Changing identities and cultures


  • Cultural diffusion – it is the spread of cultural traits from one place to another through the processes of cultural change. There are a number of types:
    • Expansion diffusion – occurs when an idea develops in a source area and spreads into other areas while remaining strong at the source. E.g. spread of Islam from Saudi Arabia
    • Relocation diffusion – people who have adopted new ideas carry with them to a new location. E.g. Christianity to Africa from Europe.
  • Distance decay effect – The longer an idea takes and the further the distance it has to travel, the less likely it is to be adopted in new areas.
  • Adoption of mass culture – new cultural traits are taken in their entirety, perhaps abandoning old traditions
  • Adaptation/ Adaption of mass culture –cultural traits are modified so it can be accommodated within the context of an existing culture.
  • Cultural Hybridity– the extent to which different cultures are intermixed. Mixing of cultures can occur through; migration, media, transport revolution, Growth of global brands and even the internet
  • Cultural traits – characteristics of culture that gives a culture its sense of identity – i.e what makes them different from others
  • Ethnicity – the shared sense of belonging to one ethnic group or another, based on ancestral lineage or cultural history.
  • Cultural diversity – the differences in cultural characteristics that are manifested in a given culture. Cultures that are not diverse tend to be homogeneous

The global spectrum of cultural traits, ethnicities and identities

Global Cultural Diversity

Culture is the way of life of a group of people. It includes aspects of their lives that make them different from others. It is what makes people who they are – culture. Cultural traits are the individual elements of the culture of a given people. These include, language, dressing, music, religion etc.

Over the past centuries, cultural traits have been passed on from one generation to another in a given society or shared/exchanged with other cultures. This has led to the cultural diversity or the hybridization of cultures. The diversity of cultures could be the result of adoption ( where the given culture adopts wholly the entire ‘foreign’ culture without modifying it) or through adaptation ( ie. where elements of the ‘borrowed’ culture are modified to the fit a given society). It is these processes of adoption and adaptation of cultures that have led to the development of what is known as a “global culture“. For example, the wearing of jeans pair of trousers started in the USA and is now worn by many in different parts of the world. Again, the use of iPhones have become part of the daily lives of many in different parts of the world. This is cultural product that is designed in the USA, manufactured in China and sold in different markets across the globe. This process of globalizing American cultural products is what is termed “Americanization“, whilst the adoption of western culture (British, Canadian, Italian, Japanese culture etc) in different parts of the world is “Westernization“.

Today, even though western culture stills plays a significant role in shaping the global cultural landscape, it can be seen that other non-western cultures are beginning to influence global cultures than even before. Countries in Asia, such as China, Japan, including the Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, as well as Brazil, India and Nigeria are greatly influencing the global cultural landscape. For example, China is influencing the technological landscape with it flagship phone Huawei, just as South Korea is with Samsung. Japanese car manufacturing company, Toyota, has produced significant numbers of vehicles that can be found in almost every country in the world. To a large extent, the world is assuming similarities in culture that can be best described as a global culture.

Question: “Globalization involves the imposition of Western culture on the entire world.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Characteristics of a global culture

  1. Language: English has become a common language in almost every country in the world. This is due to the colonial influence of Britain in the past and the growing influence of the USA in different parts of the world through the use of ‘soft power’ such as the movies, the internet, books, magazines etc which are all written in English.
  2. Dressing: Many forms of dressing are becoming global. For example the wearing jeans trousers by both males and females, suits mostly worn by the British have also been adopted in almost every part of the world. This is due to its global appeal and the imposition of these styles of dressing by western countries either through colonization or advertisement
  3. Music: Music genre and the individual songs composed by some musicians could be listened to in different parts of the world. For example, Gangnan Style, the South Korean hit song had the highest YouTube videos until recently. Besides, most American musics post their songs on the internet and on iTunes store and downloaded by people in all parts of the world.
  4. Movies/Television: Western movies are beginning to dominate most in cinemas in different parts of the world.Telenovelas from the USA and Mexico and other South American countries are viewed world wide by millions of viewers. Bollywood movies are also making greater impacts on the movies industry worldwide. For example, Slum dog millionaire was a global hit at the time of its release
  5. Sport: This also plays a crucial role is shaping the cultural landscape worldwide. The English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, NBA, NFL in America, all have a global appeal and watched by millions world wide. Now, local clubs in most European countries have foreign players as a way of increasing their global sphere of influence, which to a large extent also shows how sports has become a global culture.
  6. Others include tourism, religion, education, architectural designs etc

Pathways to the growing global culture

The world is developing a global culture ( cultural hybridization) due to the following reasons:

