. 1906. Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. New York: Mentor.

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    Publication credited with coining the term ethnocentrism.

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Definitions

At its most basic level, ethnocentrism involves a distinction between the in-group and the out-group—us and them. This has been a standard heuristic device for anthropology through much of its history as outlined in Pandian 1985. Some theorists, particularly those cited under Biological or Physical Anthropology, categorize this basic in-group consciousness as a form of ethnocentrism. The overall tendency, however, has been to reserve the term for value judgments of cultural superiority, making ethnocentrism a uniquely human phenomenon. Typically, we see our own culture as better; although instances are documented of reverse ethnocentrism in which the home culture is denigrated. Often ethnocentrism is accomplished through stereotyping, as Said 1978 has described in regards to the Middle East, applying the term Orientalism to these essentialized representations. As Carrier 1992 notes, Western societies are similarly oversimplified through the process of Occidentalism. In both cases, the researcher employs language to selectively highlight differences (as parodied in Miner 1956) and fails to extend recognition of personal complexity to the typecast group—a tendency exemplified by the portrayal of the Persian army in the film 300 (Snyder 2007). As Hsu 1979 notes, the observation of difference and preference for our own norms do not automatically result in proselytizing and attempts to change the opposing group, thus differentiating neutral ethnocentrism from the more expansive positive ethnocentrism. Proponents of cultural relativism, such as Herskovits 1972, reject universal cultural standards and are particularly critical of attempts to enforce the morals of a single worldview cross-culturally. The film Animal Appetites (Cho 1991) aptly portrays this difficulty as it applies to immigrant populations in its coverage of the California prosecution of two Cambodian men charged with eating dog.

  • Carrier, James G. 1992. Occidentalism. American Ethnologist 19.2: 195–212.

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    Carrier argues that anthropologists tend to create, and respond to, stereotypical images of Western society (Occidentalisms) with equally stereotypical images of non-Western society (Orientalisms), exaggerating differences between the two and perpetuating this process outside of the discipline.

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  • Cho, Michael, dir. 1991. Animal appetites. DVD. San Francisco: Center for Asian American Media.

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    Focusing on a California case involving two Cambodian immigrants prosecuted for using a “pet” dog for food, Cho presents arguments for animal rights and cultural relativism by juxtaposing this story with testimonials from dog lovers and documentation of animal testing.

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  • Herskovits, Melville J. 1972. Cultural relativism: Perspectives in cultural pluralism. New York: Random House.

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    A thorough presentation of the Boasian understanding of cultural relativism written by one of Boas’s most influential students. Herskovits argues against universalist claims, stating that cultural relativism is supported by the ethnographic record and that culture influences both our perceptions and our morals.

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  • Hsu, Francis L. K. 1979. The cultural problem of the cultural anthropologist. American Anthropologist 81.3: 517–532.

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    Hsu distinguishes between positive and neutral ethnocentrism in asserting that the erroneous projection of the values of one culture onto another (positive ethnocentrism) skews cross-cultural understanding.

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  • Miner, Horace. 1956. Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58:503–507.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1956.58.3.02a00080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A true anthropological classic, this article applies purposefully exoticizing language to the description of mainstream American culture to demonstrate the ways in which our style of presentation can exaggerate cross-cultural difference, making even our own culture seem foreign.

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  • Pandian, Jacob. 1985. Anthropology and the western tradition: Toward an authentic anthropology. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

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    Focuses on the meaning and implications of anthropology as the study of the “Other,” with special attention to the necessity and validity of studying other peoples as a means of understanding ourselves and the nature of the human condition. See, in particular, pp. 49–95.

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  • Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

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    Said outlines the emergence of an essentialized version of the Middle East as mysterious, unchanging, and ultimately inferior to the West. His term Orientalism has been adopted as a general description for stereotypical presentations of this region.

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  • Snyder, Zack, dir. 2006. 300. DVD. 2007. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

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    Film presents the Battle of Thermopylae in which the army of a vastly outnumbered alliance of Greek city-states fought again the Persian army. Noteworthy for its glorification of a small group of individualized Spartans in contrast to the monstrous Persian horde.

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Historical Background and Temporal Trends

Ethnocentrism has been an important concept throughout anthropology’s historical development: as an unfortunate underlying assumption in its Disciplinary Precursors, and earliest theory, Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism; as the motivation for the cultural relativism that defined Boasian Anthropology; as a critique of Functionalism and one of its primary theorists, Bronislaw Malinowski (Malinowski’s Personal Writings); and as the catalyst for Postmodern Thought. Since the term ethnocentrism was coined within anthropology, it has shifted drastically in both meaning and application according to theoretical trends, making a basic background in anthropological theory essential to understanding this concept. Individuals seeking a focused, introductory-level discussion of the connection between ethnocentrism and the development of theory, particularly in the Boasian and postmodern traditions, should consult Perry 2003. Erickson and Murphy 2008 and Moore 2004 are general-use, introductory-level texts that selectively highlight the role of ethnocentrism; Erickson and Murphy 2008 is well indexed with a four-field emphasis and provides more information on the understanding of difference in antiquity, while Moore 2004 takes an interesting biographical approach. Individual schools of thought can be quickly referenced in Barnard and Spencer 2002. Those interested in a more in-depth understanding should consult Anthropological Theories: A Guide Prepared by Students for Students and Barnard 2000. McGee and Warms 2004 includes a set of forty-three well-annotated articles, which give the reader access to original writings from a broad cross-section of theorists.

  • Anthropological Theories: A Guide Prepared by Students for Students.

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    Produced by graduate students at the University of Alabama under the supervision of Michael Murphy, this website profiles sixteen major theoretical schools and includes a search function for enhanced browsing. Each section is well cited and includes a number of verified links for further information.

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  • Anthropological Theories, EMuseum @ Minnesota State University Mankato.

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    Basic profiles for fourteen major theoretical schools organized chronologically by theory. Each theory profile includes a short summary and links to biographical pieces for two to three emblematic theorists. Intended for an introductory-level audience and based exclusively on McGee and Warms 2004. Text is not searchable.

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  • Barnard, Alan. 2000. History and theory in anthropology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A concise but thorough survey of the history of anthropological thought, notable for its attention to the connections between successive theories and the problems of assessing theory.

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  • Barnard, Alan, and Jonathan Spencer, eds. 2002. Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology. New York: Routledge.

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    More than two hundred entries covering key anthropological ideas and themes, including schools of anthropological thought. Alphabetically organized and indexed by both theorist and subject. Each entry includes a set of essential references for further study.

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  • Erickson, Paul A., and Liam D. Murphy. 2008. A history of anthropological theory. 3d ed. Peterborough: Broadview.

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    Accessible textbook on the history of anthropological theory. Includes an excellent annotated bibliography organized chronologically by topic and a sidebar glossary. Its coverage of theory in antiquity and four-field approach are distinctive.

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  • McGee, R. Jon, and Richard L. Warms, eds. 2004. Anthropological theory: An introductory history. 3d ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.

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    Classic collection of primary sources, organized chronologically, extensively annotated, and accompanied by brief but informative overviews of fourteen major schools of anthropological thought.

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  • Moore, Jerry D. 2004. Visions of culture: An introduction to anthropological theories and theorists. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.

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    This text approaches anthropological theory through biography, presenting the life stories of twenty-four major theorists ranging from Tylor to Bourdieu. The writing is consciously “student friendly” and should appeal to those who are new to the discipline.

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  • Perry, Richard J. 2003. The idea of relativism. In Five concepts in anthropological thinking. By Richard J. Perry,159–188. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    This wide-ranging discussion covers the emergence and development of the concept of cultural relativism within anthropology. While surveying much of history of theory, Perry gives particular attention to the Boasians and postmodernists. Written as a teaching text, this chapter is directed toward students with limited background knowledge and includes discussion questions.

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Disciplinary Precursors

The origins of anthropology are commonly dated to the 1850s—a time during which the combined influence of Darwin’s newly published On the Origins of the Species (1859), English fossil finds, and explorer’s accounts of the African continent facilitated the linkage of philosophical and biological frameworks, which would uniquely define the discipline. Yet, attempts to understand the diversity and complexity of the human condition have been a constant aspect of the Western intellectual tradition, and knowledge through comparison can be traced to the ancient Greeks and their acute interest in questions of human difference. Modern anthropology draws on these classic texts and their treatment of foreign societies and customs as both a warning and a source of inspiration, often considering them to be some of the earliest examples of anthropological writing. Erickson and Murphy 2008 cites the relatively objective explanations of human diversity of Herodotus as the product of geography and climate and detail the Sophist understanding of human behavior as governed by life circumstances—a belief the authors liken to modern cultural relativism. Sassi 2001 is more critical, demonstrating the impact of the inherently ethnocentric belief in free, Greek male superiority popular in Greek writing from the time of Homer to late antiquity. Pliny the Elder 2004 further illustrates this underlying ethnocentrism in Pliny’s characterization of non-Roman societies as essentially monstrous races in far-off places (Pliny’s Natural History). The dichotomous division of “us” and “them” (with them being dark-skinned, terrifying, less advanced, and ultimately “Other”) was perpetuated into the Middle Ages and beyond in both academic and popular contexts as reflected in the 11th-century French epic, The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland), in which opposition forces are presented as an undifferentiated, albeit threatening, Muslim horde (see Project Gutenberg: The Song of Roland by Anonymous). McGrane 1989 extends this timeline into the present, giving special attention to the ultimate development of professional anthropology from these earlier studies of difference. McGrane argues that oppositional categories are a common heuristic device for considering human difference—one which tells us more about the Western mind than supposed “primitive cultures.” Operating under this assumption, he details the non-Christian Other of the Renaissance, the ignorant Other of the Enlightenment, the less-evolved Other of the 19th century and the cultural Other of the early 20th century. Adams 1998 likewise views anthropology as the systematic study of the Other and identifies the philosophical roots of American anthropology as those traditions that use Native Americans as the archetype for otherness (i.e., Progressivism, Primitivism, natural law, “Indianology,” and German idealism). Each theoretical orientation can be validly critiqued as ethnocentric because it positions the non-Western society under study as a foil, evaluating it not on its own terms for its own merits but rather in relation to Western cultural norms.

