Studying the Ethnocentric Bias in the Comparative Studies of Social Welfare*

Article excerpt

This paper has two objectives. The first is to discuss three related views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare. The second objective is to demonstrate how these views can increase our understanding of the pluralistic ways in which non-western societies organise social welfare. Two analytical tasks are carried out. The first is to discuss the studies focusing on welfare regimes, cultural sensitivity of social welfare and the double attachment strategy used by governments to organise social welfare. These studies provide theoretical foundations of the three views on the ethnocentric bias. The second analytical task is to discuss the pro-market welfare reforms in Hong Kong. These reforms provide a concrete case of showing how non-western societies organise social welfare in a pluralistic way and how this pluralistic way is related to the three views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare.

Keywords: Ethnocentrism, Confucianism, Welfare reforms, Welfare regimes

Introduction

There is an increasing number of studies on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative study of social welfare (Walker and Wong 2004; Hill 2006; Chau and Yu 2009; Kennett 2001; Wong 2009). This paper is intended to join these studies with two objectives. The first objective is to discuss three related views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare. The second objective is to demonstrate the importance of these three views in increasing our understanding of the pluralistic ways in which non-western societies organise social welfare. To meet these two objectives, two analytical tasks are carried out. The first is to discuss the studies focusing on welfare regimes, cultural sensitivity of social welfare and the double attachment strategy used by governments to organise social welfare. As these studies provide the theoretical foundations of the three views on the ethnocentric bias, the discussion of these studies enhances our understanding of these views. The second analytical task is to discuss the pro-market welfare reforms in Hong Kong. These reforms provide a concrete case of how non-western societies organise social welfare in pluralistic ways, and how these pluralistic ways are related to the three views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare.

The paper is organised into three major parts. The first part examines three related views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare. The second part discusses the pro-market welfare reforms in Hong Kong. The third part examines the implications of these reforms on the study of how non-western societies organise social welfare in a pluralistic way and the study of the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare.

The views on the ethnocentric bias in the comparative study of social welfare

Ethnocentric bias is a tendency to interpret other cultures based on one's own culture. This bias can be mirrored in the attitude to knowledge. A person holding an ethnocentric bias is likely to assume that the cultural knowledge of his/her ethnic group is at the centre and the cultural knowledge of other ethnic groups only occupies a peripheral position (Graham 1999; Walker and Wong 2004). The construction of welfare concepts based on this attitude to knowledge can be seen as the examples of ethnocentric construction, as these concepts reinforce the superiority of the cultural knowledge of some ethnic groups to the cultural knowledge of other ethnic groups. The discussion of the ethnocentric bias in the comparative studies of social welfare is highly related to the concern on the dominance of the knowledge systems of the Western Europe and Anglo-Saxon world in the field of social welfare (Walker and Wong 1996). Unsurprisingly some analysts see the 'hegemony of Eurocentric knowledge' (Graham 1999, p. 255) as the example of the ethnocentric bias. …