“He who Marches out of step hears another drum”
–Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
The easiest way to address the idea of cultural relativism is to consider the norms of the society that we are accustomed to. A norm is the behavior that we deem normal or acceptable. There are different types of norms including Folkways (everyday behavior), Mores (thought necessary in a society), Formal Norms (laws), and Informal Norms (things society sees as normal that are not written laws). Examples of these everyday norms are: dressing appropriately for work (Folkways), the act of adultery (Mores), paying taxes (Formal Norms), or how to react when entering a classroom (Informal norm). But norms change. Cultural relativism is the practice of looking at differences in society through that society’s eyes. This is an idea of objectively considering the acts, traditions, or behaviors of a culture different from your own. It is an unbiased process of analyzing a world that we are not accustom to, because it was not the culture we were socialized into. This act of socialization that occurs when we are young and continually occurs as we grow is the process that teaches us what to view as a norm and what to view as deviant. The extreme opposite of Culture Relativism is Ethnocentrism. This is where a culture is analyzed for its differences in a negative manner. In other words, ethnocentrism is seeing traditions and beliefs that are different from your own, comparing the two, and favoring your own.
An example of these processes can be applied to the pictures above. On the left there is a girl who has scars on her face. These scars are purposeful and deemed as normal and positive in the society she was raised. The scars are a way to identify her with the village that she came from. The girl on the right has a tattoo on her shoulder. This is also a purposeful and positive symbol that she has decided to place upon her body. Both of these acts are similar, they have both scared their skin for life in order to identify with their culture or a value that they hold. Seeing this as it was previously stated, would be looking at these processes through a culturally relativistic view. Seeing only the girl with a primitive way of identifying with her village, or a girl who paid to mar her body with an insignificant picture would be an ethnocentric view of their cultural values and normative practices.
“One Few Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Quotes.” Goodreads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2013. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2100252-one-flew-over-the-cuckoo-s-nest
“Cultural Relativism, Basic Concepts.” Sociology Gide. SEO Expert Chennai, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2013. http://www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Cultural-Relativism.php