Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
ethnocentricism Sometimes described as the cardinal sin of the comparative method, this is the practice of studying and making judgements about other societies in terms of one's own cultural assumptions or bias. Ethnocentricism often suggests that the way something is done in other societies is inferior to the way it is done in one's own society. It is only by escaping the preconception that there is one correct way of organizing things that sociologists can begin to analyse the practices of other cultures in the context in which they are performed. Avoidance of ethnocentricism quickly became one of the main tenets of social anthropology and comparative sociology after the turn of the century. However, pushed to extremes, this principle can make comparative analyses so relativistic that it becomes impossible to apply any universal cognitive or evaluative criteria—such as, for example, criteria of rationality or universal moral standards. See also OBSERVER BIAS.