Cultural diffusion: the process

Culture: A set of shared ideas, actions, principals, beliefs and values.

Cultural diffusion: The spread of cultural ideas from their place of origin to other regions, groups or nations.

In an increasingly globalised World, culture has become fluid and may adapt and change because of new influences. Some might say culture has become more homogenised because of this, while others may say that culture has diversified because of the increased choice and variety. Some ways that culture has converged, changed and adapted are below:
  • Language: It is estimated that there is over 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. Countries with a large number of indigenous groups tend to have the most languages. In Papua New Guinea that only has a population of about 5 million, there are over 800 languages. Other countries like Belgium (French and Flemish) and Canada (English and French) are officially bilingual, while others have one predominant language and some minority languages e.g. in France about 500,000 either speak Corsican or Breton. The most widely spoke language in the world is Mandarin, followed by English and Spanish. The UN has six official languages; Arabic, Mandarin, English, French , Russian and Spanish. However, despite the wide variety of languages, many languages are being lost. English has become an international language. It is the first language used in many international conferences, in business transactions, in media, and in transport. It is also the language most commonly taught as a second language. Despite many languages being lost, there is a fight to preserve others. In wales there have been many laws introduced to protect the language, including making it compulsory up to GCSE level in all Welsh school. 'Historic' assembly vote for new Welsh language law - BBC article.
  • Food: Most countries have traditional dishes that they are famous for e.g. pupusas in El Salvador and pho in Vietnam. Many countries also have regional dishes e.g. Staffordshire in the UK is famous for oat cakes, Lancashire for Lancashire hot pot and Yorkshire for Yorkshire pudding. However, with increased migration global foods have spread around the world and most cities will now have Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Italian and French restaurants. Most cities also have fast food restaurants like Burger King, KFC and McDonald's. With the globalisation of food there has also been the development of fusion food e.g. the mixing of food from two or more countries and the development of seemingly foreign dishes in surrogate countries e.g. Chicken tikka masala which is seen as a Indian dish was actually invented in Birmingham, UK. As well regional foods there are also foods associated with religions e.g. Hindu's will not eat beef while Muslims will not eat Pork. Muslim and Jews also specify that their food should follow strict criteria for slaughter, preparation, etc. For Muslims this is known as Halal food for Jews Kosher food. In short globalisation has probably increased the variety of foods available and reduced the consumption of traditional dishes. It has also changed people's diet, which has caused health problems in some countries e.g. the growth of fast food in Asian countries has increased obesity and heart disease.
  • Dance: A lot of countries are associated with particular forms of dance e.g. England is associated with Morris dancing, Argentina the tango, Brazil the samba, Egypt belly dancing and Ireland Irish dancing (River Dance and Michael Flatley). However, international film, music and media like Youtube means individuals are exposed to a greater variety of dances that come and go in popularity. Break dancing, body popping and hip hop have all grown and fallen in popularity. (Raunchy dangdut music stirs debate in Indonesia - BBC article)
  • Religion: There are five major religions in the World i.e. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Taoism. Out of these probably only Islam and Christianity can be regarded as truly global. However, even these world religions have many different sects e.g. Islam has Sunni, Shia, Wahhabi, etc., while Christianity has Roman Catholic, Baptist, Church of England, etc. However, despite the growth of some religions e.g. Islam, many are seeing a reduction in the number practicing. Secularism is also on the rise in many countries like France and the UK.
  • Music: Most regions have traditional styles of music, traditional instruments and national or regional songs e.g. Italy is very much associated with opera. However, the growth of the internet, TV and radio mean that people are exposed to different styles of music. The power of TNCs to sell their artists means that certain styles of music e.g. rock, pop, rap, R&B have become dominant. Many countries managed to retain some of their national music style through their national anthems. TV shows like Eurovison may also promote music styles from some countries, not normally exposed to an international audience.
  • Dress: Most countries have traditional dress e.g. the ao dai in Vietnam and the sari in India. However, globalisation has meant that in many countries traditional dress is worn less as global fashions take over e.g. jeans. Some cultures though do follow strict dress codes either by choice or by law in Saudi Arabia women have to wear an abaya and head scarf, in Afghanistan women also had to wear a full burka (although these restrictions have now been slightly relaxed). At the other end of the extreme the French government has decided that the burkha is a sign of repression and banned its wearing in public.
  • Hierarchy: In many societies men have traditional been the head of the family and the many money earner while the female has often been the head of the house. However, with the growing emancipation of women, their improved education and national laws to protect individual rights, traditional hierarchical structures are being broken down. Now it is becoming increasingly common to see countries with female political leaders e.g. Angela Merkel in Germany and Julia Gillard in Australia and to see men to stay at home with children and women to go back to work. However, there are still areas of the world where women's rights and movements maybe restricted e.g. Saudi Arabia where women can't drive or converse with any man that is not immediate family.
