Ethnocentrism refers to the human tendency to view the world through the lens of one’s own culture. An ethnocentric individual considers their race or ethnic group and aspects of their culture—behavior, customs, language, and religion—as superior to others and judges them in relation to their own. This affinity for one’s culture is explained in psychology as an individual’s preference for people that share similar values, beliefs, and behavior (in-group). Furthermore, it can be difficult for individuals to understand different cultures from perspectives other than their own since they are socialized in their birth culture for which they may develop an intrinsic bias. Consequently, an ethnocentric person will view these other cultures as not only different but may resist or reject another culture and its patterns of thought and behavior as they are considered less desirable or inferior to their birth culture. This predisposition may lead to a range of discriminatory behaviors, most commonly in-group favoritism (“ethnocentrism”) and out-group hostility (“xenophobia”). Ethnocentrism has been associated with ethnic conflict, war, voting, the instability of democratic institutions, and consumer choice.
Ethnocentrism has also been related to genetic similarity among ethnic groups that can produce an alignment of interests among members. In this way, ethnocentrism has been linked to the concept of nationalism in political science and use of the term ethnocentric to describe national and ethnic groups as selfish and culturally biased. There are many instances where citizens and nations have demonstrated ethnocentric behavior. For example, an Anglo-centric world view was created through the measurement of longitude in degrees east or west of Greenwich, England. Eurocentrism refers to the tendency to view the world from a European (or Western) perspective with an implied belief about the superiority of European culture and to interpret the histories and cultures of non-European societies from this point of view.
Despite increasing access to foreign-made products, often of superior quality and lower price, socio-psychological motivations such as ethnocentrism still drive consumers to purchase domestically made products, even against their economic self-interest. Consumer ethnocentrism may be defined as the beliefs held by consumers about the appropriateness, indeed morality, of purchasing foreign-made products. This concept may be described in terms of a continuum. On one extreme is nationalism, characterized by the willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the nation, coupled with hostility toward external groups. This attitude is based on the belief of one’s own country’s superiority, right to dominate, and an uncritical attachment to national values. Nationalists blindly overemphasize the virtues of domestically made products while downplaying, even boycotting, those of foreign origin in order to weaken other countries economically.
On the other extreme of the continuum one finds internationalism, characterized by positive feelings toward other nations and their people, thus fostering a sense of global community. Internationalism shows concern about other nations’ welfare and empathy for problems abroad. Internationalists find it morally acceptable to purchase imports and to actively support the struggle and welfare of other nations. It is possible for consumers to have a moderate attitude, what can be described as healthy patriotism, or love of country. Patriots also consider it their duty to protect their country’s economy, even at personal expense, through the purchase of domestic products but without aggressive bias against out-groups. Research indicates that the level of consumer ethnocentrism varies according to demographic variables. Less-educated, lower-income, older, and female consumers tend to be more conservative, patriotic, and even nationalistic in their consumption. As incomes and education increase, so does the likelihood of international travel, exposure to foreign products, and openness toward imports.
Consumer nationalism and patriotism can be from the bottom up, in the form of spontaneous popular movements. This sentiment can also be from the top down—a product of deliberate government policies. In its more benign form this can result in “buy national” campaigns which encourage consumers to purchase domestic products, helping local manufacturers but not necessarily consumers and the overall economy. In its more extreme manifestations, consumer ethnocentrism can move consumers to boycott products, conduct demonstrations, and even engage in violent acts against foreign brands and corporations. Unlike ethnocentrism, which applies to what consumers perceive to be foreign, animosity is a more specific phenomenon that generates negative feelings toward particular countries affecting consumer purchases. This, in turn, is more politically and culturally determined, with mass media playing a critical role. An example of animosity would be the boycott by some New Zealand consumers of French products and brands in response to France’s South Pacific nuclear testing program in the mid-1990s.
Ethnocentrism may also affect decision making in international business through staffing policy. Companies that fill key managerial roles exclusively with staff of parent-country origin are implementing an ethnocentric staffing policy. This approach is not as widespread today, but has been previously adopted by companies including Philips NV, Procter & Gamble, Matsushita, and Samsung.
An ethnocentric human resource policy may be favored for three main reasons: (1) means to achieve a unified corporate culture, (2) perceived lack of suitably qualified candidates from the host country to fill senior management positions, and (3) means to transfer core competencies to foreign operations. However, this approach can create “cultural myopia,” whereby the firm may fail to appreciate cultural differences in the host country and expatriate managers may take considerable time to adapt to the new host culture. In particular, ethnocentric expatriates may be hesitant to learn from host-country nationals, less likely to socialize with them, or to establish local networks. Thus, in-group–out-group distinctions become more noticeable within the organization.
Conversely, expatriates who are open to different perspectives and new experiences are more likely to interact with host-country staff and adapt to the culture more quickly. On the other hand, highly ethnocentric host-country nationals may resist or disassociate themselves from expatriates who are viewed and treated as out-group.
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