Sociological Xenocentrism

Caucasian woman holding a feather and ritual incense

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Xenocentrism is a culturally-based tendency to value other cultures more highly than one’s own, which can materialize in a variety of different ways. In the United States, for instance, it is often assumed that European products such as wine and cheese are superior to those produced locally.

In a more extreme sense, some cultures may idolize other cultures, such as the Japanese anime genre idolizing American beauty in its art, wherein it emphasizes such features as large eyes, angular jaws, and light skin.

Xenocentrism serves as an antithesis to ethnocentrism, wherein a person believes his or her culture and its goods and services are superior to that of all other cultures and people. Xenocentrism relies instead on a fascination with others' culture and a contempt for one's own, often spurred by gross injustice of government, antiquated ideologies, or oppressive religious majorities.

Consumerism and Xenocentrism

The entire world economy could be said to rely on xenocentrism in order to make the supply and demand model function internationally, though the concept of non-Indigenous goods sort of puts a damper on this theory.

Still, international markets rely on selling their products as "the best anywhere in the world" in order to capture foreign consumers and get them to fork over the extra shipping and handling fees to transport the goods or services overseas. That's why Paris, for instance, boasts its one-of-a-kind fashion and fragrances as uniquely available only in Paris.

Similarly, even the notion of champagne relies on an ethnocentric idea that the grapes that go into their particular sparkling wine are unique and perfect, and that no makers except those residing in the Champagne region of France can call their sparkling wine Champagne. On the inverse of this situation, consumers worldwide herald the champagne as the best available, adopting a xenocentric idea of wine in this case.

Cultural Impact

In some extreme cases of xenocentrism, the impact on the local culture of its people favoring others' cultures can be devastating, sometimes even neutralizing one's cultural practices almost entirely in favor of a more desirable counterpart.

Take the American ideal of "the land of opportunity," which drives newcomers from all different cultures to immigrate every year to the United States in hopes of "starting a new life" and achieving the "American dream." In doing this, these immigrants must often forsake or deprioritize their own cultural practices in favor of adopting their understanding of American ideals. 

Another downside of xenocentrism is that cultural appropriation, rather than appreciation, often results from this love of others' cultural and expressive practices. Take for instance people who admire Indigenous headdresses and wear them to music festivals. While this may seem like a gesture of appreciation, it actually serves to disrespect the sacred nature of that cultural object to many groups of Indigenous peoples.