People are subject to normalization procedures in order to conform to societal standards. These normalization procedures often facilitate interpersonal relationships. In China, foot binding provided reassurance about a woman’s Chinese identity, proper gender relations, and social status. It was commonly performed on young girls as a coming of age in order to secure a good future in a male dominated society. Because of our unwillingness to abandon our social categories and social practices, it is easy to dismiss foot binding as an act of barbarism.
Cultural relativism is the principle that an individual’s beliefs should be understood in terms of that individual’s culture. This is based on the idea that there is no ultimate standard of right and wrong, or good and evil. This attempt at objectively understanding history, politics, and psychology of other cultures is critically important. However, there are some caveats that one must take into consideration.
From a logical perspective, the problems of relativism become apparent. The basic premise is that what it means to be right or what is deemed truth can be relative. Therefore, while the statement, “there are no absolute truths” is valid, it is not sound because that would also make it an absolute truth. One could argue that there are some fundamental rights and wrongs, regardless of the common practices of any given society. Even if one concedes to the idea that there are widespread moral disagreements that cannot be rationally resolved, it would not immediately follow that cultural relativism is the best interpretation of moral disagreements.
Nevertheless, from a sociological and historical point of view, cultural relativism offers the best way in understanding a culture and its people. Social standards in two separate societies may differ from one another and at the same time, there is no rational basis for resolving these differences.