  1. The Transnational companies’ influence: TNCs play a critical role in shaping the global culture. Coca-Cola, Mcdonald’s, KFC and Star Bites have influenced the global food culture in many parts of the world. Clothing brands such as Marks and Spencer, Izod, St Micheals, D&G, and shows electronics companies such as Apple, Samsung, Dell etc have impacted the global culture of dressing and the use of electronic devices in our daily lives.
  2. International Migration: The international migration of workers and economic migrants has influenced global culture. For example, the Irish migrating to the USA during their potato famine led to the introduction of Irish beer (Guinness) in America, which has also spread to different parts of the world. They have also introduced their cultural belief such as the Leprecon and the celebration of St. Francis’ Day, which is observed in America and many parts of the world. Chinese and Indians have also introduced their cuisine in many parts of the world e.g. Chinese restaurants in many parts of the world show the impact of migration on local cultures.
  3. International Tourism: International tourism by most westerners has led to the spread of western culture in different parts of the world. Eg. tourists influence local cultures with their language (local people need to learn the language of the tourist to be able to communicate with them), styles of dressing, technology and habits.
  4. Global Media: Like TNCs, global media networks such as CNN, BBC, AlJazeera etc have also contributed to fueling the speed with which global culture is spreading. They telecast news and documentaries that focus on western and non-western cultures, which contributes to the development of a global culture.
  5. Improvement in transport and communication: The speed with which transport networks have developed plays a key role in promoting a global culture. With the invention of fast rail, road and air transport, many people are able to travel to different parts of the world within a short period of time, thereby resulting in the transportation of cultural values, products and services to different parts of the world. The internet has also contributed to the global culture in that it helps spread different ways of life of different people in many parts of the world in seconds. For example, with social media websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp, people are able to exchange information ( voice messages, videos, texts, etc) within a short period. Now, with Facebook live, a cultural event in one part of the world can be viewed by several million in different parts of the world.
  6. Free trade agreements encourage the spread of global cultures. Products from different countries can now be transported to other countries without restrictions. This facilitates the spread of foreign cultures in terms of the spread of goods and services, language, cuisine, etc

Notwithstanding the growing influence of global culture in many parts of the world, differences may exist at varying scales at national and local scales. For example, some countries such as the USA, France, and the UK are more diverse culturally because of the different nationalities (Chinese, Indians, Jamaicans, Mexicans, Philippinos, Italians, Nigerians, Somalians, etc) in these countries. This makes such countries cultural melting pots, as they become hubs in which different cultures converge, leading to the development of a new culture that is different from the original culture of the given country.

On the other hand, some cities are more culturally diverse than others due to the increasing number of foreigners living in such cities. E.g London, San Francisco, Paris, Shanghai, Dubai, and New York may be described as being culturally diverse than some other cities in the world

Barriers to global interactions

The barriers to the spread of global culture can arise due to the following:

  1. Censorship of the internet in some countries like Turkey, North Korea and Bahrain can limit the extent of global interactions and thus the spread of global cultures.
  2. The restrictions on migration to countries such as Australia can reduce the influence of foreign cultures, thus limiting the global influence of other cultures.
  3. Some possible considerations of the now well-documented and growing risks associated with outsourcing/offshoring have contributed in limited the migration of workers and industries to foreign countries. For example, the USA has started imposing tariffs on Chinese products as a way of encouraging American companies to return to the USA (re-shoring) and possibly limiting the entry of Chinese products into American markets. This can limit global cultural change in the USA.
  4. Physical/environmental barriers are now being considered by countries such as the USA to limit global cultural influence from South America and Mexico. Donald Trump’s effort to build a wall along the southern US border with Mexico is an example of anti-globalization and an attempt to limit the global spread of Latin American culture.
  5. The resurgence of nationalism and anti-globalization movements in Bolivia, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe on the need for the countries to take control of their own resources and/or culture is a way of limiting the extent of global culture in these countries
  6. The double-edged effect of MGOs reduces barriers to internal exchanges while erecting barriers to external trade (eg through the adoption of a common external tariff in the case of the EU, thereby excluding some producers from access to the European market


  1. “The barriers to global interactions are increasing, not decreasing.” Discuss this statement. 15marks
  2. Using examples, distinguish between local adoption and local adaptation of globalized cultural traits. [10]

A cultural trait is an aspect of culture (way of life/social norms/structure of feeling/habitus). For example, language, diet, clothing, custom, and religion. Allow a broad interpretation, such as the adoption of a branded commodity as part of “everyday life” eg McDonaldization / spread of the Big Mac.

• Adoption of a trait can take the form of cultural imperialism (where one culture imposes its culture on another eg spread of English and Christianity under the British Empire). Some commodities/brands are not sensitive to local conditions and are rolled out in a homogenous way across territories eg Lego.

• Adaptation involves the globalization of culture/commodities, resulting in a hybrid or fusion of local and global. There are many different variants of spoken French or Spanish around the world; localized expressions of the major faiths are found in each continent; food and music fusions are abundant.

The effects of global interactions on cultural diversity in different places:

A. The diffusion of cultural traits and indigenous tribes

The diffusion of cultural traits in a given society makes it difficult for such cultures to maintain their identity, leading to ‘hybridization’ and homogenization. The hybridization of culture is reinforced by international corporations and media organizations. Advertising helps to sustain the homogenization of culture through its support for economic activity and foreign investment. First, it portrays the foreign product as part of the local culture so as to speed its acceptance. Eg children in Japan and Dubai see McDonald’s as Japanese or Arab. The second influence of advertising is that it sometimes portrays the product as exotic in the hope that people will embrace the product as better than what is locally produced. Case studies of how foreign cultures influence local cultures are discussed below:

Case study: The Xingu of the Amazonian forest

Acknowledgement: This case study was provided by Eyram Agbe, IB Geography Class of 2018, HGIC

Background information

Located in the Amazon basin, in the state of Pará, the Xingu River serves as one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River. The river sustains the lives of many Indian tribes in the region.

