about relativism

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Anthropologists often use the words etic and emic in their study to reach diverse points of view. An etic perspective is an approach in which the investigation is carried out by an observer. It recognizes that members of a group are more interested in whatever is going on or what they are doing to the degree that they are prone to be biased in understanding their cultures (Fetterman, 2010). They are likely to have too much about their culture and for this reason, the ethnographer only takes into consideration what he or she thinks is important in regard to the research they are conducting.

The social analysts or the scientific researcher describes the belief and/or behavior of the society in a manner that can be applicable across different cultures. In other words, an etic account tries not to be biased and instead takes a neutral standpoint in regard to culture. As such, this account limits ethnocentrism, cultural bias, political bias, or any form of alienation that could emanate from the observer. Normally, it is difficult for someone who is viewing a certain issue or culture from the inside to see it objectively. When inside, the judgment or the viewpoint is highly likely to be influenced by the internal aspects and hence it will contain bias. It is for this reason that Etic perspective is important as it views the culture objectively devoid of any bias and hence can make objective judgments (Robertshaw, 2013). More informed decisions about the culture can be made while being advised by an etic perspective due to the level of objectivity that is involved. More often than not, the etic models are seen to define the cultures in ways that may appear alien to the insiders but it helps to develop parameters under which the different cultures can be compared and also aids in discovering universal principles in the functioning and structure of the cultures.

Application of Etic perspective in examining the Nacirema culture

In his article which is titled Body Ritual among Nacirema, Miner (1956) has described the aspects of Nacirema from an outsider standpoint and in the process he helps the reader realize that the Nacirema are actually Americans. Miner (1956), states that the practices and beliefs of the Nacirema present unusual aspects such “that it seems desirable to describe them as an example of the extremes to which human behavior can go.” He describes the culture as one that has a highly developed economy. One of the reasons as to why the economy culture has been so dominant on matters of economy is the fact that most of the people in the region spend much of their time pursuing economic activities. Interestingly, a large percentage of the proceeds of these economic activities are spent in ritual activities. In most cases, these activities focus on the human body. They are usually about the health of the people as well as their appearance. Miner points out at the ceremonial aspects of these activities as well as their peculiar philosophy. Fundamentally, it is believed that the human body has a tendency to bet ill and weak as well as succumb to diseases. Therefore, human being should always be ready to counter this tendency.

The only hope according to the culture is to avert the situation by performing rituals and ceremonies. This means that most of the rituals that are performed in the Nacirema culture are meant to avert the tendency of human body to get weak and ill. The rituals are performed in shrines. Each household in the culture has a shrine where they conduct these activities, with the more wealthy people having several shrines. Despite the fact that each of the households has a shrine, it should be noted that the ceremonies are not done in families but are done in secret by individuals in private and that the rites are not discussed with outsiders (Miner, 1956). They are only discussed with children. The discussions only take place during the period when the children are about to be introduced into these mysteries. The rituals are performed in different ways. For instance, when they are performing daily rituals, everyone conducts what is referred to as a mouth ritual. This is done with the objective of taking care of the mouth. During this rite, one of the practices that are executed is striking the uninitiated stranger as revolting. A small bundle of hog hairs is inserted in the mouth of the ritual performer. Alongside it, a magical powder is also inserted. The bundle is then moved in a gesture that is usually highly formalized. People also seek what is referred to as a holy-mouth-man at least once every year but not more than twice.

Culture relativism is evident in these cultures. The people believe that these rituals are highly effective in their bid to avert the effect of debility as well as diseases. They have exercised their rituals, believing in them without being judgmental to other cultures. As a matter of fact, the Nacirema do not compare their culture with the cultures of other regions. Instead, they believe in the autonomy of their own culture and believe that each culture has its own autonomy. Also, the judgment of Nacirema on moral issues is highly inclined to their beliefs and norms (Miner, 1956). The rituals are seen to be morally right, a position that is highly influenced by their culture. This has greatly underlined their moral relativism position that mostly developed in the early days of the American history. They however appreciate that their belief is not more correct than that of other cultures. As such, moral relativism in this case states that no one culture is right or wrong, but their moral judgments are guided by their beliefs.


Definition and importance of Emic perspective

Emic perspective is an approach that investigates the manner with which the local people think. It represents an insider viewpoint in an anthropology research. Emic interpretations as well as knowledge are by a great extent associated and emanates from the people who are living within a given culture. The local customs, norms and beliefs are the ones that mainly determine the direction that these interpretations take. Emic perspective is basically the viewpoint that emanates from within the culture (Fetterman, 2010). In this regard, an emic account can be said to be a definition of a belief or a behavior either consciously or unconsciously in terms that are only meaningful to the insider since it is given by someone who belongs to the specific culture. In addition, nearly all people and all things that are within a specific culture will give an emic perspective. Notably, people from within a culture are too involved with the cultural activities.

As such, their opinion about the culture is likely to be biased. It also does not give a basis for comparison with other cultures since it is totally inclined to the people within and does not focus on other cultures (Robertshaw, 2013). When conducting an ethnographic study from an emic perspective, an anthropologist should at least reside within the local area of study, eat the local food and speak the local language. He or she should literally adapt the lifestyle of the local people in order to be in a position to view things from their standpoint. According to cultural anthropology, people are greatly influenced and shaped by their own cultures. Therefore, their personalities are highly likely to differ based on the culture from which they come from. These differences could be well understood in research through an emic perspective.

Application of Emic perspective in examining

In his article Boys Anti-School Culture? Narratives and School Practices, Jonsson (2014) examines the under achievement of boys as well as their opposition behavior in school. Over the years, there have been so many debates discussing the reasons as to why boys are usually not achieving so much in school compared to what is expected of them. Trends have also indicated that boys usually oppose most of the things in school as compared to girls. In this article, Jonsson (2014) draws his opinion based on ethnographic data collected from two Swedish secondary schools. He explains the anti-school theory for boys which he posits is influential to their behaviors.

It is believed that the pedagogical methods that require students to do much of the school work on their own has been a major contributor to their under achievement. At a similar age, girls are said to be more mature than boys. Therefore, these pedagogical methods requiring students to work on their own are more beneficial to girls (Jonsson, 2014). For instance, when left on their own to study, boys are more likely to prefer a coffee break while guys are more likely to prefer studying. Naturally, boys are more playful as compared to girls. As a matter of fact, they are more likely to prioritize playing ahead of studying. Girls on the other hand are more likely to go for studies. Jonsson (2014) in his article has stated that schools have for this reason grown to appear more of a feminine place. He proposes that for this perspective to change there is need for more male teachers to step in as role models and offer guidance to boys so that they can change their attitude and perspective towards education.

Within their perspective, boys view playing as a being better than studying. Cultural relativism directs that they should be understood based on their own culture which could be said to emanate from their biological make up. In other words, they should not be judged against the culture or the behavior of girls. Therefore, rather than judging them against the behavior of girls, teachers should step in to guide and motivate boys so that they can have a different view of studies. The judgment that boys are more playful as per moral relativism is correct. Therefore, they should not be underprivileged as compared to girls. They should all be given equal chances in education. This would effectively boost their achievements and reduce their oppositional behavior.


Fetterman, D. M. (2010). Ethnography: Step-by-step. Los Angeles : SAGE

Jonsson, R. (2014). Boys Anti-School Culture? Narratives and School Practices. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 45(3), 276-292

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503-507

Robertshaw, B. (2013). Mixing the Emic and Etic Perspectives: A Study Exploring Development of Fixed-Answer Questions to Measure In-Service Teachers’ Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Logan, Utah : Utah State University

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