  • Adams, William Y. 1998. The philosophical roots of anthropology. Stanford, CA: CSLI.

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    Characterizing anthropology as the systematic study of the “Other,” Adams links modern anthropology to five major theoretical currents in previous European philosophical thought. He makes the case that these intellectual traditions as linked by the use of Native Americans as archetypal Other.

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  • Erickson, Paul A., and Liam D. Murphy. 2008. A history of anthropological theory. 3d ed. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview.

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    One of the few survey texts on anthropological theory to outline intellectual traditions prior to the 19th century. The authors identify “nascent” anthropological perspectives in the writings of Greco-Roman, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Positivist thinkers.

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  • McGrane, Bernard. 1989. Beyond anthropology: Society and the other. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Provides a historical account of conceptions of human difference from the 16th century to the early 20th century. McGrane argues that anthropology was not possible during the Renaissance or Enlightenment periods because the distinction between self and other was based on Christianity and ignorance, respectively, precluding the possibility of productive (anthropological) study of non-Western peoples.

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  • Pliny the Elder. 2004. Natural history: A selection. Translated and edited by John F. Healy. London: Penguin Classics.

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    An accessible, abbreviated English-language translation of Pliny the Elder’s famous work with introduction, reading notes, and index. Book VII (Man) deals with anthropology and human physiology.

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  • Pliny’s Natural History.

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    A detailed description of the monumental text, Natural History, written by Pliny the Elder. Author is a published, Dutch historian who does an excellent job situating the text in the context of its times and providing a book-by-book summary of each of the work’s thirty-seven volumes. Site links to additional biographical information for Pliny the Elder.

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  • Project Gutenberg: The Song of Roland by Anonymous.

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    Online and downloadable versions of The Song of Roland in multiple formats (including Kindle) as translated by Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff. This French epic, typically dated to the middle of the 11th century, is a classic example of ethnocentrism in the Western literary tradition.

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  • Sassi, Maria M. 2001. The science of man in ancient Greece. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Focusing on Greek thought from Homer to late antiquity, Sassi outlines the study of human difference across a range of subjects, including physiognomy, ethnography, geography, medicine, and astrology. She further highlights the ways in which empirical observations were clouded by ethnocentric notions of the superiority of the free, Greek male.

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Progressivism

Progressivism is essentially a belief in continuous cultural progress, the idea that societies progress over time toward a more advanced state of civilization. This understanding of social evolution is often connected to European thought from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, when it prompted efforts to chart a universal history of humankind as classically represented in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon 1942). This chain of thought would later give rise to Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism—one of the first schools of anthropological thought. Bury 1932, the standard text on the development of progressivist thought, characterizes progress as a distinctly modern concept, echoing the division of pre-anthropological and anthropological thought according to Western perceptions of self and non-self in McGrane 1989. Meek 1976 similarly charts the origins of the four-stage progressivist theory of socioeconomic development to French and Scottish Enlightenment scholars. While this is the dominant understanding of the history of the idea, Edelstein 1967 provides a detailed and convincing chronology of the progress concept in Greco-Roman source materials. So too does Nisbet 1994, a more accessible and current text. Teggart 1949 profiles original excerpts of progressivist writing that predate the emergence of anthropology as a defined discipline.

  • Bury, J. B. 1932. The idea of progress: An inquiry into its origin and growth. New York: Macmillan.

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    A selective review of the development of progressivist theory from the 16th century to the 19th century. This classic work seeks to establish the idea of progress as a modern concept—a contention that works such as Nisbet 1994, Edelstein 1967, and Teggart 1949 directly refute.

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  • Edelstein, Ludwig. 1967. The idea of progress in classical antiquity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Detailed, chronological review of the idea of progress in ancient source materials. Important in that it demonstrates that progress is not a purely modern concept, as Bury 1932 argues.

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  • Gibbon, Edward. 1942. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. New York: E. P. Dutton.

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    Classic text that chronicles the history of humankind and provides an archetypal example of progressivist thought. Originally published as a series of six volumes from 1776 to 1788.

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  • McGrane, Bernard. 1989. Beyond anthropology: Society and the other. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Provides a historical account of conceptions of human difference from the 16th century to the early 20th century. McGrane argues that anthropology was not possible during the Renaissance or Enlightenment periods because the distinction between “Self” and “Other” was based on Christianity and ignorance, respectively, precluding the possibility of productive (anthropological) study of non-Western peoples.

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  • Meek, Ronald L. 1976. Social science and the ignoble savage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Detailed overview of the emergence of a four-stage progressivist theory of socioeconomic development during the 17th and 18th centuries. This work covers the origins of the theory among French and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers as well as its later modifications. Argument revolves around the importance of literary portrayals of “savage” societies—particularly American Indians.

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  • Nisbet, Robert. 1994. History of the idea of progress. 2d ed. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.

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    A comprehensive, chronological overview of the belief in progress from classical antiquity to the modern era. Writing is accessible to a general audience.

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  • Teggart, Frederick, ed. 1949. The idea of progress. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A compilation of short excerpts of progressivist writing by authors ranging from the early Greeks to Darwin. Organized like an encyclopedia, it contains limited commentary but is valuable as a collection of source material.

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Primitivism

Primitivism shares with Progressivism a belief in continuous human cultural evolution in which societies become increasingly complex and removed from their natural state. The primary difference is that while progressivist thinkers view this change with approval and enthusiasm, primitivists express a nostalgic regret. Adams 1998 terms this standard form of primitivism Historical Primitivism, contrasting it with Cultural Primitivism (ahistorical glorification of the simple life), Idyllic Primitivism (conception of a peaceful, harmonious primitive past), and Paternal Primitivism (admiration of the character of primitive man, leading to the “noble savage” archetype), each of which he established as highly influential for the discipline. Kuper 2005 effectively argues that “primitive society” is a myth through his careful critique of anthropological methods and theory, while tracing the concept’s intellectual history to ancient Greece. Fairchild 1928 focuses on the expression of (paternal) primitivism in Romantic literature and poetry, while Meek 1976 notes the importance of these literary portrays for the development of progressivist theory. As explained in Adams 1998, this combination of Paternal Primitivism and Progressivism is possible—and in fact common—as many theorists mourn the loss of human innocence while viewing this loss as inevitable for the progress of cultural institutions. Stocking 1989 extends the discussion of primitivism’s influence to later Boasian Anthropology. Ellingson 2001 provides an interesting counterargument, contending that the noble savage persona was never a widespread Western belief (despite extensive documentation in Fairchild 1928) and that its reappearance in the mid-19th century was disingenuous and politically motivated.

  • Adams, William Y. 1998. The philosophical roots of anthropology. Stanford, CA: CSLI.

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    Characterizing anthropology as the systematic study of the “Other,” Adams links modern anthropology to five major theoretical currents in previous European philosophical thought, including primitivism. Chapter 3 provides an excellent review of this theoretical orientation with special attention to its connections with later anthropological thought.

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  • Ellingson, Terry J. 2001. The myth of the noble savage. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A broader historical account of the concept of the noble savage and its development over time. Particularly notable is Ellingson’s contention that belief was never widespread in the nobility of savages and that the reappearance of this trope in the mid-19th century was motivated by a racist political agenda.

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  • Fairchild, Hoxie N. 1928. The noble savage: A study in romantic naturalism. New York: Russell & Russell.

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    While an older source, Fairchild provides a comprehensive review of the image of the noble savage in Romantic literature and poetry, giving background on the types of representation that might have influenced early anthropological perspectives on non-Western peoples.

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  • Kuper, Adam. 2005. The reinvention of primitive society: Transformations of a myth. New York: Routledge.

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    A critical review of anthropological theory and methodology, which focuses on the discipline’s attempts to define the original form of human society. This update of Kuper’s 1988 classic, The Invention of Primitive Society, (London: Routledge) maintains that “primitive society” is a myth while tracing the concept’s intellectual history to ancient Greece.

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  • Meek, Ronald L. 1976. Social science and the ignoble savage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Explains the importance of literary portrayals of “savage” societies—particularly American Indians—to the development of the four-stage progressivist theory of socioeconomic development during the 17th and 18th centuries. Covers the origins of the theory among French and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers as well as its later modifications.

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  • Stocking, George W., Jr. 1989. The ethnographic sensibilities of the 1920s and the dualism of the anthropological tradition. In Romantic motives: Essays on the anthropological sensibility. Edited by George W. Stocking Jr., 208–276. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    A discussion of elements of Romantic primitivism in the works of later Boasian theorists.