  • Ethnicity: In centuries gone by there were very distinct ethnic groups. There was little migration between regions, let alone around the world. Mixed race marriages were also very rare. However, with the increase in migration and international tourism mixed race marriages are now common place. In countries like the UK children may have parents who are of different ethnicity, different nationality, speak different first languages and follow different religions (Mixed race Britain: charting the social history - Guardian Article)
  • Sport: Some sports were developed in certain countries and therefore are associated with them e.g. golf and rugby were invented in the UK. Other countries have adopted certain sports as their national sports and are strongly associated with them e.g. cricket in India and rugby in New Zealand. Other countries have festivals to celebrate national sports e.g. in Mongolia the Naadam festival celebrates wrestling, archery and horse riding. However, commercialism and the growth international sports events like the Olympics and the Football World Cup mean that some sports have become international. Football is now regarded by many as the 'Global Game'. This has meant that many regional and national sports have lost players to more globalised games.
  • Art: Many cultures are associated with certain forms of art e.g. cave painting, oil painting, pottery, and sculpture. Globalisation has meant that different forms of art are more widely available, maybe appreciated more and sold globally - some art like Aboriginal art has proved very popular commercially and the number of people practicing it has increased. However, many art forms are no longer passed between generations as youngsters enjoy other forms of entertainment like computer games. Some cultures try to protect traditional art in museums and workshops.
  • Housing: Many countries have traditional forms of housing and traditional living arrangements. In the Middle East many people would have been traditionally nomadic and lived in tents, the Inuits are associated with igloos and Mongolians with gers. However, most people now live more sedentary lifestyles and want luxuries like inside flush toilets, running, water, electricity, gardens, etc. More and more people now also live in urban areas. The movement of people to urban areas and economic development mean that houses are becoming more uniform with many people living in suburbs and apartments.
  • Transportation: Types of transport have changed with development and glabalisation. Traditionally most cultures would have walked and used some type of animal e.g. horses in Europe and camels in the Middle East to move around. However, the development of transport networks and forms of transport has meant that transport is now much more uniform with the car probably the most important. Some cultures are still identified with certain types of transportation e.g. the rickshaw in India, the bike in the Netherlands and tut tuts in Bangkok. Groups of people like the Amish have also rejected motorised transport and only use horse and carts.
  • Jobs: Most societies traditionally start of with most people being subsistence farmers and then see the development some secondary and eventually tertiary industries. Globalisation though has created a more international division of labour where jobs are often dependent upon education, availability of technology and availability of resources. Also some jobs have been lost because of mechanisation or because there job has become redundant e.g. because most people now send e-mails we do not need people who can send telegrams via Morse code. However, some jobs are still traditionally associated with certain cultural groups e.g. Peal diving is traditional to the Arabian Gulf, Staffordshire is associated with pottery and Sheffield steel.
  • Marriage: There are two main forms of marriage; monogamy (between two people) and polygamy (one man and multiple females). The incidence of polygamy is probably decreasing as women become more independent, but globalisation/development has also brought many other changes in marriage. Some countries have legalised same sex marriages or certainly allow civil partnerships (California ban on gay marriage ruled unconstitutional - BBC article). Also many people are choosing to get married later, in the UK the average age is now over 30 (Average age for women to marry hits 30 for first time - Telegraph Article) and some people are choosing to not get married. Divorce has also increased in most parts of the world.
  • Customs: These are common patterns of behaviour found with particular countries or regions that are then passed down through generations. Examples may include bowing to elders, not tipping, taking of shoes inside houses and celebrating certain days e.g. St. Patrick's (Paddy's) Day. Some of these customs may get diluted as young people see different behaviour in the media, while others may grow. St. Patrick's Day is a classic example. Not only are there now Irish bars around the World, but also the day is celebrated around the World, New York actually has a St. Patrick's Day parade.
  • Technology: The development of technology can certainly change culture. The development of agricultural equipment e.g. tractors and combine harvesters has meant that the number of agricultural societies around the world has decreased. The development of contraception and the medical procedure of abortion has brought about debate in the Catholic church. Also the development of computers and phones has possibly reduced face-to-face contact both in social and business settings.
  • Images: Images can now be spread around the world via the internet. These images can be from the past or the present. Images can help break or reinforce stereotypes. Traditional stereotypes of the English may be suited people with bowler hats and brief cases, but more images show that it is much more diverse. The internet can be used for positive purposes e.g. to spread images of environmental damage or political repression or more negative purposes e.g. promoting racism. Therefore images may not necessarily change our culture, but it may change our understanding and opinions of others.

