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  The term ‘ethnocentrism’ (‘nation-centred’ from the Greek ethnos, ‘nation’) was introduced in 1906 by the sociologist William Sumner, to describe the tendency to see one\'s own culture as superior to others, and to gauge other societies by those criteria which are significant in one\'s own society. The idea of rationality and progress is implicit in ethnocentric attitudes. It is a product of evolutionary ideas about ‘primitives’ and ‘civilization’, which often served to legitimize the kinds of statements made about others. Paradoxically, it was books written by anthropologists about the peoples among whom they had lived that seriously challenged ideas about the ‘primitive’. The explicit aim of field work in the 1920s was to try to see the world of others, through their own eyes.

Yet early anthropological studies were full of consciously and unconsciously ethnocentric judgements about cannibalism, violence, or sacrifice in other societies. Contemporary anthropologists use their understanding of the problems of ethnocentrism to avoid the pitfalls of making value judgements about the systems established by other communities to the problems they face. Anthropology is unusual among the social sciences for openly examining its own underlying premises, and this has given it a certain resilience in the fast-changing arena of social enquiry. CL

See also cultural relativism; Marxist anthropology; reflexivity.Further reading Robert LeVine and , D. Campbell, Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Group Behaviour.



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