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Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism

Nineteenth-century evolutionism is typically represented as the classic example of ethnocentric anthropology. Employing Darwin’s theory of evolution as a powerful social metaphor, theorists such as Herbert Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, Edward Burnett Tylor, and James George Frazer proposed that cultures progressed from simple to more complex states by following parallel but independent paths of development. Morgan 1985, for example, attempted to trace social evolution from prehistoric times to the Victorian era based in part on the author’s understanding of Native American cultures. Focusing on traits related to marriage, family, and sociopolitical organization, he divided societies into three stages—savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Tylor 1873 pursued similar projects but Tylor based his classifications on religion, magic, and other ideological systems. Both approaches employed the comparative method, assuming that Victorian society was the highest expression of civilization, while “primitive,” non-Western cultures constituted living relics that could be used to explore the early stages of current, advanced societies. Kuper 2005 convincingly argues in the author’s historically based critique that there was no original “primitive society” but rather that it was a construction reflecting the worldview and biases of its creators. Defining civilization using the Victorian notion of progress and their own society as the reference standard, the 19th-century evolutionists were clearly ethnocentric. Yet, McGrane 1989 notes that this paradigm was also one of the first to validate and encourage the study of non-Western peoples, and Sanderson 1992 convincingly argues for the value of a more generalized evolutionary approach to sociocultural research, albeit without this Victorian bias. Stocking 1987 provides a more thorough treatment of the theory’s history, allowing the reader a better understanding of the context of the times, while Burrow 1966 revisits the emphasis placed on the role of Darwinian thought in highlighting instead the impact of conjectural history, utilitarianism, German historiography, comparative philology, and uniformitarian geology; Coombes 1994 adds to this list by aptly detailing the influence of Victorian preoccupation with classification and collection on perceptions of non-Europeans.

  • Burrow, John W. 1966. Evolution and society: A study in Victorian social theory. London: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A study of 19th-century evolutionism as the expression of Victorian themes. Burrow combines the history of anthropology with the history of political thought to make the case that Darwin’s influence on early evolutionism has been overemphasized.

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  • Coombes, Annie E. 1994. Reinventing Africa: Museums, material culture, and popular imagination in late Victorian and Edwardian England. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This book uses a series of detailed case studies to evaluate the role of museums in shaping and reflecting (often ethnocentric) European attitudes toward Africans.

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  • Kuper, Adam. 2005. The reinvention of primitive society: Transformations of a myth. New York: Routledge.

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    Critical review of anthropological theory and methodology, which focuses on the discipline’s attempts to define the original form of human society. Kuper gives particular attention to Victorian understandings of “primitive society” in this updated edition of his 1988 classic.

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  • McGrane, Bernard. 1989. Beyond anthropology: Society and the other. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Chapter 3, “The Other in the Nineteenth Century,” provides a refreshingly positive interpretation of unilineal evolutionist theory, arguing that Tylor granted the non-European Other a new status and significance as a positive form of evolution in contrast to earlier Renaissance and Enlightenment portrayals of the fallen, or ignorant, Other.

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  • Morgan, Lewis H. 1985. Ancient society. Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press.

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    In his most famous work, Morgan attempts to trace the evolution of human society, classifying human cultural development into three stages—savagery, barbarism, and civilization—that he defined according to specific developments in family structure, subsistence, and technology. Originally published in 1877 (London: Macmillan).

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  • Sanderson, Stephen K. 1992. Social evolutionism: A critical history. Cambridge, UK: Blackwell.

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    A modern defense of evolutionary thought as the basis for studies of society and culture. Sanderson bases his argument on a survey of 150 years of evolutionary theory from sociology, anthropology, and, to a lesser extent, biology. He provides thorough coverage of the major criticisms of 19th-century evolutionism in his attempt to differentiate, and salvage, a more generalized evolutionary approach.

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  • Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press.

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    A classic and thorough history of anthropology in the Victorian era.

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  • Tylor, Edward B. 1873. Primitive culture. New York: Gordon.

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    Tylor’s principle work in which he (1) argues that earlier stages of cultural evolution can be known by studying “survivals,” or cultural elements without a function, and (2) outlines a sequence of human cultural development based on religion. Originally published in 1871 (London: J. Murray).

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Boasian Anthropology

Often cited as the father of American anthropology, Franz Boas critiqued and rejected the large-scale generalizations and ethnocentric comparisons of Nineteenth-Century Evolutionism, arguing instead for the holistic, detailed study of the specific histories of individual cultures—an approach that Harris 1968 would later describe as “historical particularism.” Boasian anthropology is characterized by its commitment to on-site ethnographic fieldwork, linguistic competency, and cultural relativism (i.e., the rejection of universal cultural standards). Dominating American anthropology from 1911 to the end of World War II, Boas and his students are often seen as a turning point in the discipline, despite the fact that the Maya Group (Harvard), Washington Group (Smithsonian), National Research Council, and Galton Society continued to promote evolutionary anthropology, racial science, and eugenics. Boas fought vigorously against these efforts to the extent that he is often criticized as being atheoretical and expending his energies on dismissing existing theories rather than clearly espousing his own (see Boas 1948 and Kroeber 1915 for examples). Despite Boas’s role as a social activist, his sincerity and political impact have been questioned. Hitchens 1994 and Lewis 2001 review these accusations and present thoughtful rebuttals, in which Hitchens concentrates on salvaging the theory while Lewis defends Boas’s personal commitments. A more detailed treatment of historical particularism and an introduction to the most prominent students of Boas can be found in Harris 1968 and Hatch 1973. Stocking 1996 provides an intellectual background to the school of thought focusing on German idealism, while Perry 2003 deals specifically with cultural relativism and the Boasian contribution to this concept.

  • Boas, Franz. 1948. Race, language and culture. New York: Macmillan.

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    This collection includes some of Boas’s most noteworthy writings including “The Limitations of the Comparative Method in Anthropology” (pp. 270–280), which was originally published in 1896. This article profiles both Boas’s primary objections to unilineal evolutionist thought and his tendency to package these objections as methodological critiques. The full collection is valuable and it is well annotated in the table of contents.

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  • Harris, Marvin. 1968. The rise of anthropological theory. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.

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    Though not unbiased, Harris presents a highly detailed study of Boasian anthropology with individual chapters dedicated to Boas, Kroeber, and Lowie (pp. 250–372). This text was the first to refer to Boas’s approach as “historical particularism” and is vital background for understanding this school of thought as a response to ethnocentrism.

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  • Hatch, Elvin. 1973. Theories of man and culture. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    In this nonstandard theory text, Hatch compares and contrasts the work and thought of a number of leading Boasians (pp. 13–161). Though not chronological, it provides a high-quality analysis from a more balanced perspective than Harris 1968.

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  • Hitchens, Janine. 1994. Critical implications of Franz Boas’ theory and methodology. Dialectical Anthropology 19:237–253.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01301456Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Following on a selective review of the theoretical underpinnings of historical particularism, Hitchens attempts to demonstrate the continued relevance of the theory and offers suggestions for how to modify it in order to fully develop its potential for effective social critique.

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  • Kroeber, Alfred. 1915. The eighteen professions. American Anthropologist 17:283–289.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1915.17.2.02a00060Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this essay, Kroeber discusses the foundational beliefs of Boasian anthropology. Professions 8–13, in particular, reject scientific racism and the social evolutionary theories of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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  • Lewis, Herbert S. 2001. The passion of Franz Boas. American Anthropologist 103.2: 447–467.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2001.103.2.447Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As a historian of anthropology and anthropological theory, Lewis revisits the life and work of Boas in light of recent criticisms involving his sincerity and the political implications of his work. In combining extensive references with archival research, it serves as an ideal starting point for interrogating Boas’s contribution to the discipline with respect to issues of race and ethnocentrism.

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  • Perry, Richard J. 2003. The idea of relativism. In Five concepts in anthropological thinking. By Richard Perry,159–188. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    Within his wide-ranging discussion of relativism, Perry covers the intellectual influences, personal background, and historical context in which Boas developed his four-field approach to anthropology in opposition to the ethnocentrism of the times. Written as a teaching text, this chapter is directed toward students with limited background knowledge and includes discussion questions.

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  • Stocking, George W., Jr., ed. 1996. Volksgeist as method and ethic: Essays on Boasian ethnography and the German anthropological tradition. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    This set of lengthy essays details the impact of Boas’s early years in Germany and traces the subsequent influence of German idealism within his later ethnographic writing and that of his student, Kroeber. Boas’s idiographic emphasis and movement away from the ethnocentric comparative method of social evolutionists is broadly interpreted as neo-Kantian.

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Struggle against Racism

Boas’s rejection of ethnocentrism manifested itself as a dual commitment to cultural relativism and racial equality. Boas used anthropometry (i.e., techniques of human measurement) to demonstrate that race was not a factor in cultural development. While Williams 1996 views Boas’s combination of science and progressive values as paradoxical and limiting, forcing him to adopt the methodologies of racialist physical anthropology, it is this empirical grounding that allowed Boas to challenge both scientific and popular ideas about racial inferiority as described in Baker 1998, Hyatt 1990, and Jackson and Weidman 2006. Benedict and Weltfish 1946 translates Boas’s thoughts on race for a general audience, providing a good example of Boasian consciousness-raising activities. Building on his mentor, Boas, Herskovits was the first prominent, white intellectual to dismiss ethnocentric claims that black culture in America was pathological. He viewed African-American culture as inherently African, insisting that it be interpreted within this context. As outlined in Gershenhorn 2004, Herskovits examined regional traditions in multiple forms of expression, including art, music, and dance, arguing that these trends represented a persistent cultural memory among modern black Americans, most of whom were generations removed from Africa. Although he advanced the cause of racial equality in the United States, Herskovits was criticized for “intellectual colonialism”—his appropriation of the right to define black identity, particularly from his perspective as a powerful outsider. This issue is dramatically presented in the film Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness (Smith 2009; see also Independent Lens: Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness).

