Compare moral relativism, aesthetic relativism, social constructionism, and cognitive relativism. Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual human’s beliefs and activities should be understood by others in terms of that individual’s own culture. It was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century and later popularized by his students. Boas first articulated the idea in 1887: “…civilization is not something absolute, but … is relative, and … our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes.” However, Boas did not coin the term. The first use of the term recorded in the Dictionary was by philosopher and social theorist Alain Locke in 1924 to describe Robert Lowie’s “extreme cultural relativism”, found in the latter’s 1917 book Culture and Ethnology. The term became common among anthropologists after Boas’ death in 1942, to express their synthesis of a number of ideas Boas had developed. Boas believed that the sweep of cultures, to be found in connection with any sub species, is so vast and pervasive that there cannot be a relationship between cultures and races. Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims necessitate a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate. This principle should not be confused with moral relativism.
About the Author: Matt Artz
Matt Artz is a business and design anthropologist, consultant, author, speaker, and creator. He writes, speaks, and consults in user experience, product management, and business strategy. He creates products, podcasts, music, and visual art. Matt is the Head of Product and Experience for Cloudshadow Consulting and Artmatcher. He is also the Founder of Anthro to UX, Azimuth Labs, and Biomega Technologies. He earned a Masters of Science in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas in 2018, an MBA in Finance and Management Information Systems from Marywood University in 2008, a BS in Biotechnology from Marywood University in 2008, and a BBA in Computer Information Systems from Marywood University in 2006. As an anthropologist and consultant, he is known for his research interests and work in business anthropology, design anthropology, consumer genetics, user experience, product management, big data, sensemaking, and algorithmic bias. Matt is also the creator of the Anthropology in Business podcast and Anthro to UX podcast where he discusses the application of anthropology to business and UX. He has been featured by TEDx, SXSW, Anthropology News, MedPage Today, Kevin MD Technically, UX Planet, Towards Data Science, Product Coalition, and the University of North Texas. You can follow Matt on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and Google Scholar.