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Culture.pdf - 18 CHAPTER 1 • Anthropology Inuit T TRY THIS...

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18CHAPTER 1• Anthropologyfeel about it. Now, consider a person who is not an Inuit making thisstatement: “The Inuit have the repulsive custom of eating raw seal liver.”This is an ethnocentric statement because the termrepulsiveevaluates theeating of raw liver from the cultural viewpoint of the speaker.Ethnocentrism is a part of everyone and of every culture. We alljudge other cultures’ customs and behaviors based on our own customsand behaviors. Ethnocentrism is socially transmitted. One rarely speaksof it, and even your best friend will only rarely tell you that it is showing.Its symptoms can appear at any time, but they are most apparent whentraveling in another country or watching a television program concern-ing other cultures. A trip to your local shopping center may also triggerethnocentrism if you encounter people of other cultures and subcultureswho dress, speak, and act differently than you do. It is important to rec-ognize that cultural ethnocentrism is different from egocentrism, whereone makes negative value judgments that are based on personal belief orbehavior. Ethnocentrism is based on the culture of a social group.Ethnocentrism can lead to conflict and misunderstanding. It can beconsidered to have adaptive value, however, because it may create socialcohesion and help to hold a group together. The approach of culturalrelativism, by contrast, can lead to an appreciation for, and understand-ing of, other cultures. In the previous example, a person with a relativisticapproach to world cultures would acknowledge that raw seal liver is dif-ferent from the food she eats. Further, she would acknowledge that if shegrew up in a culture where parents and siblings all ate raw liver, she wouldprobably enjoy eating it too.Taking a perspective of cultural relativism does not mean that youshould start eating raw meat. It means that you understand that behavioraldifferences, and the values behind them, are learned and are simply differ-ent. Such an approach can contribute to greater awareness, tolerance, andacceptance of people with different cultural backgrounds. Throughout thehistory of cultural anthropology as an academic discipline, the perspectiveof cultural relativism has guided research efforts. Figure 1.3 shows that areliance on fieldwork, the comparative method, and a holistic perspective,together with cultural relativism, combine to make anthropology a uniqueacademic discipline.Should There Be Any Universal Values?It seems reasonable to be relativistic about food preferences and modesof food consumption. But how can an American be culturally relativisticabout practices such as female circumcision? Most Americans and peo-ples of many other cultures would say unequivocally that this practice iswrong, bad, evil. Why? If we are being completely candid, we would haveto admit that it is wrong mainly because we don’t do it. We would citeInuitCould you eat raw liver foryour next meal? Is it pos-sible for anyone to set asideall of their ethnocentricattitudes?

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