Cultural Relativity

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Cultural relativity is the process to understand that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another society. And since there is no something as “universal standard of morality”, therefore we have to use the culture’s own value system to judge the culture. It is closely related to ethical relativism, which is to judge based on ethical grounds. Anthropologists who practice cultural relativism believe that all culture are worthy in their own right and are of equal value, and consider all cultures to be equally legitimate expressions of human existence, to be studied from a purely neutral perspective, even if it is conflicting with moral beliefs. Cultural relativism sees female circumcision of Maasai and Halloween celebration of American as the same – they are both different products from separate socialization. On the other hand, ethnocentrism happens when one judges another culture solely using his own values. An ethnocentric individual will judge others negatively using his own standard of culture without practicing cultural relativism. A very simple example would be when an American thinks British drivers “drive on the wrong side”; a non-ethnocentric thinking would be when he thinks British drivers are just “driving on the opposite side”. In “The Evil Eye is Bad for Business”, even though many may find the idea of “bad people will cast evil eye and bring you bad luck, but a string of chilies and lemon or a drawing of shoes can prevent you from the bad eye” illogic or even amusing, as an anthropologist, Paul Derby does not have the ethnocentric thinking at all. He proceeded to seek more information about “evil eye” from his Indian friend, Thomas. And finally he began to understand that, Thomas wanted to keep the outside outside, he did not want outsiders to cast the evil eye which...
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