A year in Martinique

June 27, 2009

Ethnocentrism and Ethnoglobalism, Strategies for Culture Orientation

Filed under: Culture,Living Abroad — Phil Klein @ 2:25 pm

Ethnocentrism is a way that people have historically oriented themselves within their own cultures and in relation to other cultures. I’ve been thinking about it with increasing frequency while living in Martinique and considering the multiple cultures to which I and my family belong. Why is it that generally speaking, racism is considered morally wrong to the extent that we have laws against it, yet ethnocentrism remains a perspective present in nearly all cultures? Are there tendencies that counter ethnocentrism in cultures? Why should the first culture we learn be the last? Given our increasingly globalized and inter-culturally integrated and ethnically diverse and socially complex world, it’s surprising that there have been so few significant attempts to describe alternative tendencies in culture orientation.

From Wikipedia:

Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important and that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups. Since within this ideology, individuals will judge other groups in relation to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity‘s unique cultural identity.[1] Pasted from <Deric Bownds for this term) which makes us reluctant to trust others who are different in some ways. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism>

Ethnocentrism can be viewed as two separable but related tendencies, towards in-group favoritism and out-group hostility. People cooperate and share with people from a common culture, and disparage and withhold from outsiders.

Seeking to acknowledge a measure of openness and permeability of cultures, and to describe people who identify as members of multiple cultures, I see another culture orientation tendency, which I have come to call Ethnoglobalism:

Ethnoglobalism: the tendency and preference for people to orient themselves in relation to many cultures, including but not limited to a home culture. Ethnoglobalists participate in, are accepted in, and self-identify with multiple cultures. Cultures are viewed as learned, not exclusively endowed, and in some measure are accessible to outsiders. While recognizing that people are most familiar with a first or primary culture, that familiarity does not inherently make that culture best or better than others. People form in-groups that span across cultures, facilitated with increasing ease of low-cost global transit and communications. Cross-cultural competency is valued. Ethnoglobalists dispute the view that one is limited only to one’s own single culture’s point of view, as is the view that foreign cultures are fundamentally inaccessible. The limits and difficulty of understanding unfamiliar cultures is recognized and visible, because the difficult road of learning another culture is one they have already travelled.

Ethnoglobalism is a strategy that supports greater socially complexity, providing both greater differentiation and integration across cultures. Hence it confers numerous advantages over the simpler worldview entailed in ethnocentrism.

In comparison to ethnoglobalism, ethnocentrism seems to fall short in some ways, yet also retains advantages. With ethnocentrism, other cultures are hidden behind a veil of inferiority non-familiarity, and people are blinded by an uninformed favoritism of what is known over what may be best. Ethnocentrism identifies outsiders easily, and builds on the strength of in-group loyalty and accountability. Resource hording, exploitation of outside resources, and centralization make for strong positions in times of threat and for maximization of profit. In-group cooperation between people or organizations that share a highly developed culture in common makes for efficient communication and action. The weaknesses of ethnoglobalism are that it promotes a distribution or distributed network of looser relationships, perhaps based on different evidence of trust. Another factor that weakens a tendency to be open to other cultures is a limited “acceptance perimeter,” which people have evolved to help us focus our social investments of trust and acceptance of people who are nearer and more similiar to oneself.

Robert Axelrod has modeled ethnocentricity as a strategy in a multi-cultural context, and he found that ethnocentricity (defined as in-group favoritism, not out-group hostility) over time as the dominant strategy. Non-ethnocentrists tend to evolve, in his model, towards ethnocentrism. What attributes in his model, if modified slightly, would instead favor inter-cultural in-groups, or an ethnoglobal strategy. With the rapidly changing and evolving dynamics of travel, internet communication and transactions, how do these change inter-cultural dynamics and costs and benefits of inter-cultural cooperation?

In any event, ethnoglobalism seems a view that merits further research and study. Perhaps there was a time and there are places still where one is likely to be raised and die entirely within a single culture, where cultures were generally isolated and insular. Today, few cultures are islands. The dynamics of ethnoglobalism, if it reaches the bar to be considered a serious theory, could be important and consequential to understand.


  • Does ethnoglobalism damage or dissipate the integrity of cultures or help them, perhaps inoculating them against exploitation?
  • Does it generate groups that are too small to survive, or does it increase the survival odds by providing greater cultural mobility?
  • Is ethnoglobalism rarely or widely pracised, is it predictably learned, is it a capacity that we have that we replace with learned ethnocentrism?
  • If ethnoglobalism and ethnocentrism are in part learned ideologies, which should we be teaching children in our schools and families? What have studies shown regarding multi-lingual or bicultural education?
  • What ways can we use to asses our culture orientation, and promote healthy culture orientation?
  • Does ethnoglobalism just redefine the frame of in-groups and out-groups to span across cultures, or are their differences in how in-groups and out-groups are formed and how much repective loyalty or hostility they are due?





Ethnoglobalism arises in

  • families that have parents from multiple cultures
  • polycultural contexts where immersion in multiple cultures is normative
  • and in multi-lingual groups.


Ethnoglobalism has arisen in many cultures independently, and has been a motive for emigration, inter-cultural marriage, inter-cultural trade and learning. There has been some form of reciprocal altruism between some cultures for millennia, and numerous cases where multi-lingualism and familiarity with multiple cultures have been successful strategies.


Ethnoglobalism doesn’t idealize other cultures. Rather, it acknowledges what is not known about other cultures, and progresses from that ignorance through learning and advancement through the culture-specific rites and requirements of acceptance to reach a state of belonging. Nor is ethnoglobalism inherently disloyal to one culture, because participation across many cultures is not necessarily exclusive. Cultures which are more closed or which require exclusive participation bar or limit access to a prohibitive degree, and for these cases, ethnoglobalism is a problematic strategy.