  • Baker, Lee. 1998. From savage to Negro: Anthropology and the construction of race, 1896–1954. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This history focuses on the years between two landmark US Supreme Court decisions impacting race relations (Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education) in exploring the public meaning of racial categories and how these meanings are impacted by anthropology, popular culture, and the law. Special attention is given to the Boasian shift from classifications based on Social Darwinism to those based on cultural relativism.

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  • Benedict, Ruth, and Gene Weltfish. 1946. The Races of Mankind. Public Affairs Pamphlet 85. New York: Public Affairs Committee.

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    Created at Boas’s behest, this popular pamphlet constitutes a distillation of Boas’s understanding of race. It was intended to counteract the misrepresentations that Boas identified in the late 1930s in his study of American high school textbooks.

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  • Gershenhorn, Jerry. 2004. Melville J. Herskovits and the racial politics of knowledge. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    Scholarly biography chronicling Herskovits’s life from his graduate studies at Columbia University to his leadership at Northwestern and ultimate death in 1963. Gershenhorn is particularly concerned with how Herskovits’s work intersects with racial politics, and he closely details Herskovits’s transition from assimilationist to cultural relativist, while highlighting the theorist’s controversial commitment to “objectivity” and detached scholarship.

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  • Hyatt, Marshall. 1990. Franz Boas, social activist: The dynamics of ethnicity. New York: Greenwood.

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    A focused biographical account of Boas’s involvement with social issues pertaining to the anthropological understanding of race. This work draws heavily of Herskovits’s previous biography, Franz Boas: The Science of Man in the Making (New York: Scribner, 1953).

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  • Independent Lens: Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness.

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    PBS site devoted to the 2009 production Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness (Smith 2009). Includes a synopsis, background on film production and the filmmakers, a related discussion board, and additional Internet resources, including access to the Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern, the largest collection of academic Africana in the United States.

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  • Jackson, John P., Jr., and Nadine M. Weidman. 2006. Race, racism, and science: Social impact and interaction. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Textbook profiling the chronological development of racial categories and the study of race within genetics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Chapter 5 deals specifically with the Boasian critique of ethnocentric comparisons and racism. The authors focus on Boas but include a brief treatment of Herskovits as well. Chapter concludes with a helpful bibliographic essay.

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  • Smith, Llewellyn M., dir. 2009. Herskovits at the heart of blackness. DVD. Berkeley, CA: California Newsreel.

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    This film characterizes Herskovits as the “Elvis of anthropology”—a man who appropriated African culture while simultaneously mainstreaming its study. The film focuses on issues of representation and the ability to “speak for” a culture. It received critical acclaim as winner of the American Historical Association’s John E. Connor Film Award and the Best Documentary Award at the Hollywood Black Film Festival.

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  • Williams, Vernon J., Jr. 1996. Rethinking race: Franz Boas and his contemporaries. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky.

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    A balanced portrayal of Boas’s struggle to understand the importance of race in America at the turn of the 20th century and his impact on the study of US race relations today. Williams focuses on the analysis of Boas’s writing from the 1890s to 1920s; his association with, and influence upon, African-American intellectuals; and his link to theories of race relations by Robert Park and E. Franklin Frazier.

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Functionalism

One of the more interesting theoretical applications of the concept of ethnocentrism comes from the critique of functionalism, a school of thought arising in British social anthropology in the early 20th century, which is largely characterized in the work of Bronislaw Malinowski (Malinowski 1984) and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (Radcliffe-Brown 1965, Radcliffe-Brown 1964). Taking a synchronic approach, these theorists saw society as an organism with multiple parts that must function in harmony to maintain the social structure. Drawing on this organismic analogy, Malinowski focused on how cultural institutions met the individual’s basic physical or psychological needs (psychological functionalism), while Radcliffe-Brown concentrated on the ways in which ritual activity and cultural institutions maintained social cohesion (structural functionalism). Both approaches can be characterized as etic as they aspire to objectivity and the natural science model. Malinowski 1984, for example, makes clear that the Trobriand Islanders themselves lack an understanding of the “total outline” of their social structure, which must be ascertained by a neutral outside observer. Gould 1966 argues that this understanding is accomplished through a distortion of the data based on the imposition of Western cultural values—specifically the imperative for rationality—and is ultimately ethnocentric. He views the functionalist project as an attempt to “rationalize nonrational cultural and social forms” by highlighting selective characteristics. This process assumes an underlying value standard, which cultures are able to meet only through functionalist repackaging. Ultimately, Gould 1966 sees functionalism as a misguided attempt to reconcile ethnocentric impulses with the anthropological commitment to cultural relativism. Gellner 2003 offers a more widely read, sophisticated elaboration of this argument, while Asad 1986 provides a summary and critical analysis of Gellner’s essay in the context of cultural translation and ethnographic representation. As a student of British social anthropology, Adam Kuper contributes a more sympathetic overview of this theoretical perspective (Kuper 1973), supplying a counterpoint to the critique. Individuals interested in a neutral summary of functionalist thought should consult Stocking 1988.

  • Asad, Talal. 1986. The concept of cultural translation in British social anthropology. In Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography. Edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 141–164. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Asad concisely summarizes Gellner’s 1973 essay (see Gellner 2003) on ethnocentrism’s impact on the functionalist interpretation of culture while providing a critique highlighting the implications of these ideas for ethnographic writing

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  • Gellner, Ernest. 2003. Concepts and society. In Selected philosophical themes: Cause and meaning in the social sciences. By Ernest Gellner,19–45. London: Routledge.

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    Classic essay on the tendency for functionalist anthropologists to interpret alien cultural practices and beliefs within a social context that rationalizes them—an interpretive method that often resorts to distortion for its positive characterizations, or “excessive charity.” Essay is well referenced and illustrates its points using conceptual diagrams and field examples from Gellner’s work among the central Moroccan Berbers. Originally published in 1973.

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  • Gould, N. 1966. Functionalism as rationalization: An analysis of ethnocentric bias in anthropological theory. Anthropology Quarterly 39.4: 255–264.

    DOI: 10.2307/3316907Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article predates the Gellner’s 1973 classic (see Gellner 2003), providing the same basic argument in more approachable language while citing examples from the anthropology of religion. In contrast to Gellner, Gould expends significant energy establishing the functionalist perspective as inherently ethnocentric, making it a good introduction to the general argument.

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  • Kuper, Adam. 1973. Anthropologists and anthropology. London: Allen Lane.

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    A detailed treatment of British social anthropology from 1922 to 1972, focusing on Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and their students. As a theorist trained in this tradition, Kuper provides a sympathetic, insider perspective that serves as a counterbalance to the criticisms and charges of ethnocentrism profiled in the accompanying references.

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1984. Argonauts of the western Pacific. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

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    Malinowski’s acclaimed ethnography of the Trobriand Islanders demonstrates the early application of psychological functionalism, particularly in chapter 3, in which he begins his discussion of the Kula as a rational system directed toward nonrational ends. Originally published in 1922 (London: Routledge).

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  • Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred. 1964. The Andaman islanders. New York: Free Press.

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    Radcliffe-Brown’s most notable ethnography, which demonstrate the application of the structural functionalist paradigm. Originally published in 1922 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press).

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  • Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred. 1965. Structure and function in primitive society. New York: Free Press.

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    This later work by Radcliffe-Brown describes the theory of structural functionalism, which he pioneered and developed over the course of his career.

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  • Stocking, George W., Jr. 1988. Radcliffe-Brown and British social anthropology. In Functionalism historicized: Essays on British social anthropology. Edited by George W. Stocking Jr., 131–191. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    Part of a collection of essays on British social anthropology highlighting functionalism, this article provides a detailed assessment of the mid-century era.

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Malinowski’s Personal Writings

Ethnocentrism has been linked to Functionalism both as an inherent feature of the theory’s rationalizing mandate and as a result of the personal writings of one of the school’s primary theorists, Bronislaw Malinowski (Malinowski 1989). While Malinowski was originally recognized for his detailed, empathetic descriptions of Trobriand life, his posthumously published diary revealed far less flattering portrayals of his informants; Hsu 1979 notes a total of sixty-nine entries in which Malinowski expressed varying degrees of aversion toward them, ranging from irritation to anger to hatred. As these condemnations reflect assumptions of racial and cultural superiority, they do fall under the established definition of ethnocentrism. Yet, as demonstrated in Rapport 1990 and Ellen, et al. 1988, a need exists to interpret Malinowski’s comments in the context of the time and with respect to his personal history. Hsu 1979 is notable in that the author questions the implications of Malinowski’s emotional response for the validity of his trademark methodology: participant observation. As classically described in Pike 1967, the goal of this method is to allow the ethnographer to think and behave like the community members under study, ultimately contributing to the development of an insider’s point of view. Hsu uses Malinowski’s diary as his primary example in arguing in Hsu 1979 that the hidden ethnocentrism of Western ethnographers impedes their ability to relate to informants and approximate an emic understanding of culture even with extensive participant observation.

  • Ellen, Roy, Ernest Gellner, Grazyna Kubica, and J. Mucha, eds. 1988. Malinowski between two worlds: The Polish roots of an anthropological tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A collection of essays that investigate Malinowski’s Polish background and personal history, providing a necessary context for the interpretation of his private writings.

