Ethnocentrism exists as a part of each and every group in the society. Only by recognizing ethnocentrism’s constant presence can we maintain our groups and yet hope to offset this bias.
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Bringing in a society’s worldview means that ethical judgments using information from science are open to the same ethnocentric biases that plague all judgments by human groups. Such biases are independent of the quality of the science, but can lead some to think that science itself has made a spiritual point. The biases can only be examined and debated when it is realized that the ethical judgments using the science are judged by spirituality standards, not scientific standards. A corollary is that scientists debating the ethical use of their discoveries are not necessarily the best people to judge the use of that science; the best people to do so are those who understand the possible spiritual implications of that science. This paper intends to discuss various aspects of ethnocentric bias and its implication in development of social policy.
Correcting for ethnocentric bias is a difficult task. Some try to do so by objecting to the group or subculture in which they were raised. If their subculture was for a strong military, then these people are for pacifism.
Positive and Negative aspects of Ethnocentric Bias
In addition to the personality characteristic of misanthropy, stereotypic judgments and negative attitudes arise from ethnocentrism found in group membership. As noted previously, each group values itself and its members more highly then other groups even if there is no basis for doing so. Other groups are derogated. This ethnocentric bias is found in every group. The only time it is not found is when there are no identifiable groups. The more group membership is salient or easily observed, the more likely it is that the ethnocentric bias will occur. Hence, we theoretically expect everyone who has a strong group identification to show ethnocentric bias. That would result in higher prejudice scores when rating others not identified with their group. Those who are least prejudiced would be those who are unconnected to any group.
Prejudice as Negative Attitude
Some authors include more than just stereotyping in definitions of prejudice. They define prejudice as any “intolerant, unfair, unfavourable attitude” toward a group and its members. Prejudice is a term that everyone spontaneously knows the meaning of, but the more it is investigated, the more this definition of prejudice becomes problematic.
Further elaboration of the definition of prejudice with other terms requires integration with spirituality. A phrase such as “unjustified negative attitudes” raises the question of why it is felt to be unjustified and by whom. Of course, given our ethnocentric bias, it is always unjustified if it is our group that is under attack and never unjustified if we are attacking another group. Adding to the definition phrases such as “unfair” just adds the same problem again: What group or subculture standard will be used to define “fairness”?
A different problem arises if the definition of prejudice includes “unfavourable attitude.” Since prejudice is socially unacceptable, this defines any negative judgment of any group as prejudice. This addition to the definition implies that either there are no differences between groups (since someone might see that difference as favouring one or the other group) or that we should pretend there are no differences between groups. Is a negative attitude toward a category of war criminals prejudice? Or is it an appropriate response to their crimes?
Positive Biases in Self-Perception
Evidence demonstrating that positive biases toward others are fostered by a perception of similarity implies that people are positively biased toward themselves, and, in general, they are. Positive biases in self-perception tend to be more extreme than positive biases in the perception of others. Psychologists have identified at least eight biases in self-perception. Compared to others, we tend to view ourselves as more successful, more efficacious, more insightful, more consistent, more appropriate, more capable, more productive,
- Self-serving bias: The tendency for people to take credit for their successes by attributing them to internal dispositions (e.g., intelligence) and to deny responsibility for their failures by attributing them to external circumstances (e.g., unfair test conditions). “I am a capable person, able to succeed.” “I failed because the situation was unfair.”
- Self-cantered bias the tendency to take more than one’s share of the credit for outcomes (both successful and unsuccessful) that involved a joint or group effort. “I have contributed more than others.”
- Egocentricity bias the tendency to recall one’s role in past events as positive and causally significant. “I was important; I had an impact on others.”
- False consensus effect the tendency for people to see their own attitudes, values, and behavioural choices as relatively common and appropriate. “Most people would agree with me; most people would have done as I did.”
- False uniqueness effect/ the tendency for people to view their identity-defining traits and Assumption of abilities as relatively rare/distinctive/unique. “I have rare uniqueness qualities; I am special.”
- Illusion of control the tendency for people to believe they can influence events beyond their control to produce desirable outcomes (e.g., winning a lottery) or to avoid undesirable outcomes (e.g., becoming a victim of crime). “I am in control.”
- Hindsight bias the tendency to find outcomes inevitable in retrospect. “I knew this would happen.”
- Self-righteous bias the tendency to view oneself as possessing more moral integrity than others. “I am more likely to abide by moral principles than others.” More invulnerable, more moral, and more uniquely talented.
Ethnocentric Biases in Social Perception
Social psychologists have offered several explanations for biases in social cognition, which they have divided into those that involve “hot” and “cold” mechanisms. According to hot explanations, people’s needs and motives interfere with and slant the ways in which they process information. For example, people process information in ways that enhance and protect self-esteem or increase their sense of control. We demean out-group members and view ourselves and our friends through rose-colored glasses to allay our anxieties and to make ourselves feel good.
Beyond conscious bias and discrimination, there are three more subtle unintentional forms of prejudice social workers also need to examine. One form occurs when different standards are applied to different people, without conscious awareness. For example, without being aware of it, a teacher can single out the behaviour of an African American child for disciplinary action when the same behaviour conducted by a white child is ignored. Or similar differential treatment may occur with respect to males and females. In child welfare, the physicians, nurses, and social workers in the emergency room of a hospital may unconsciously respond to the injuries of poor children, or people of colour, in a different way than they do the white upper class. The bruises on a poor, minority-race child may be seen as reason to report for child abuse and neglect, whereas the same bruises on an upper-middle-class white child may be quickly accepted as the result of an accident. Thus, without intention, the same behaviour or circumstance is responded to differently, using a different standard, because of the difference in the person exhibiting the behaviour or circumstance.
