• IASbaba
  • February 8, 2022
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  • GS-1: Society


  • Ethnocentrism broadly refers to ethnic self-centredness and self-importance. 
  • This attitude could lead an individual to believe that their own culture or way of life is the correct way of living. 
  • It could also result in hostility towards other cultures. 
  • Ethnocentrism is therefore the tendency to view one’s own group, the ‘in-group’, as the ideal and all other groups as the ‘out-groups’.
  • The in-group’s boundaries are defined by one or more observable characteristics such as language, accent, physical features or religion, indicating common descent. 


  • Charles Darwin argued that competition with other groups makes people more cooperative with members of their own group, which further influences group prosperity. 
  • Herbert Spencer argued that societies in general are characterised by internal amity (towards members of one’s group) and external enmity (towards everyone else).  Neither of them used the term ethnocentrism, however. 
  • Developing their ideas, it was the anthropologist William Sumner who is first said to have coined the term in 1906 in his book Folkways and also used the concepts ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’. 
  • For the geologist and anthropologist William John McGee, ethnocentrism was a particular way of thinking similar to egocentrism, but characteristic of ethnic groups. 

Why ethnocentrism was considered bad?

  • Curtails Individual Capabilities: Early anthropologists argued that this feeling of superiority about the in-group curtailed an individual’s ability to understand the practices and values of other groups and to trust them. 
  • Social Tension: This feeling could lead to prejudice, dislike, dominance, ethnic conflict, and even war.
  • Political Choices: Ethnocentrism can also affect consumer choices, voting and may lead to instability of democratic institutions.

 Ethnocentrism, attitude & behaviour

  • Later theorists argued that ethnocentrism might simply be preference for in-groups over out-groups. They said that the segregation of in-groups and out-groups should not necessarily be attributed to bias. 
  • In other words, they argued that you can be indifferent towards out-groups or even like them, but less than one like their in-group. 
  • One may dislike an out-group, but that attitude might not necessarily translate into some sort of discriminatory behaviour in a given situation. 
  • Example: Ravi in India prefers to eat food with his hands. Ravi invites his American friend, Robert, to attend his sister’s wedding in India. When Robert arrives at the wedding, he is horrified to see everyone eating with their hands instead of using cutlery, as they do mostly in the U.S..Robert’s attitude may be conscious or unconscious but his inability to accept this way of eating food as another culture’s practice and his tendency to view it as primitive while seeing his own culture as superior or advanced is ethnocentric.  

Ethnocentrism & Nationalism

  • Ethnocentrism is also quite similar to nationalism. 
  • All the expressions of ethnocentrism, such as feelings of superiority and even hostility towards out-groups, could be easily attributed to nationalism.
  • But while ethnocentrism is at the level of an ethnic group, nationalism is at the level of a national group. 
  • Nevertheless, it is also important to note that nationalism also assumes certain factors that are not necessary for ethnocentrism. 
  • National groups are defined by the belongingness to a group that inhabits a national state or aspires to form a national state whereas ethnic groups do not require national states to be called ethnic groups, and they may lack a shared public culture or even territory.
  • Ethnocentric feelings and attitudes such as preference for a familiar culture and group superiority have been exploited by nationalism.

Connecting the dots:

  • Nationalism vs Patriotism
  • Hitler’s genocide on Jews based on Aryan race superiority

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