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  • Hsu, Francis L. K. 1979. The cultural problem of the cultural anthropologist. American Anthropologist 81.3: 517–532.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1979.81.3.02a00010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hsu’s critique of the bias present in Malinowski’s diary is notable for its focus on the implications for methodology and the accurate description of culture when the ethnographer does not have an affective connection to the population under study. While maintaining that all human societies are ethnocentric, Hsu establishes a noteworthy distinction between forms of positive and neutral ethnocentrism.

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1989. A diary in the strict sense of the term. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    Malinowski’s infamous account of his fieldwork experiences, including a preface from his wife, Valetta; a notably sympathetic introduction by Raymond Firth; an index of indigenous terms; and a set of illustrations. Originally published in 1967 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World).

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  • Pike, Kenneth Lee. 1967. Language in relation to a unified theory of structure of human behavior. The Hague: Mouton.

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    In describing the basic distinctions between emic and etic approaches to anthropology, Pike in this classic text provides necessary background, clarifying the critique of Malinowski in Hsu 1979 and the possibility of valid ethnographic description in the absence of empathy.

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  • Rapport, Nigel. 1990. Surely everything has already been said about Malinowski’s diary! Anthropology Today 6.1: 5–9.

    DOI: 10.2307/3033181Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brief summary of the multiple interpretations of Malinowski’s diary. Bibliography provides access to numerous book reviews, and this article is recommended as a starting point for assessing the diary’s significance to anthropology.

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Postmodern Thought

As framed in Perry 2003, postmodern anthropology is the application of cultural relativism as a self-critique. Postmodernism highlights the problematic role of the anthropologist as a cultural outsider describing the social reality of another culture, suggesting that such descriptions impose a foreign version of reality, often along a power differential. In short, postmodernism questions the possibility of anthropological detachment and scientific neutrality. Following on philosopher Martin Heidegger, it assumes that all human knowledge has a particular bias based on culture, context, or history, making it impossible to interpret the world without an element of ethnocentrism. This critique had important implications for research methods, particularly fieldwork and ethnographic writing. Standard rhetorical techniques, such as the absence of the first person and the use of the ethnographic present, have been condemned by this school of thought for falsely establishing an omniscient narrator and promoting a sense of scientific objectivity. The temporal distancing of the modern, immediately present ethnographer from his or her informant is particularly well described in Fabian 1983 and di Leonardo 1998. While Perry 2003 views postmodernism as an unforeseen development in anthropology thought, Darnell 2001, Knauft 1996, and Spiro 1996 emphasize elements of continuity with Darnell 2001 and Spiro 1996 focusing on connections with the cultural relativity of earlier Boasian Anthropology.

  • Darnell, Regna. 2001. Invisible genealogies: A history of Americanist anthropology. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    This interpretation of the history of American anthropology emphasizes the continuity between postmodern theory; the early work of Franz Boas, A. L. Kroeber, Ruth Benedict, Edward Sapir, Elsie Clew Parsons, Paul Radin, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and A. Irving Hallowell; and more recent theoretical work by Claude Lévi-Strauss and Clifford Geertz.

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  • di Leonardo, Micaela. 1998. Exotics at home: Anthropologies, others, and American modernity. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Characterizing modernity as the creation of otherness, di Leonardo critiques anthropology’s use of ethnic minorities and women as domestic research subjects, noting the ways in which these groups are constructed as localized exotics. Aside from being a fascinating read, this book clearly illustrates the postmodern critique.

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  • Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the other: How anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    A historical assessment of anthropology focusing on the discipline’s use of time to other its research subjects. This argument that anthropologists temporally separate themselves from the “savage,” the “primitive,” and the underdeveloped world is an important aspect of the postmodern critique.

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  • Knauft, Bruce M.. 1996. Genealogies for the present in cultural anthropology. New York: Routledge.

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    A reconsideration of the postmodern trend in cultural anthropology, which emphasizes its place in the larger history of the discipline and connection to research methods. Knauft is notable for his combination of ethnographic examples and theoretical abstraction. Chapter 3, “Pushing Anthropology Past the Posts” is particularly relevant.

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  • Perry, Richard J. 2003. The idea of relativism. In Five concepts in anthropological thinking. By Richard J. Perry, 159–188. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    Discusses cultural relativism and the avoidance of ethnocentric assumptions as the basis for the anthropological self-critique of the postmodern movement.

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  • Spiro, M. E. 1996. Postmodernist anthropology, subjectivity, and science: A modernist critique. Comparative Studies in Society and History 38.4: 759–780.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0010417500020521Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against anthropological postmodernism, noting that the postmodern conception of subjectivity has been a recognized critique since the founding of the culture and personality school. Spiro expresses further concern over the implications of the postmodern critique of science and the scientific method.

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Sociocultural Anthropology

The study of ethnocentrism in sociocultural anthropology largely follows the Historical Background and Temporal Trends for the discipline as a whole. Few major contemporary works address this topic directly, although the need for cultural relativism is a ubiquitous underlying concern. The standard definition of ethnocentrism within this subdiscipline draws on Boasian Anthropology, conceptualizing ethnocentrism, as Herskovits 1948 does, as a form of cultural chauvinism—conscious or unconscious—that must be recognized and combated. Much of contemporary anthropology refocuses these concerns as a form of self-critique, highlighting the problematic role of the anthropologist as a cultural outsider describing the social reality of another culture often along a power differential (see Postmodern Thought). Other sociocultural theorists have characterized anthropological ethnocentrism as the result of a misunderstanding of the culture concept and a related misapplication of cultural boundaries based on existing stereotypes, suggesting that the solution is a renewed emphasis on research methods (see Handwerker 2002). Researchers such as Cashdan (Cashdan 2001), who continue to apply a comparative methodology based on G. P. Murdock’s work, tend to focus on the definition of ethnocentrism as in-group consciousness in Murdock 1949, questioning whether loyalty to the in-group is found in combination with out-group hostility or stressors such as warfare or famine, and aligning their work with the conceptual categories applied in Biological or Physical Anthropology.

  • Cashdan, Elizabeth. 2001. Ethnocentrism and xenophobia: A cross-cultural study. Current Anthropology 42.5: 760–765.

    DOI: 10.1086/323821Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using the standard cross-cultural sample of 186 societies from the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF), Cashdan investigates connections between ethnocentrism (defined as in-group loyalty), out-group hostility, warfare, and famine.

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  • Handwerker, W. Penn. 2002. The construct validity of cultures: Cultural diversity, culture theory, and a method for ethnography. American Anthropologist 104.1: 106–122.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2002.104.1.106Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Handwerker argues for the distinction between culture embodied in individuals and cultures embodied in the superorganic properties of groups. More than a purely theoretical argument, this article demonstrates how this change in perspective is reflected in the methodology supporting an applied project.

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  • Herskovits, Melville J. 1948. Man and his works. New York: Knopf.

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    This text provides a classic formulation of ethnocentrism as a feeling of superiority regarding one’s own culture or way of life. This conception characterizes much of the work on ethnocentrism within sociocultural anthropology, particularly its call for cultural relativism.

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  • Murdock, George P. 1949. Social structure. New York: Macmillan.

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    Pages 83–84 provide an alternative understanding of the concept of ethnocentrism, defining it as a “tendency to exalt the in-group and to depreciate other groups.” This understanding has been applied to cross-cultural research within sociocultural anthropology and adaptive theories in biological anthropology.

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Biological or Physical Anthropology

Within biological or physical anthropology, ethnocentrism is more commonly characterized as an adaptive form of in-group favoritism rather than the social critique this term entails in Sociocultural Anthropology. Using a sociobiology perspective, the bulk of this work attempts to explain ethnocentric behavior in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory, specifically differential reproductive success as aptly demonstrated in the seminal anthology in Reynolds, et al. 1987. Two major debates characterize this literature. First, should ethnocentrism be operationalized as the combination of in-group favoritism and out-group hostility (xenophobia) as classically defined in Levine and Campbell 1972 or should it be uncoupled from xenophobia as argued in van den Berghe 1999? Second, at what level does ethnocentrism become adaptive—for individual or group selection? Reeve and Keller 1999 provides a balanced discussion of the history of this issue with suggestions for its resolution and next-step research questions, while Jones 2000 introduces the helpful concept of “group nepotism.” The sociobiology perspective has been heavily criticized as reductionist for its nearly exclusive focus on reproductive success and population genetics, which is said to overlook the importance of cultural influences, pushing much of the relevant research into other academic disciplines, such as psychology and biology (see Interdisciplinary Connections). Yet the authors in Campbell 1975 and Boyd and Richerson 1982 have been careful to include discussions of cultural transmission in their work, undercutting this criticism to some extent. While in-group favoritism may certainly be promoted by Darwinian fitness and the understanding of other group members as kin, authors such as Whitmeyer (Whitmeyer 1997) suggest that ethnic ties are also maintained by the perception of fellow group members as potential marriage partners—promoting ethnocentrism through both nepotism and reciprocity. Recent publications with the subfield of biological anthropology have increasingly emphasized the adaptive potential of ethnocentrism as a form of antipathogen protection and Disease Avoidance.

  • Boyd, R., and P. J. Richerson. 1982. Cultural transmission and the evolution of cooperative behavior. Human Ecology 10.3: 325–351.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01531189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors argue for the mediating influence of culture on human cooperation, stating that both cultural and genetic traits are transmitted but according to different transmission rules. They emphasize the concept and importance of group selection when considering the adaptive importance of cooperation.

