Meaning of Cultural Relativism

What is Cultural Relativism:

Cultural relativism is a current of thought that consists of understanding the cultural bases different from ours to put ourselves in the place of the other.

Cultural relativism is a theoretical and methodological proposal by the anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942), who states that in order to explain, study and analyze each culture, its particularities and history must be taken into account.

This current or anthropological method to understand a cultural system was born as a reaction to ethnocentric evolutionism that compares and grants a higher value to one’s own culture compared to that of others.

Cultural identity and cultural diversity are emphasized, as there is no single perspective and each culture must be explained on its own terms.

Examples of cultural relativism

Culture is made up of ways of life, social structures, beliefs, and symbolic means of communication. These variables are based on the canons of relativism where there is no ethical or moral absolutism.

Life forms are the procedures by which a society ensures its existence and its adaptation to the physical environment. As an example of cultural relativism we can mention how for an urban population technological advances, such as the channeling of drinking water, are not seen as an advance in rural populations where there is a culture of respect for nature, therefore, it is preferred not to interfere technologically in it.

In relation to the social structure, for example, social or family hierarchies also change according to culture, we can see this reflected in the greater respect that Eastern cultures have for and with their elders.

Cultural relativism and ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the opposite of cultural relativism. Ethnocentrism is reflected, for example, when other cultures are pejoratively described and only the behavior of the group of which one is a part is considered correct and positive.

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The theory of social evolutionism, for example, is ethnocentric in considering Western society as superior, therefore, it is contrary to the theory of cultural relativism.