Ethnocentrism and “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema”

Horace Miner’s somewhat satirical piece “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” is an entertaining social commentary about ethnocentrism.  Miner ambiguously details American cultural practices (particularly those pertaining to cosmetics and hygiene) as one would expect to hear the practices of a technologically primitive, tribal society. By evoking this mode of thinking, Miner attempts to make us unwittingly use our cultural prejudices against our own societal mores. Ultimately I believe Miner hoped to help his readers realize that, just like every other culture, Americans have plenty of cultural practices that when viewed objectively appear highly illogical and even ridiculous. Upon reaching this revelation, it follows that we should view the mores of other cultures with a renewed objectivity and understanding.

One the valued cultural practices Miner helps us see objectively is tooth brushing.

However, I believe it is foolish to think that we can ever completely purge ourselves of all cultural biases or ethnocentricity. Each of us will always look at life through the lens of his or her own worldview. Perhaps this is a truth that Miner wanted us to realize about ourselves. This does create a dilemma for those who conduct scholarly research or scientific pursuits. On the one hand they are [in theory] responsible to present their findings without injecting their own opinions and biases, but on the other hand this is a wholly unrealistic expectation. Try as they might, they will see things through the lens of their particular worldview and any presuppositions that go along with it. If it is impossible to be perfectly impartial would it not be more ethical to abandon all pretensions of impartiality so as to not deceive others, to avoid the risk of masquerading our own opinions as fact?

References

Miner, Horace. 1956. “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” American Anthropologist 58: 503-507.

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