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  • Campbell, Donald T. 1975. On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psychology and moral tradition. Zygon 11.3: 167–208.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9744.1976.tb00277.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work introduces the idea that human urban social complexity is the product of both biological and social evolution and that the altruistic nature of most formalized moral teachings is indicative of “group selection,” that is, a higher frequency of transmission for cultural traits that enhance group success.

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  • Jones, Douglas. 2000. Group nepotism and human kinship. Current Anthropology 41.5: 779–809.

    DOI: 10.1086/317406Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jones establishes the concept of “group nepotism” to account for the fact that individuals favor in-group members even when they are distant or fictive kin and there is no expectation of reciprocity. Beyond kin selection, he suggests that altruism occurs when an individual is considered a group member and there is an enforced mutual altruism among such members.

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  • Levine, Robert A., and Donald T. Campbell. 1972. Ethnocentrism: Theories of conflict, ethnic attitudes, and group behavior. New York: Wiley.

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    This classic work draws on literature from anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics to define ethnocentrism as a set of twenty-three characteristics, nine of which are attitudes toward a perceived in-group (e.g., perceptions of superiority and virtue, sanctions against murder and theft) and fourteen of which are toward a perceived out-group (e.g., blaming, distrust, and fear). Evolutionary theories are specifically discussed in Part 2 of the book.

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  • Reeve, H. Kern, and Laurent Keller. 1999. Levels of selection: Burying the units-of-selection debate and unearthing the crucial new issues. In Levels of selection in evolution. Edited by Laurent Keller, 3–14. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Explores the emerging research questions that replace previous debates concerning the relative importance of group versus individual selection.

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  • Reynolds, Vernon, Vincent Falger, and Ian Vine, eds. 1987. The sociobiology of ethnocentrism: Evolutionary dimensions of xenophobia, discrimination, racism and nationalism. London: Croom Helm.

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    Seminal anthology applying a sociobiology perspective to the concepts of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. The often-cited initial literature review by van der Dennen provides a comprehensive introduction, which is followed by five theoretical chapters and three empirical studies in which sociobiology is presented as a unifying framework. The final sections then connect the sociobiology of ethnocentrism to political issues.

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  • van den Berghe, Pierre L. 1999. Racism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia: In our genes or in our memes? In In-group/out-group behaviour in modern societies: An evolutionary perspective. Edited by Kristiaan Thienpont and Robert Cliquet, 21–33. Brussels: Vlaamse Gemeenschap.

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    Unique argument for the uncoupling of xenophobia and in-group favoritism as a singular concept: ethnocentrism.

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  • Whitmeyer, Joseph M. 1997. Endogamy as a basis for ethnic behavior. Sociological Theory 15:152–178.

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    A novel piece suggesting that in-group favoritism is promoted by the understanding of other group members not only as kin (however distant), but also as potential marriage partners or in-laws, thus emphasizing the dual forces of nepotism and reciprocity in maintaining ethnic ties.

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Disease Avoidance

Within Biological or Physical Anthropology, theorists have increasingly focused on how parasites and their hosts co-evolve, leading to spatial variation in disease risk and locally adaptive immunity as discussed in Ewald 1994 and Graham, et al. 2005. What this means in the context of ethnocentrism is that reduced interaction with out-group members and a preference for the local group (who are immunologically adapted for the area) may decrease exposure and vulnerability to disease as recently outlined in Schaller and Duncan 2007. The early work of Faulkner, et al. 2004 has demonstrated that individuals who experience anxiety in regards to illness are more likely to associate unfamiliar immigrant groups with danger, feel negatively toward them, and favor policies blocking their immigration— tendencies that the authors link to a biologically based adaptive response. Navarrete and Fessler 2006 expands on this model of ethnocentrism to include not just xenophobia but a corresponding in-group attraction, as fellow group members would ostensibly provide care in the event of illness. Related work uses this model to explain elevated expressions of ethnocentrism during the first trimester of pregnancy (Navarrete, et al. 2007) and increased religious diversity in the tropics as a result of higher disease risk (Fincher and Thornhill 2008).

  • Ewald, P. W. 1994. Evolution of infectious disease. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Applies findings from evolutionary biology to the health sciences, using historical literature on infectious diseases to demonstrate the benefit of an evolutionary perspective for health policy and infection control. This is an approachable, introductory text written for a popular audience.

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  • Faulkner, Jason, Mark Schaller, Justin H. Park, and Lesley A. Duncan. 2004. Evolved disease-avoidance mechanisms and contemporary xenophobic attitudes. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations 7:333–353.

    DOI: 10.1177/1368430204046142Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article documents the correlation between consistent disease-related anxiety, the association of foreign out-groups with danger, and negative feelings toward unfamiliar immigrant groups along with experimental results that indicate that individuals feel less positive about unfamiliar immigrant groups and are more likely to endorse policies favoring the immigration of familiar rather than unknown groups as disease salience increases. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fincher, Corey L., and Randy Thornhill. 2008. Assortative sociality, limited dispersal, infectious disease and the genesis of the global pattern of religion diversity. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences 275:2587–2594.

    DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0688Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors explain increased religious diversity in the tropics as a result of higher disease risk, which promotes reduced interactions with out-group members and a preference for local affiliates who are immunologically adapted to the immediate area and less likely to be infected with dangerous parasites. The limited dispersal and intergroup boundaries isolate and fracture the original culture, producing multiple, new cultural groups and corresponding religious diversity. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Graham, Andrea L., Judith E. Allen, and Andrew F. Read. 2005. Evolutionary causes and consequences of immunopathology. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 36:373–397.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.36.102003.152622Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A more specialized work dealing with the potential for immune responses to cause disease (immunopathology) and reasons for the persistence of immunopathology in the face of natural selection. Includes a useful discussion of parasite-host co-evolution.

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  • Navarrete, Carlos D., and Daniel M. T. Fessler. 2006. Disease avoidance and ethnocentrism: The effects of disease vulnerability and disgust sensitivity on intergroup attitudes. Evolution and Human Behavior 27:270–282.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2005.12.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article extends the model of ethnocentrism developed by Faulkner, et al. 2004 to include both xenophobia as a product of disease avoidance and in-group attraction as a potential source of care in the event of illness.

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  • Navarrete, Carlos D., Daniel M. T. Fessler, and Serena J. Eng. 2007. Elevated ethnocentrism in the first trimester of pregnancy. Evolution and Human Behavior 28:60–65.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2006.06.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on a disease-threat model, the authors demonstrate that in-group favoritism or ethnocentrism peaks during the first trimester of pregnancy and decreases during the second and third trimesters, paralleling a woman’s decreasing vulnerability to infection.

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  • Schaller, Mark, and Lesley A. Duncan. 2007. The behavioral immune system: Its evolution and social psychological implications. In Evolution and the social mind. Edited by Joseph P. Forgas, Martie G. Haselton and William von Hippel, 293–307. New York: Psychology Press.

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    A review of evidence for the connection between xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and the avoidance and maintenance of infectious disease.

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Linguistic Anthropology

The study of ethnocentrism in linguistic anthropology follows two basic trends, paralleling either the critique of ethnocentric behaviors and worldviews seen in Sociocultural Anthropology or the understanding of ethnocentrism as an adaptive form of in-group favoritism seen in Biological or Physical Anthropology. The former trend has a long history dating back to the work of Franz Boas, the recognized founder of American anthropology, and an outspoken proponent of cultural relativism (i.e., the rejection of universal cultural standards). As part of his commitment to linguistic competency and the integration of anthropology’s four subfields (see Boasian Anthropology), Boas wrote on Native American languages and issues of language classification. His most important contribution (Boas 1982) was a refutation of Daniel Garrison Brinton’s ethnocentric assertion that alternating sounds were evidence of inconsistency and the linguistic inferiority of Native American languages. This legacy of validating unfamiliar linguistic traditions in the face of ethnocentric critiques can be seen in more recent work on Ebonics or African American Language (AAL). The argument in Boas 1982 redefined documented inconsistencies in pronunciation as an artifact of researcher perception, foreshadowing the critical distinction between emics and etics in Pike 1967. Much of the process of avoiding ethnocentrism today is the recognition and valuing of the emic perspective of cultural insiders—a concept that originated within linguistic anthropology. Moreover, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language shapes worldview (see Whorf 1941) has influenced numerous linguistic works focusing on how language use both reflects and supports ethnocentric belief systems as demonstrated by Hill (Hill 1999, Hill 2008). Linguistic anthropology has also been vital to the study of ethnocentrism as selective favoritism toward one’s in-group as characterized by much of sociobiology. Nettle and Dunbar 1997, for example, sees language as an important identity marker and proposes that the evolution of language can be explained by this social function. Ultimately, language is seen as a reliable commitment marker, or honest signal of group identity, that can be used to target in-group altruism (ethnocentrism) and out-group hostility (xenophobia) as outlined in Nettle 1999 and Fitch 2004.

  • Boas, Franz. 1982. On alternating sounds. In The shaping of American anthropology, 1883–1911: A Franz Boas reader. Edited by George W. Stocking Jr., 72–76. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An early classic in linguistic anthropology in which Boas, the founder of American anthropology, argues for the equality of languages by dismissing the concepts of “alternating sounds” and “primitive languages.” Originally published in 1889.

