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Cultural relativism

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Cultural relativism is a principle that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas and later popularized by his students.

Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes."[9] Although, Boas did not coin the term, it became common among anthropologists after Boas' death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed. Boas believed that the sweep of cultures, to be found in connection with any sub-species, is so vast and pervasive that there cannot be a relationship between culture and race.[10] Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims require a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate.

This principle should not be confused with moral relativism.

Cultural relativism was in part a response to Western ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism may take obvious forms, in which one consciously believes that one's people's arts are the most beautiful, values the most virtuous, and beliefs the most truthful. Franz Boas, originally trained in physics and geography, and heavily influenced by the thought of Kant, Herder, and von Humboldt, argued that one's culture may mediate and thus limit one's perceptions in less obvious ways. This understanding of culture confronts anthropologists with two problems: first, how to escape the unconscious bonds of one's own culture, which inevitably bias our perceptions of and reactions to the world, and second, how to make sense of an unfamiliar culture. The principle of cultural relativism thus forced anthropologists to develop innovative methods and heuristic strategies.

Cultural relativism is a principle that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes."[1] However, Boas did not coin the term.

The first use of the term recorded in the Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie's "extreme cultural relativism", found in the latter's 1917 book Culture and Ethnology.[2] The term became common among anthropologists after Boas' death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed.

Relativism. Forms of relativism[edit] Anthropological versus philosophical relativism[edit] Anthropological relativism refers to a methodological stance, in which the researcher suspends (or brackets) his or her own cultural biases while attempting to understand beliefs and behaviors in their local contexts.

Relativism

This has become known as methodological relativism, and concerns itself specifically with avoiding ethnocentrism or the application of one's own cultural standards to the assessment of other cultures.[3] This is also the basis of the so-called "emic" and "etic" distinction, in which: Cultural relativism. Compare moral relativism, aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, and cognitive relativism.

Cultural relativism

Cultural relativism is a principle that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: "...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes. "[1] However, Boas did not coin the term. Epistemological origins[edit] "If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably—after careful considerations of their relative merits—choose that of his own country. The epistemological claims that led to the development of cultural relativism have their origins in the German Enlightenment. Epistemological origins.

As a methodological and heuristic device

As a critical device. Comparison to moral relativism. Human rights. Current debates on cultural relativism. Use by nations. Emotivism. Ethical consumerism. Ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture.[1][page needed] Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion.

Ethnocentrism

These ethnic distinctions and subdivisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity.[2] Ethnocentrism may be overt or subtle, and while it is considered a natural proclivity of human psychology, it has developed a generally negative connotation.[3] Origins of the concept and its study[edit] William G. Sumner created the term "ethnocentrism" upon observing the tendency for people to differentiate between the in-group and others. He defined it as "the technical name for the 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.

Global justice. This article discusses the philosophical debate about global justice.

Global justice

For political activism, see Global justice movement. Global justice is an issue in political philosophy arising from the concern that the world at large is unjust. Context[edit] The broader philosophical context of the global justice debate, in both its contemporary and historical forms, is the issue of impartiality. Many people believe they have more important duties to family members, friends and compatriots than to strangers and foreigners. The broader political context of the debate is the longstanding conflict between more and less local institutions: tribes against states, villages against cities, local communities against empires, nation-states against the UN. Central questions[edit] Historical particularism. Historical particularism (coined by Marvin Harris in 1968)[1] is widely considered the last American anthropological school of thought.

Historical particularism

Founded by Franz Boas, historical particularism accepted the cultural evolutionary model that had dominated anthropology up until Boas. It argued that each society is a collective representation of its unique historical past. Boas rejected parallel evolutionism, the idea that all societies are on the same path and have reached their specific level of development the same way all other societies have.[2] Instead, historical particularism showed that societies could reach the same level of cultural development through different paths.[2] Critics of historical particularism argue that it is anti theoretical because it doesn't seek to make universal theories, applicable to all the world's cultures. Boas believed that theories would arise spontaneously once enough data was collected. How to Observe Morals and Manners.

How to Observe Morals and Manners is a sociological treatise on methods of observing manners and morals written by Harriet Martineau in 1837–8 after a tour of America.

How to Observe Morals and Manners

She stated that she wasn't looking for fodder for a book, but also privately remarked that "I am tired of being kept floundering among the details which are all a Hall and a Trollope (writer of Domestic Manners of the Americans) can bring away.”[1] As opposed to Victorian prescriptive handbooks of how societies ought to behave, Martineau focuses on observing locals on their own terms and emphasizes the need to accept cultural relativism of other people.

Intercultural competence. A theoretical construct for cross-cultural competence, language proficiency, and regional expertise.

Intercultural competence

Intercultural competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures:[1] Appropriately. Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.Effectively. Valued goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished. Moral relativism. Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures.

Moral relativism

Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism. Richard Rorty, for example, argued that relativist philosophers believe "that the grounds for choosing between such opinions is less algorithmic than had been thought", but not that any belief is equally as valid as any other.[1] Situational ethics. Situational ethics, or situation ethics, takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards.[1] Early proponents of situational approaches to ethics included Kierkegaard, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Jaspers, and Heidegger.[2] Fletcher, who became prominently associated with this approach in the English-speaking world due to his eponymously-titled book (Situation Ethics), stated that "all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love" in the particular situation,[4]:30 and thus may be broken or ignored if another course of action would achieve a more loving outcome.

Situational ethics

Fletcher has sometimes been identified as the founder of situation ethics, but he himself refers his readers to the active debate over the theme that preceded his own work.[4]:33-34 Ethical classification and origin of term[edit] Fletcher[edit] The four working principles[edit] Xenocentrism. Xenocentrism is the preference for the products, styles, or ideas of someone else's culture rather than of one's own.[1] The concept is considered a subjective view[clarification needed] of cultural relativism.[2] One example is the romanticization of the noble savage in the 18th-century primitivism movement in European art, philosophy and ethnography.[3] Origin of the term[edit] Xenocentrism has been used in social philosophy to describe a particular ethical disposition.

Xenocentrism

[citation needed] The term is opposed to ethnocentrism, as coined by 19th-century American sociologist William Graham Sumner, which describes the natural tendencies of an individual to place disproportionate worth upon the values and beliefs of one's own culture relative to others.[2] See also[edit]