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Cultural Relativism Essay

Cultural Relativism is basically defined as the principle in which the belief of an individual is analyzed and interpreted in relation to the individual’s own culture (Bartholomew 37). It is a rather complex concept that is used to define the human behavior through the cultural surroundings where the individual resides. Often mistaken or confused with moral relativism, Cultural relativism is used by psychiatrists, anthropologists and sociologists alike to try to understand certain human behavior and characterizations within a social unit (Bartholomew 39).

It is difficult to define in exact terms what Cultural Relativism really is without entering a brief discussion on its applications. In the work of Kondo, the difficulties of coming from a mixed culture (Japanese and American) are highlighted through the struggles of the author in social interactions: The problem of being identified as Japanese by the Americans and as American by the Japanese is seen as the author moves from one cultural atmosphere to another (Kondo 529).

This leads to a collapse in identity and a fragmentation of self which is regarded as an offshoot of cultural relativism (Kondo 529). As can be seen in other works, this problem of segmentation is not uncommon and abounds in the understanding that certain scholars share about their own cultural experiences. Perhaps the most telling example and definition of the concept of Cultural relativism is elaborated in the work of Nisbet that outlines the differences between the manner by which Asians and Westerners think (22).

Nisbet explains that the manner by which a certain culture relates to others has a lot to do with the social interactions that have existed between the cultures (19). Cultural Relativism, therefore, is a manner by which two different cultures can arrive at a better understanding of each other by arriving at a mutual agreement on moral disparities (Nisbet 21). There is much that can be gained through the use of this device because it does not suffer the common pitfalls of pre-construction that tend to lend bias to the observation of any person.

Works Cited: Bartholomew, Robert. “Borderlands: Deviance, Psychiatry and Cultural Relativism. ” Skeptic 8:3, 2000. Kondo, Dorinne K. “On Being a Conceptual Anomaly. ” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 2nd ed. Ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford, 1997. Nisbett, Richard E. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why. NY: Free Press, 2003.


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