Cultural Relativism

According to cultural relativism, it is never true to say simply that a certain kind of behavior is right or wrong; rather, it can only ever be true that a certain kind of behavior is right or wrong relative to a specified society. In the context of early social science, cultural relativism became an important tool for pushing back on the ethnocentrism that often tarnished research at that time, which was mostly conducted by white, wealthy, Western men, and often focused on people of color, foreign indigenous populations, and persons of lower economic. Cultural relativism explains why, for example, what constitutes breakfast varies widely from place to place. What is considered a typical breakfast in the Middle East is quite different from what is considered a typical breakfast in the U.S. or Japan. While it might seem strange to eat fish soup or stewed vegetables for breakfast in the U.S., in other places, this is perfectly normal. Conversely, our tendency toward sugary cereals and milk or preference for egg sandwiches loaded with bacon and cheese would seem quite bizarre to other cultures.

Similarly, but perhaps of more consequence, rules that regulate nudity in public vary widely around the world. In the U.S., we tend to frame nudity in general as an inherently sexual thing, and so when people are nude in public, people may interpret this as a sexual signal. But in many other places around the world, being nude or partially nude in public is a normal part of life, be it at swimming pools, beaches, in parks, or even throughout the course of daily life (see many indigenous cultures around the world).

This varies not just in terms of national cultures but within a large society like the U.S. and also by cultures and subcultures organized by class, race, sexuality, region, religion, and ethnicity, among others.

For this week, give an example of cultural relativism that others would think odd and discuss the reasoning with support from your text.

Baldwin, John R., et al. Intercultural Communication for Everyday Life. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

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Approximately 250 words