Cultural Relativism Essay

391 Words2 Pages
What is the definition of cultural relativism? Does the concept of cultural relativism promote international understanding, or does it hinder attempts to have international agreements on acceptable social behavior, such as human rights? According to Nancy Bonvillain (2010), the definition of cultural relativism is an approach in anthropology that stresses the importance of analyzing cultures in that culture’s own terms rather than in terms of the culture of the anthropologist. This does not mean, however, that all cultural behavior must be condoned. According to this article on the website by Got Question (2002-2012), “cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs, customs, and ethics are relative to the individual within his own social context”. In other words, “right” and “wrong” are culture-specific; what is considered moral in one society may be considered immoral in another, and since no universal standard of morality exists, no one has the right to judge another society’s customs. For example, according to Nancy, Bonvillain, “the controversial practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, prevalent in twenty-eight countries in Africa and found in other regions as well, illustrates the uneasy relationship between cultural relativism and concern for individual human rights”. Some anthropologists, citing cultural relativism and the ideal of objectivity, do not support outside organizations that pressure African, Middle Eastern, and Indonesian governments to abolish FGM. Although they don’t condone the procedure, they prefer to hope for change from within. Other anthropologists point out that, although cultural relativism may help us understand a culture on its own terms, it can also help us understand how cultural beliefs reinforce inequalities by convincing people to accept practices that may be harmful and demeaning as natural. In
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