Economic Migrants

As the world has become more globalised and transport and communications have improved, the global workforce has become more footloose. Both professional e.g. teachers and doctors and manual e.g. construction workers increasingly travel to where jobs are available and demanded. Some countries like Australia have fairly strict quotas and requirements for people migrating their. However, others like the UAE who have worker shortages actively advertise (through third parties) for migrants. In places like Europe the movement of workers has also increased with the EU's common labor market. The exact figure of international migrants is not fully known because many are illegal or temporary, but the figure is somewhere between 100-200 million.

When migrants move to other countries (either temporarily or permanently) they often take aspects of their own culture with them and introduce them. In El Salvador and Vietnam expatriates introduced cricket and established cricket leagues. In the UAE churches and temples were built by expatriates. Expatriates also take with them other aspects of their culture like:
  • Language
  • Clothes
  • Food
  • Entertainment
In some countries there are so many migrants that areas develop that carry many of the cultural traits of migrants. For example many cities have 'China Towns' and in Miami there is a 'Little Haiti' and a 'Little Havana'. In these two areas of Miami you are more likely to hear Spanish been spoken than English and more likely to see Central American restaurants rather than American.
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Expatriate: A person living in a foreign country.

Miami's Little Havana - BBC news report

International Tourists

As transport has improved along with people's disposable income and leisure time, the amount of international tourists has rapidly increased. There are now probably about 1 billion international tourist trips a year. Not only are there more tourists, but tourists are going to more and more remote locations e.g. Antarctica, Siberia, Tibet, Mongolia and the Amazon Rainforest. At the moment the majority of tourists are from developed countries and they tend to visit developed tourist centres. However, tourists can still have an impact on local cultures. Some of the most common ways include:
  • Availability of drugs, alcohol and tobacco: Many tourists demand these substances while abroad. Their increased circulation inevitably mean locals start to use them.
  • Sex: Unfortunately many tourists demand sex while they are away increasing the number of prostitutes and possibly conflicting with local beliefs on sex and marriage. (Sex-on-beach trial Britons guilty - BBC article)
  • Dress: Many tourists wear clothes that are different to the local country's traditional dress, some of which may be inappropriate or offensive e.g. bikinis and swimming shorts in the Middle East.
  • Materialism: When tourist arrive with hard currency, cameras, etc. locals previously unexposed to material goods, develop a sense of materialism. This can lead to jealousy, crime, etc.
  • Privatisation: With the arrival of tourists and tourist facilities places can become privatised e.g. ruins, National Parks, beaches, etc. denying the locals access to culturally important sites. Things like National Parks may also forbid traditional activities like hunting.
  • Global brands: Global hotel chains, airlines, restaurants, etc., also emerge where there are tourists to make money from. This may mean local shops, restaurants, and hotels are forced out of the market. This may change tastes in food, clothes, music, etc.
  • Second homes: Some tourist destinations attract foreign buyers. This changes the nature of the area as many properties sit empty and can force locals out of the market.
  • Inflation: Increased demand from tourist can force the price of land, property, transport, products, etc. to increase. These may mean that some locals e.g. fishermen can no longer afford to live in the area.
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China tourist town's culture clash - BBC article

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As globalisation has increased TNCs have attempted to sell their products to an ever growing global market. This has meant that many countries have global brands been sold in their shops and global franchises opening. In El Salvador fast food restaurants e.g. McDonald's, Burger King and Starbucks already have a strong hold and other global shops like ZARA, Sears, Payless, Pull and Bear, Apple and Benetton have opened (and GAP is opening soon). Commodities do not only mean food sold in restaurants and clothes sold in shops, but may also mean things like furniture, electronics, cars and books. The presence of global commodities can change individuals:
  • Diet
  • Fashion
  • Music and film tastes
  • Methods of transport
  • Shopping practices

Commodity: Any product that can be traded or exchanged.
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Bhutan - Cultural Diffusion

Bhutan is a landlocked country found in South Asia, squashed between the two Asian giants of China and India. The capital of Bhutan is Thimphu. The whole of the country is very mountainous and only has a population of about 700,000 people. Bhutan is a largely Buddhist country (although some do practice Hinduism) and has traditionally been an absolute monarchy, although some powers have been handed over to an executive council. Bhutan has four main languages, with Dzongkha been the official language. The economy is mainly based on agriculture and forestry - 60% of the population depend on these industries.

Bhutan is a very traditional society where the King has promoted ''Gross National Happiness" as an ideal and national dress has to be worn. Bhutan has tried to protect its culture from outside influences. It has done this in a number of ways including:
  • Banning TV
  • Banning the internet
  • Setting a quota on tourists and charging an expensive tourist tax

TV and the internet were finally allowed in in the late 1990's, although an "Information, Communication and Technology Act" restricts what people can look at. The government has put in place restrictions because they are worried about the sex, violence, dance, dress, commodities, etc. that people might be exposed to. Some have argued that TV is to blame for the rise in crime, while other point out that over half the country don't even have electricity so can't be influenced by TV.

Bhutan which only allowed outsiders into the country in the 1970's plans to allow 100,000 tourists in in 2012. Some argue that this is unlikely considering tourists have to pay between $200 and $250 a day. Bhutan currently receives about 30,000 tourists a year. Tourists are restricted to protect the environment and the culture. However, this is a careful balancing act because tourism can also bring in valuable income.

The enforcement of traditional Bhutanese culture has caused some discontent and protests amongst Nepalese citizens living in Bhutan. After the eruption of violence about 100,000 fled to refugee camps in Nepal.
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Bhutan: Country Profile: BBC article

Bhutan TV follows cyber launch - BBC article

Has TV Changed Bhutan? - BBC article

Bhutan looks to raise annual tourism target to 100,000 - BBC article