Ethnocentrism Essay

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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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  9. Yorgo Pasadeos, International Dimensions of Mass Media Research (Athens  Insititute for Education and Research, 2007);
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  11. M. L. Wong, “Organizational Learning Via Expatriate Managers: Collective Myopia as Blocking Mechanism,” Organization Studies (v.26/3, 2005).

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