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  • Fitch, W. Tecumseh. 2004. Kin selection and “mother tongues”: A neglected component of language evolution. In Evolution of communication systems: A comparative approach. Edited by D. Kimbrough Oller and Ulrike Griebel, 275–296. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Drawing on evolutionary theory, Fitch argues that “mother tongues” are systems of communication that have evolved in the context of kin selection and provide a guarantee of accurate communication as the product of kin loyalty and their inherent semantic complexity.

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  • Hill, Jane H. 1999. Language, race, and white public space. American Anthropologist 100.3: 680–689.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1998.100.3.680Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hill argues that “Mock Spanish”—the colloquial and pejorative insertion of positive or neutral Spanish words into English to be used in a humorous or negatives sense—is inherently ethnocentric as it reproduces racializing stereotypes and establishes “white” English as the normative discourse. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hill, Jane H. 2008. The everyday language of white racism. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444304732Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An expanded treatment of Hill’s earlier argument (see Hill 1999) regarding the ethnocentric usage of “Mock Spanish,” which she renames in part “faux Mexican.” This book-length version includes a more technical discussion of linguistic ideologies and copious, detailed examples.

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  • Nettle, Daniel. 1999. Language variation and the evolution of societies. In The evolution of culture. Edited by Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight, and Camilla Power, 214–227. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Nettle establishes language as a reliable commitment marker designating membership in a particular group. The basic premise is that learning and fully incorporating a language into one’s day-to-day life requires a substantial investment of time and effort, making it unlikely that it could be faked.

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  • Nettle, Daniel, and Robin I. M. Dunbar. 1997. Social markers and the evolution of reciprocal exchange. Current Anthropology 38:93–98.

    DOI: 10.1086/204588Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors argue that language is a means of establishing in-group/out-group identity, making reciprocal exchange in large groups beyond the bounds of direct personal acquaintance more stable. This article is particularly significant for its assertion that the social function of language is central to its evolution.

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  • Pike, Kenneth Lee. 1967. Language in relation to a unified theory of structure of human behavior. The Hague: Mouton.

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    Classic text describing the basic distinctions between emic and etic approaches to anthropology. In short, the emic perspective aspires to reproduce the meanings and understandings of the members of the culture, while the etic aims to be an objective, scientific account that may or may not be recognizable to members of the studied culture.

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  • Whorf, B. 1941. The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language. In Language, culture, and personality: Essays in memory of Edward Sapir. Edited by Leslie Spier, 75–93. Menasha, WI: Sapir Memorial Publication Fund.

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    Whorf’s renowned discussion of linguistic determinism, based on examples drawn from his work for the Hartford Insurance Company and his study of the Hopi language. These ideas have inspired decades of anthropological work on the connection between language and culture. Written in 1939.

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Ebonics or African American Language (AAL)

If we define ethnocentrism in the classic sense as a cultural bias in which an individual views the world from the perspective of his or her own group, establishing the in-group as archetypal and rating all other groups with reference to this ideal, the widespread condemnation of Ebonics or African American Language (AAL) can be viewed as a standard case of linguistic ethnocentrism. Despite existing work in Labov 1973, establishing Ebonics as an independent dialect with its own pronunciation and grammar rules, public outrage in response to the Oakland School Board’s 1997 proposal (LSA Resolution on the Oakland “Ebonics” Issue) to recognize Ebonics was widespread, making it a useful case study. A basic, approachable overview of the topic is provided by the website What Is Ebonics (African American Vernacular English)?, while relevant background on the origins of the dialect and a timeline for the Oakland debate can be found on the PBS website American Varieties. Baugh 2000 offers a scholarly treatment of the linguistic and political aspects of the Oakland School Board resolution from a sociolinguistic perspective. Also noteworthy are the position pieces compiled by the Linguistics Society of America and the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (Views of Linguists and Anthropologists on the Ebonics Issue (Part 1) and Views of Linguists and Anthropologists on the Ebonics Issue (Part 2)). The film Under the Cherry Moon (Prince 2004) is recommended as a pop-culture presentation of Ebonics as both a stigmatizing and an empowering form of communication.

  • American Varieties: African American English.

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    This website maintained by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is part of a larger educational initiative aimed at exploring the unique traits and varieties of American English. The site provides an overview of the history of Ebonics in relation to the African slave trade in addition to links to a timeline and an excellent set of Library of Congress audio recordings from former slaves and their descendants.

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  • Baugh, John. 2000. Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic pride and racial prejudice. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Balancing the personal standpoint of an African American with the professional understanding of a trained sociolinguist and education expert, Baugh provides a highly accessible, first-person narrative that explains the origins of Ebonics and the linguistic and political aspects of the Oakland School Board resolution.

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  • Labov, William. 1973. Language in the inner city: Studies in the black English vernacular. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    Classic text establishing black English vernacular (Ebonics) as a separate and independent dialect with its own rules for pronunciation and grammar. Labov’s analysis is noteworthy both for its timing, which predates much of the Ebonics debate, and its treatment of both standard conversation and ritualized insults and narratives.

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  • LSA Resolution on the Oakland “Ebonics” Issue.

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    Online copy of the 3 January 1997 resolution put forward by the Linguistics Society of America. This four-part statement asserts that Ebonics is a systematic, rule-governed form of speech, that the distinction between languages and dialects is often sociopolitical rather than linguistic, and that it is often educationally beneficial to recognize the legitimacy of nonstandard language variations. Aside from its interest as a primary document, it is well referenced.

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  • Prince, dir. 1986. Under the Cherry Moon. DVD. 2004. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.

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    While a critical and commercial flop, this black-and-white film, starred, scored, and directed by Prince, provides a cinematic example of the negotiation of class distinctions through the use of Ebonics. For instance, Christopher Tracy (Prince) and his partner, Tricky (Jerome Benton), employ the phrase “wrecka stow” to both distinguish themselves from, and gain an intellectual advantage over, French socialite and heiress Mary Shannon (Kristin Scott Thomas).

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  • Views of Linguists and Anthropologists on the Ebonics Issue (Part 1).

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    Online version of the February 1997 Society for Linguistic Anthropology column. Six academics discuss issues surrounding the Oakland School Board’s proposal to recognize Ebonics. Highlights include a summary of the technical differences between Ebonics and standard English; a discussion of the connections between African-American varieties of English and culture, social class, and geography; and a comparative case study from Grenada.

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  • Views of Linguists and Anthropologists on the Ebonics Issue (Part 2).

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    The second half of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology column offers viewpoints from three additional theorists, including an analysis of pertinent differences between students who speak Ebonics and students of English as a second language. A comprehensive bibliography of text and online sources is also included.

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  • What Is Ebonics (African American Vernacular English)?.

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    A basic overview composed by Stanford University professor of linguistics John Rickford for the Linguistic Society of America. Text is written for a popular audience but includes scholarly references.

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Archaeology

Archaeology has been both condemned as an ethnocentric, (neo)colonial enterprise, as demonstrated in McNiven and Russell 2005, and recommended as a means of countering the ethnocentric portrayals of nonliterate and indigenous societies within the historical record. The Kennewick Man controversy, thoughtfully detailed in Thomas 2000, highlights how assumptions concerning the primacy of scientific knowledge and discovery may be interpreted as ethnocentric when they are used to dismiss competing claims based on indigenous oral traditions. Many archeologists now recognize the need for sensitivity and paradigm change and recommend collaboration, particularly in the wake of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) as outlined in Ferguson 1996, although others (see Mason 2000) question the feasibility of meaningfully combining scientific and indigenous worldviews. Beyond such issues, archaeology has the clear potential to rectify existing biases in the historical record. As argued in Otto and Burns 1983 with respect to the authors’ work in the antebellum South, the study of material remains can be used to give voice to populations whose stories have been omitted from the written records of the powerful. This has clear applications for combating the ethnocentric histories of politically dominant groups as further demonstrated in Wells 2001 in an archaeologically based reinterpretation of pre-Roman Celtic and German societies.

  • Ferguson, T. J. 1996. Native Americans and the practice of archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology 25:63–79.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.25.1.63Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ferguson reviews some of the legal, political, social, and intellectual changes in the relationship between Native American populations and archaeologists following the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). He further reviews the underlying assumptions of archaeology and urges archaeologists to work in partnership with Native American groups.

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  • Mason, Ronald J. 2000. Archaeology and native North American oral traditions. American Antiquity 65.2: 239–266.

    DOI: 10.2307/2694058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Using both theoretical arguments and case studies, Mason challenges the inherent good of incorporating indigenous oral traditions into archaeological interpretations, asserting that these systems of knowledge are so profoundly different that they cannot be meaningfully integrated.

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  • McNiven, Ian J., and Lynette Russell. 2005. Appropriated pasts: Indigenous peoples and the colonial culture of archaeology. New York: AltaMira.

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    The authors review the colonial origins of archaeology and social science more generally while chronologically outlining a series of negative Western tropes that have been used to disassociate indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. Though drawing heavily on Australian archaeology, this text incorporates examples from Canada, southern Africa, and the United States and provides an excellent historical overview of anthropological theory as applied to archaeology.

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  • Otto, John S., and Augustus M. Burns III. 1983. Black folks and poor buckras: Archeological evidence of slave and overseer living conditions on an antebellum plantation. Journal of Black Studies 14.2: 185–200.

    DOI: 10.1177/002193478301400204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Otto and Burns make the case that archaeology can supply data on housing, household possessions, and diet for traditionally understudied populations in the antebellum South, thus filling in the gaps left by traditional narrative sources dedicated to the upper class. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Thomas, David H. 2000. Skull wars: Kennewick Man, archaeology, and the battle for Native American identity. New York: Basic Books.

