I've just finished reading the very interesting book Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion by Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam. Kinder and Kam define ethnocentrism as generalized prejudice, the propensity to separate the world into in-groups and out-groups. From Us Against Them:
...ethnocentrism is an attitude that divides the world into two opposing camps. From an ethnocentric point of view, groups are either "friend" or they are "foe." Ethnocentrism is a general outlook on social difference; it is prejudice broadly conceived.One of the points made by Kinder and Kam is that ethnocentrism is often latent but that it can be "triggered" by external events. For example, Kinder and Kam show that ethnocentrism became a powerful factor in American public opinion in the wake of 9/11. I think it is also fair to say that the election of the first African American president has also been a trigger for ethnocentric behavior and sentiment:
We define ethnocentrism to be a way of thinking that partitions the world into in-groups and out-groups--into us and them.
In some posts to come I want to walk through some of Kinder and Kam's empirical findings. Overall, it's a must read book.