Secondary Sociology

Social Science – Making students think about ethnocentrism

It is a requirement for students to think critically about cross cultural differences and ethnocentrism. This is particularly the case at A2 but the relevance still holds for AS level too.

Many years ago (ahem), in an undergraduate lecture, I was given an article to read about the tribe called the ‘Nacirema’ of North America ( reference on attachment). I read it and was puzzled by many of the rituals the tribe adhere to. It was with surprise the lecturer then explained that Nacirema was American spelt backwards, and that the rituals and practices described in the article were that of North American Society. Reading the article again through ‘informed’ eyes I read it very differently. No one in the lecture ‘twigged’ and it was the cue for much debate.

The article still has relevance today (although some parts are a little outdated). For A level, depending on the standard of your students, using this article in its complete format still works well. However, it may be more appropriate for you to select sections and give it to your students in a summarised form. I am attaching the document I use (see link below) with extracts from the article although in its full format it is more thought provoking.

I will ask my students to read the sheet (or article) and think about how primitive they consider the Nacirema to be. I also ask them to find similarities and differences from British Culture. This is usually the point that they start to realise. If no one does realise I read the bit about where the Nacirema are situated and those with decent geographical knowledge then realise it is North America. It is then time to get them to reverse the tribal name and the light bulbs switch on!

It really makes them think about how we write about cross cultural studies and how we need to widen our consideration of what is considered ‘normal’. It highlights our ethnocentrism. This makes a great introduction to issues in Psychology or as an add-on to a lesson to provoke thought. If you have time it is good for them to think about everyday behaviour in Britain and write up a short description Miner style. My students have talked about magic talk boxes (mobile phones) and message boxes ( radios). This stimulates their imagination and is a great way to finish the lesson.

The Nacirema Worksheet

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