Ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own cultural background is superior to others’, is an early attitude that pervaded the beginnings of anthropological study and research. In other words it’s a form of superiority that can undermine one of the goals of anthropological research, understanding a group of people’s culture.

It can come in the form of racism which can influence conclusions reached about the people being studied, such seeing them through a hostile lens or automatically as inferior/incapable in comparison to one’s own culture.  Perhaps a less harmful form of ethnocentrism is bias; maybe not a negative bias towards other people, but perhaps having too positive a bias about one’s own culture. Having grown accustomed and comfortable to one’s own culture may paint other cultures by how different and exotic they are to one’s own, contributing to their “otherness” and an alien nature when viewed through the lens of someone from a different culture.

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The paper “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” helps support my point. The Nacirema in the paper are actually Americans, and when described in detached and neutral terms, in a very “non-American” portrayal, seem very strange and peculiar, even silly. Even if much of it was satirical, it still showed that lots of aspects of American culture can seem arbitrary, strange, and mysterious when looked at from a different/distanced perspective.

I appreciated “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” because it showcased my own preconceived notions of my own culture as an American and how I view others’ cultures. Ethnocentrism isn’t always intentional or malicious, and can arise from our own ignorance– I appreciate that this lesson and this class has already opened my eyes to my own ignorance and bias so early. That sort of distancing oneself from their preferences for one’s own culture (American) would likely benefit when analyzing and observing other cultures, and thus understanding them, as well as one’s own.

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