Ethnoglobalism is not:

  • Multiculturalism – multiculturalism emphasizes diversity and cultural bounds. Ethnoglobalism seeks to transfer perspectives across those bounds, and may support or not support a multiculturalism view. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiculturalism
  • Cultural Relativism – suggests that ethnocentrism may be inescapable. Too many people live today who have full participation and fully developed worldviews from multiple cultures for us to believe that one is only limited to one point of view. Ethnoglobalism agrees with the need to take one’s cultural biases in consideration when viewing other cultures.
  • Transculturation – the process of moving across culture boundaries, including acculturation to a new culture and deculturation from a former culture. This implies a serial mono-cultural view and denies the ethnoglobalist view that one can participate fully in multiple cultures simultaneously, once one has met culturally defined criteria for full membership or participation in multiple cultures. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transculturation
  • “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – ethnoglobalism does not involve mimicry of local or extra-cultural practices, but involves full cultural participation
  • Assimilation – this is the adoption of cultural features from a dominant culture, ethnoglobalism involve http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_assimilation
  • Ethnoconvergence – ethnoglobalism doesn’t imply a convergence of cultures, but complex coexistence, inter-penentration, but not dilution of dissipation, which are not necessary consquences

Wade Davis proposed the existence of an ethnosphere in his TED talk on endangered cultures: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures.html 

 Definition of Ethnocentrism from Robert Axelrod

Robert Axelrod quoted from “the evolution of ethnocentrism 2004 (page 1-2)” short version at http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~dcrocker/Courses/Docs/Cross%20Cultural.pdf http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/research/Hammond%20and%20Axelrod%20JCR%2006.pdf longer version at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~axe/research/AxHamm_Ethno.pdf


Ethnocentrism is a nearly universal syndrome of attitudes and behaviors. The attitudes include seeing one’s own group (the in-group) as virtuous and superior and an out-group as contemptible and inferior. The attitudes also include seeing ones own standards of value as universal. The behaviors associated with ethnocentrism are cooperative relations with the in-group and absence of cooperative relations with the out-group (LeVine and Campbell, 1972). Membership in an ethnic group is typically evaluated in terms of one or more observable characteristics (such as language, accent, physical features, or religion) that are regarded as indicating common descent (Sumner 1906, Hirshfeld 1996, Kurzban, Tooby, and Cosmides 2001). Ethnocentrism has been implicated not only in ethnic conflict (Chirot and Seligman 2001, Brewer 1979b) and war (van der Dennen 1995), but also consumer choice (Klein and Ettenson 1999) and voting (Kinder, 1998). In short, ethnocentrism can be in-group favoritism or out-group hostility.


In practice, ethnocentrism is visible in two separable practices: in-group favoritism and out-group hostility.

<end quote>

David Crocker 2004, discussed 3 anti-ethnocentrist views, in relation to international philanthropic projects.

  1. Particularist anti-ethnocentrist — rejects culture exportation and importation. every society should develop cultural standards according to their own views; no external imposition.
  2. The Universalist anti-ethnocentrist — replace cultural bias with impartial reason
  3. The anti-Anti Ethnocentrist– we can only evaluate cultures from our own points of view


Phil Klein: I’m not persuaded these are the best alternatives.


Pasted from <neologism, coined as the antonym of Ethnocentrism. Xenocentrism is the preference for the products, styles, or ideas of someone else’s culture rather than of one’s own. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenocentrism>

John D. Fullmer of Brigham Young University offered that Xenocentrism results from an attempt on the part on an individual to correct his or her own ethnocentrism. He argued that as an individual reacts to his own perceived ethnocentrism, he or she will often overcompensate and instead begin to place undue consideration upon the ideas and needs of social groups that are far removed.

Thereby, a wealthy philanthropist may hear of an obscure disease in a distant country and invest in its research, although the matter is not entirely pressing within the community that he resides. The tendency for xenocentrism is also used to explain the reason that, in the political systems of many liberalist democracies, emphasis is often placed upon legislation to protect groups that are of a minuscule minority and with whom most voters have no immediate experience.

While Xenocentrism is defined by Fullmer to be a principal cause of ethical bias, emphasis is placed upon its position as an important step from inborn ethnocentrism to a state, labeled by Fullmer as “Omnicentrism.” This ultimately ideal state is characterized by the complete lack of any familiarity bias, whether for or against one’s own culture. Fullmer offers that the step from Ethnocentrism to Xenocentrism is one made by an ethically advancing individual, but that many fail to progress beyond this state, instead remaining biased by the unhealthy excesses of Xenocentrism.


Pasted from <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0208/8642.html ). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenocentrism>

Phil Klein: Omnicentrism commits the fallacy of universalism.

Phil Klein: Key knowledge may be attained from other cultures (for example, minority cultures tend to find ways to exploit acquired knowledge from larger or more powerful or occupying cultures, which aids in their survival. Michelle Obama’s senior thesis at Princeton was largely about power in white society

Phil Klein: President Obama appears to be a good if obvious example of ethnoglobalism’s success over ethnocentrism, as he grew up across multiple cultures, demonstrates his familiarity with and self-identifies with multiple cultures, while retaining a strong positive national identity as American, and he has very successfully oriented himself and won allegiance across many distinct cultural subgroups as a favored in-group member.



  1. Thanks, Phil! This is excellent! A great starting point for richer discussion and raising self-awareness among ethnoglobalists.

    Comment by Theresa Williamson — June 29, 2009 @ 1:35 am | Reply

  2. Haha I’m actually the first reply to your incredible writing.

    Comment by Bernie Leblanc — May 29, 2010 @ 5:35 am | Reply

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