Xenocentrism: Definition & Role in Sociology

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  • 0:00 Definition of Xenocentrism
  • 0:57 Xenocentrism & Sociology
  • 2:05 Xenocentrism &…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melanie Norwood

Melanie has taught several criminal justice courses, holds an MS in Sociology concentrating in Criminal Justice & is completing her Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Justice.

In this lesson, we will define the concept of xenocentrism, articulate its use as a concept in sociology, and explain the relationship between xenocentrism and cultural relativism. To check your learning of these concepts, please refer to the quiz questions after this lesson.

Definition of Xenocentrism

Say you're in your local supermarket and you're shopping for items to cook tomorrow night. You've got a second date with someone you really like, and you want to impress them. You stroll down the aisles and head straight for the imported wines. Why did you do that? Because you thought the imported wines would be better and thus more impressive. Right? So, you grab your bottle of Bordeaux with the label that you can't quite read and head to the checkout. You know that you don't know a lot about wine, but the imported stuff sounds like it's better, so you bought it.

This is an example of xenocentrism: You perceived that another culture was in some way better than your own. In this case, you thought that the wine, because it was from the Bordeaux region of France, must be better than a red wine made in your current country of the United States. This is a commonplace practice - particularly in terms of the quality of wine, beer, and cheese - that items are perceived as superior when they are imported from other European countries.

Xenocentrism & Sociology

The notion of xenocentrism is an important consideration in how we study relationships between individuals and the society of which they are naturally a part. If an individual devalues his or her own society for other societies or cultures, it's because they assume that what is true within their own social system is not necessarily so in another. It is also because the differences that they assume, or know, to exist within another culture make this other culture somehow better than that of their own.

Some might argue this is simply a case of 'the grass is always greener in the next pasture,' meaning that things always seem better from a distance than where we are. Let's look at Shane who is from Tokyo, Japan, and Cate who is from a small town in Ireland. When Cate looks at the fast-paced, highly-industrialized city of Tokyo, she may be envious of the fast transportation systems and the centralized locations of shops, restaurants, bars, and healthcare centers. However, Shane may see the easy-going lifestyle of rural Ireland and dream of a simpler, less-hectic and 'unplugged' society.

Xenocentrism & Cultural Relativism

In order to justify or defend the practice of perceiving one's own culture or society as somehow lesser than another, it becomes necessary to incorporate the practice of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism boils down to assessing a society by its own standards. For instance, many would criticize the United States for embracing the notion that 'all people are equal,' but not everyone who lives in the United States has the ability to achieve the same goals or has access to the same resources.

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