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Cultural Relativism -- Research Starters Sociology

By: Howson, Alexandra;

2009 / EBSCO


Cultural relativism is a complex concept that has its intellectual roots in discussions about relativism in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of language. Relativism is typically viewed in contrast to realism, which is the idea that what is true and real exists independently of the mind. Where there are many different kinds of relativism-epistemological, moral, cultural, cognitive-they all have two features in common. First, they assert that one thing (e.g. moral values, knowledge, meaning) is relative to a particular framework (e.g. the individual subject, a culture, an era, or a language). Second, they deny that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. While cultural relativism provides a reflexive and critical tool for sociology (and other social science disciplines), political and moral conservatives tend to despair over the influence of cultural relativism on intellectual thought and the shift away from objective, identifiable standards as the measure for all truth-claims. However, some researchers have argued that it is possible to adopt a cultural relativist stance without abandoning a commitment to the idea of universal standards, or to human rights