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    Using the debate over Kennewick Man—a 9,000-year-old skeleton discovered in central Washington State in 1996—as his focal point, Thomas discusses the multiple interpretations of Native Americans by non-Indians and the complex interactions of race, scientific practice, politics, and history in this accessible, popular work.

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  • Wells, Peter S. 2001. The barbarians speak: How the conquered peoples shaped Roman Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Wells counters the traditional characterization of pre-Roman Celtic and German societies in Europe as politically simple, living in small settlements, and practicing human sacrifice. Rather than relying on accounts by Roman and Greek writers, Wells uses archaeological evidence to discuss farming, trade, religious ritual, and the relative impact of Roman influence on these communities.

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Applied Anthropology

Concern has been long-standing over perceived ethnocentric overtones in applied anthropology, as expressed in Embree 1950 in the World War II era and as emphasized more recently in Escobar 1991, a classic critique of development anthropology. Applied anthropology is ultimately anthropology put to use, often in the form of directed cultural change. The fear has been that such cultural change is based on an underlying assumption of the superiority of dominant Western culture, which is to be maintained at home and spread abroad—mirroring many of the preconceptions of nineteenth-century evolutionism. While such concerns serve as a valid and necessary check on the discipline, anthropological knowledge can usefully inform a number of contemporary issues, helping us to understand and combat ethnocentrism in the areas of education (Alim and Perry 2011), immigration policy (Faulkner, et al. 2004), and day-to-day social interaction (Chesler 1965; Park, et al. 2007). For example, Alim and Perry 2011 discusses the role of ethnocentrism and social prejudice in the differential recognition of Ebonics among federal agencies; Faulkner, et al. 2004 explains its role in the promotion of immigration policies that favor familiar immigrant groups over unknown groups, while Chesler 1965 and Park, et al. 2007 demonstrate that the same selective pressures that prompt ethnocentric behaviors lead to prejudicial attitudes against the physically disabled and the obese, respectively. Moreover, authors of works such as Suedfeld and Schaller 2002 have effectively linked ethnocentric portrayals of foreigners, ethnic minorities, and other out-groups as disease vectors (e.g., rats, cockroaches) to rationalizations of violence and ethnic cleansing with clear applications to issues of armed conflict and international relations.

  • Alim, H. S., and I. Perry. 2011. Lost in translation: Language, race and the DEA’s legitimization of Ebonics. Anthropology News 52.1: 20.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1556-3502.2011.52120.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief commentary on the decision by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to hire linguists proficient in Ebonics in light of the Oakland Ebonics controversy in the 1990s and the continued lack of recognition for Ebonics or African American Language at the US Department of Education. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Chesler, Mark A. 1965. Ethnocentrism and attitudes toward the physically disabled. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2.6: 877–882.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0022714Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Early research establishing a link between the expression of ethnocentrism toward ethnic minorities and the rejection of the physically disabled.

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  • Embree, J. F. 1950. A note on ethnocentrism in anthropology. American Anthropologist 52.3: 430–432.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.1950.52.3.02a00300Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Letter to the editor expressing concern over the rise of ethnocentrism in professional anthropology during the World War II era. This is a unique historical piece demonstrating the continuity of concerns over applied anthropology across time.

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  • Escobar, Arturo. 1991. Anthropology and the development encounter: The making and marketing of development anthropology. American Ethnologist 18.4: 658–682.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1991.18.4.02a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This critique of anthropological involvement in development work alleges that development anthropologists recycle conventional ethnocentric views of modernization, social change, and nonindustrial nations. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Faulkner, Jason, Mark Schaller, Justin H. Park, and Lesley A. Duncan. 2004. Evolved disease-avoidance mechanisms and contemporary xenophobic attitudes. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations 7:333–353.

    DOI: 10.1177/1368430204046142Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article documents the correlation between consistent disease-related anxiety, the association of foreign out-groups with danger, and negative feelings toward unfamiliar immigrant groups along with experimental results that indicate that individuals feel less positive about unfamiliar immigrant groups and are more likely to endorse policies favoring the immigration of familiar rather than unknown groups as disease salience increases.

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  • Park, Justin H., Mark Schaller, and Christian S. Crandall. 2007. Pathogen-avoidance mechanisms and the stigmatization of obese people. Evolution and Human Behavior 28:410–414.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2007.05.008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A two-part study establishing that (1) individuals who are consistently concerned about disease transmission have more negative attitudes toward the obese and (2) obesity is implicitly associated with disease, especially pathogen transmission.

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  • Suedfeld, Peter, and Mark Schaller. 2002. Authoritarianism and the Holocaust: Some cognitive and affective implications. In Understanding genocide: The social psychology of the Holocaust. Edited by Leonard S. Newman and Ralph Erber, 68–90. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This chapter documents the tendency to draw comparisons between foreigners, ethnic minorities, and other out-groups and animal vectors such as rats and cockroaches. Beyond implying an association with disease, these linguistic models can be used to rationalize violence as a means of infection control (e.g., “ethnic cleansing”).

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Interdisciplinary Connections

Though originating within anthropology, the study of ethnocentrism has expanded to a variety of disciplines, including biology, psychology, political science, and business and communication studies. Biological or Physical Anthropology draws heavily on the biological concepts of assortative interaction (see Wilson and Dugatkin 1997) and parasite-host co-evolution to explain ethnocentrism as a function of Darwinian fitness and disease avoidance, respectively. Work in political science—represented here by Hammond and Axelrod 2006—has contributed to, and expanded upon, computer modeling efforts within the subdiscipline, while recent work in experimental psychology is illuminating the biochemical basis of ethnocentrism (see de Dreu, et al. 2011). Early work in social psychology as exemplified in Sherif 1961 established that the more negative expressions of ethnocentrism are amenable to behavior modification—vital knowledge for the practice of Applied Anthropology—while Taylor and Jaggi 1974 helped to clarify the expression of ethnocentrism. Business and communication studies have successfully borrowed on the concept to better classify consumer behavior (Klein and Ettenson 1999) and explore individual efficacy in intercultural communication (Bennett and Bennett 2004). While these efforts are noteworthy, many such studies apply the concept uncritically without a corresponding understanding of the complexity of the culture concept, ironically risking stereotyping and ethnocentrism themselves as seen in the creation and interpretation of the generalized ethnocentrism scale (GENE) in Neuliep and McCroskey 1997.

  • Bennett, Janet M., and Milton J. Bennett. 2004. Developing intercultural sensitivity: An integrative approach to global and domestic diversity. In Handbook of intercultural training. Edited by Daniel Landis, Janet M. Bennett, and Milton J. Bennett, 147–165. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    Outlines the basic approach to ethnocentrism in communication studies, characterizing it as a component of intercultural communication sensitivity. The authors present a six-stage Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) in which the first three stages (denial, defense, and minimization) are understood as ethnocentric behaviors.

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  • de Dreu, Carsten K. W., Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf. 2011. Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (January 10).

    DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015316108Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this recent experimental psychology study, researchers manipulated brain oxytocin to enhance in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group directed hostility, suggesting that this peptide may play a role in intergroup conflict and violence.

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  • Hammond, Ross A., and Robert A. Axelrod. 2006. The evolution of ethnocentrism. Journal of Conflict Resolution 50:926–936.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022002706293470Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this well-cited article from political science, the authors use an agent-based, evolutionary model based on the prisoner’s dilemma to demonstrate that in instances in which cooperation is particularly costly in terms of individual fitness, ethnocentrism (defined here as in-group favoritism) may be necessary to sustain cooperation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Klein, Jill, and Richard Ettenson. 1999. Consumer animosity and consumer ethnocentrism: An analysis of unique antecedents. Journal of International Consumer Marketing 11:5–24.

    DOI: 10.1300/J046v11n04_02Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article explores the impact of ethnocentrism on consumer purchasing behavior, differentiating the preference for domestic products on the basis of their affiliation with the in-group rather than any intrinsic merit (consumer ethnocentrism) from purchasing decisions that discriminate against a specific exporting nation (consumer animosity).

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  • Neuliep, J. W., and J. C. McCroskey. 1997. Development of a U.S. and generalized ethnocentrism scale. Communication Research Reports 14:385–398.

    DOI: 10.1080/08824099709388682Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Operating under the assumption that ethnocentrism is an obstacle to effective intercultural communication, the authors introduce an ostensibly cross-culturally relevant, generalized ethnocentrism scale (GENE), which has since become the standard in communication studies.

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  • Sherif, Muzafer. 1961. Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The robbers cave experiment. Norman, OK: Univ. Book Exchange.

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    A classic in experimental social psychology and intergroup relations in which two groups of adolescent boys attending a summer camp were differentially prompted toward ethnocentrism and then cooperation, demonstrating the extent to which context, goals, and external manipulation can influence intergroup behavior.

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  • Taylor, Donald M., and Vaishna Jaggi. 1974. Ethnocentrism and causal attribution in a south Indian context. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 5:162–171.

    DOI: 10.1177/002202217400500202Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first experimental psychology study to demonstrate ethnocentric attribution: the tendency to attribute causes of positive behavior to internal factors (personality traits) and causes of negative behavior to external factors (environmental conditions, social pressure) for members of the in-group, while reversing this attribution standard for out-group members. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wilson, David S., and Lee A. Dugatkin. 1997. Group selection and assortative interactions. American Naturalist 149:336–351.

    DOI: 10.1086/285993Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains the concept of “assortative interaction,” selective contact based on information acquired from experience or cultural transmission, as a means of creating variation among groups.

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LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0045

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