A second form of subtle prejudice occurs when a person or group uses a standard for judgment that appears to be objective, but is in fact biased. Whereas the above form of prejudice involved imposing different standards for the same behaviour, this second form of unintentional prejudice involves using just one standard, but without realizing that the standard is it biased. The thinking is, “I’m not prejudiced, because I use the same standards for judging people, regardless of who they are.” But what if the standard is itself biased and ethnocentric? Standardized tests to measure intelligence are an example of this subtle form of discrimination. These tests have been widely criticized as being unfair to racial minorities, and to a lesser extent, females. The same standard is applied to all groups, but the standard favours one group over another. Another example occurs in child welfare, when a standard for child-raising or parenting that is culturally specific is applied to all groups as if it were a universal standard. In a white, rural community, the standard for proper child care may not be the same standard as in the urban, African American inner city. Parenting norms vary across race and culture regarding the use of corporal punishment, the age and length of time that children can be left alone unattended, and the age at which older siblings can be expected to
Because some minority racial groups have higher rates of poverty, it is possible that the disproportionate representation of minority children in the child welfare system is due to the increased stress and other factors that accompany poverty. It is also possible that a predominantly white system discriminates against minorities through application of ethnocentric standards of child-rearing and discipline.
Individualism is stressed, and there are few inhibitions on the expression of one’s uniqueness. Both girls and boys are strongly encouraged to complete their education, and girls are taught to be self-sufficient and independent. Older siblings are expected to assume much of caretaking responsibilities for younger children, especially those over 3 years of age. This cultural norm may conflict with practices in the majority culture, so that social workers must guard against viewing this practice as an abrogation of parental responsibility or neglect of the younger or older sibling’s needs.
In Native American cultures, the extended family and tribe play strong roles in the upbringing of children. Children are seen as individuals who are not entirely dependent on adults, who can make important decisions for themselves. Children are thought to learn best through observation and participation, not through direct instruction, commands, or physical punishment. Thus, it would be ethnocentric for social workers to expect directive, behavioural reinforcement approaches from biological parents. Native Americans tend to seek harmony with nature and other people, so that exerting control over anything or anybody is not valued. Also, it would be ethnocentric to view
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With the practitioner working in concert with progressive social policy, it is possible to create a system of care that can reverse the alarming statistics that were presented at the beginning of this chapter. The pragmatic perspectives are introduced below, and then are discussed in more detail in subsequent chapters, including specific applications of each perspective to the systems of child welfare and children’s mental health.
This potential bias is called “adult centrism.” Adult centrism is akin to two other, more familiar, forms of bias—egocentrism and ethnocentrism. An egocentric person demonstrates an excessive preoccupation with oneself and has an exaggerated view of their importance. An egocentric person thus has difficulty seeing another person’s point of view and perspective. A parallel phenomenon occurs with ethnocentrism, when a person believes that their own cultural, racial, or ethic group is superior to all others. An ethnocentric person has difficulty understanding or appreciating other cultures, and may judge people from other cultures.
The functional aspects of a particular family’s life must be identified, sanctioned, and expanded to those areas that do not work as well. Professionals may not learn about a family’s capabilities because social systems fail to create opportunities for them to be displayed. One of the functions of the professional, then, is to create such opportunities, thereby enabling the family to apply the full repertoire of skills they possess.
The mother as the primary career is a class-specific ethnocentric construction. Thus, neither working-class women who have to work even in their children’s infancy nor rich women who have the opportunity to rely on nannies for childcare conform to this ideal. Furthermore, this notion is far from ethnically universal. In rural Turkey, where women participate in agricultural work, the raising of children is the collective labour of mothers, older siblings and grandmothers. In urban areas, even if the mothers do not take part in paid employment, housework and childcare often take place in a wider social context of extended-family members and neighbours.
In Asia, however, most countries started from either a traditional autocratic-paternalistic system of ruler ship or a post-colonial corporate developmental state. Examples of the former include the East Asian Confucian notion of enlightened authoritarianism and the Javanese kingship authority in Indonesian political culture where the economy and society were considered as integral and organic parts of the wider state (e.g. the Indonesian notion of the ‘integrals state’). In some cases, as in China and also in Taiwan, this autocratic-paternalistic tradition was reinforced by new statistic ideology. In the post-colonial corporate developmental states, such as Singapore, Malaysia and most lately Hong Kong, political elites have inherited the autocratic powers of their former colonial masters and taken upon themselves the power and responsibility to direct nation-building, economic growth and social development.
Conceptualising governance and maximising its central values, therefore, have to take a different route under a different strategy in the Asian context. Reforms cannot be presumed to be driven by forces of the private sector or civil society. They have to come from within, from the state institutions.
It is to be seen for the ethnocentric construction that it is: a notion that partakes of the peculiar and instituted divide. Socialization and assimilation almost always succeed amongst the offspring of migrant parents, whereas their social destiny sometimes introduces enormous differences and imprisons them in the entresol of the parental community of origin or local residential community. Identity crises ensue that are particularly acute for girls. Having embraced values of individual equality espoused by the dominant society, they are seen by their families to be betraying family values and social expectations for their fulfilment of family roles as women.
Chiu, S. and Wong, V. (2005), Towards a Confucian Notion of Youth Development in Hong Kong, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol.25(10/11), pp.14-36
Walker, A. and Wong C. K.(2004), the ethnocentric construction of welfare state, Kennett, P.(ed.) A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Cheltenham, HK: Edward Elgar, pp. 116-130