Herskovit Theory Of Cultural Relativism

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Where cosmopolitanism in all its various forms and delineations can generally come to be seen as the universalisation of culture and identity, the rejection of nationalist principles, and the prioritisation of equality in all domains of life; cultural relativism emphasises that the values of any given culture are regarded as important to the citizens who identify with that culture (Herskovits 1972;8). Herskovits explains that the central philosophical tenet of cultural relativism is a fundamental acknowledgement and mutual respect of cultures other than one’s own; experience shapes outlook, and each experience in turn is uniquely perceived according to an individual’s cultural upbringing (11-15). Herskovits poses the question of whether moral …show more content…
Central to the phenomenon sweeping throughout anthropological studies in the United States in the 20th century, he points out, was the abrupt realism with which progressive anthropologists such as Franz Boas, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict contested the norms that preceded the study (166). These progressive scholars and their interpretations emphasised that previous understandings of anthropology and the divergences found in human societies were severely limited in scope. Furthermore, these narrow views epitomised the development and achievements of western culture over other cultures, without giving consideration to the intricacies and unique qualities that characterise those other cultures …show more content…
Here he refers specifically to the process of culture formation, which he terms ‘enculturation’ (137). Specifically, culture according to Herskovits is the “learned, socially sanctioned behaviour of a people” which yields from “[...] a continuous process of relearning that results from the constant readjustment of individuals to stimuli arising both from within the group and from outside it” (136). Furthermore, a group validates and standardises forms of behaviour through such repetition. By extension, an individual’s personality develops through and can be adjusted by culture, which acts also as a mitigating force when divergent cultures come into contact and clash (137). In this way culture has the paradoxical dual effect of accentuating variations between differently cultured groups, yet due to it being in a constant state of development, it can homogenise these differences to the extent that their responses to one another may become normalised, albeit without changing their fundamental differences. This interaction and the co-existence of cultures, and therefore also—in the case of the EU—conceptualisations of national identity, constitutes the essence of cultural relativism; despite the pre-eminence of a given culture or cultural attitude at any point in time, such as the cosmopolitanist principles upheld by the EU and the nature in which the EU was commonly agreed

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