THE SOCHE BUFF'S GAZETTE
Professors Noh et al.___________________ _____________________ 2¢
ETHNOCENTRISM AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM
When Socrates was condemned to death for raising too many philosophical questions he
remarked to his accusers that "an unexamined life is not worth living." The world has since become
safer for social and political speculation, yet even in this intellectually freer world, many people still
doubt the wisdom of questioning established institutions. However, sociologists are professionally
committed to questioning the benefit of respected institutions like the family and the harm of
socially condemned activities like theft and prostitution. No wonder sociologists appear to be
subversive to those who are still not convinced that Socrates was right and his accusers wrong.
I like to think that if Socrates was alive today he would be a sociologist, and he would
justify his choice of profession to suspicious critics by remarking that "an unexamined society is
not worth living in." And I like to think that unlike fifth century Greeks, American students are
willing to confront unconventional questions.
If you need a reason for taking this course and if the example of Socrates is not sufficient,
consider the ostrich. In his book, Further Fables for Our Time, James Thurber imagines a
conference of ostriches concerned with the loss of their ability to fly. One of them remarks that
humans can fly sitting down while ostriches cannot fly at all. "That may be," replies another, "but
man is flying too fast for a world that is round and soon man will end up in a great rear-end collision
and man will never know that what hit man from behind was man."
Sociology is one way to protect our rear-ends. Exposure to the perspective and discourse
of sociology helps to ensure that we are able to "see the forest for the trees." The point of a
liberal education, to borrow another of Thurber's lines, is that "all men should strive to learn
before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why." The reason sociology is a required
part of your liberal education program is because it contributes to the cultivation of the intellect.
Like all the liberal arts, sociology liberates us from the provincialisms of time, place, and
circumstance; sociology tends to make us less ethnocentric.
The classic definition of ethnocentrism comes from W. G. Sumner's Folkways: "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." Ethnocentrism is the ethnic-centered tendency to evaluate other cultures and
forms of social organization in terms of one's own. It means that the ways of thinking and doing
that we observe in other societies are measured and judged in terms of the ideas and norms
prevailing in the society of which we are a part. Ethnocentrism is the name of the tendency to
think that only other people are foreigners, never ourselves.
10/31/2013 I'd Rather Be Studying_________ _____