About fourteen tribes such as the Areweté, the Kayapo and Arara live in the Xingu community. About 25,000 people in total live in the basin. In 1961, the 26,000km2 Xingu National Park was created by the Brazilian government and became the pioneering indigenous National Park in the South American region. Aside from being the first recognized Indian Territory in Brazil, the park is the second largest in the country after Jau Park.

According to the Rainforest Action Network, parks like that of the Xingu make up about 20% of the Brazilian Amazon, and 70% of its protected areas. These groups reportedly defend the region from deforestation with weapons, ensuring the preservation of plant and animal life. In recent times, however, this has proved futile.

Cultural traits of the Xingu people

Their diets compose of manioc, birds and fish. Only fish with scales are eaten, and only about three species of birds are consumed (curassow, guan and Jacobins). Per Dr Dran James on Xingu Indians, these groups take advantage of the bountiful wild fruits in the rainforest and determine what is edible by observing what the monkeys eat.

Longhouses feature prominently in Xingu communities. These are spacious ‘huts’ with two doors on opposite sides and straw for roofs. There are no windows, meaning that light and ventilation come in and occur through the doors. According to Paul Guinness, one longhouse is big enough to take in a passenger jet. They take about six months to build and accommodate about forty people.

Common areas are left around the longhouses. Many of the Xingu bury their dead in these areas in front of their homes. A special ceremony called the Kuarup occurs to primarily honour the dead, but also to undergo other rites of passage such as the initiation of girls into the Xingu society.

Some economic activities include catching fish with wooden traps and canoes. Men usually make these traps and go out to fish, while women and children collect the fish and bake it. Salt is also made by the women in these communities. In moitará, the system of trade between villages, items such as food, spices, necklaces and ceramics are traded. Men trade amongst men and women among women.

Impact of cultural diffusion on the Xingu people

Economic threats and impacts:

Threats to the Xingu started in 1968 when road builders and other workers settled in the area and infected the people with an array of viruses. The population of the villages reduced from thousands of people to about 320 people living in two villages. This deteriorated to about 79 people by 1974.

One of the biggest impacts on the Xingu community is the proposed Belo Monte dam. National Geographic records that when the plan for the dam was pitched in 1975, about sixteen Amazonian tribes protested it on the grounds that it would flood their ancestral lands. The government made a commitment to leaving some land undisturbed. Although the dam will generate about 11, 233 megawatts for Brazil and meet its growing energy needs, it will also lead to the forced relocation of about 12000 people and the destruction of vital ecosystems in the region.

According to Amazon Watch, the construction of the dam has already wreaked some havoc on the fish species present in the Xingu River. Additionally, the quality of the water has significantly deteriorated, inhibiting the cultural practice of bathing and limiting the amount of water available for domestic and agricultural purposes. In addition to this, alcoholism, depression and conflicts have increased among the Juruana and Arara people as a result of the dam’s construction, signifying a breakdown of cultural values.

Another major threat to the Xingu’s habitat is the development of soya farms. A Guardian article by John Vidal states that most of the territory in the Amazon basin is declared ‘empty.’ As a result, big corporations such as Cargill manipulate the local Xingu populations into forfeiting the land, so soya can be produced to meet the demands of fast food chains such as McDonald’s. Soya is mainly used for poultry and cattle feed in European countries, thus the link to these global brands. This phenomenon is particularly disturbing, as these lands are usually uncultivated virgin lands.

Soya farms are a huge threat because of the large scale on which they have been developed. Cargill alone, by 2006, had built a port and about 13 storage points in the basin. Its presence facilitates the easy provision of seeds and a reliable credit market to farmers, smoothing out the farming process. Mato Grosso has fast become Brazil’s largest soya-producing state, experiencing deforestation at the rate of 28,000 hectares per year. With large numbers of soya producers in the region, huge volumes of effluent end up in the Xingu River and nearby tributaries. This severely impairs the local people from maintaining their old ways of living. Since soya also requires quite a lot of water, there is competition between multinational soybean cultivation and the Xingu people for water resources.

Social threats and impacts:

Longhouses now commonly feature television sets, which bring aspects of outside culture into the indigenous setting. Eg telenovelas, music videos. These are usually doled out by international companies seeking to appease the people for the damage caused by their activities. Through television, the Xingu have adopted the use of solar panels and radio transmitters, for example, as beneficial for everyday life. However, consumer culture is still a contentious element of cultural diffusion within the community.

Football, popular in Brazil’s urban areas, has infiltrated society. Many of the tribes participate in weekly football leagues and also keep up with football matches through television and radio.

Dressing has also been significantly impacted by exposure to global brands and cultural diffusion. Ceremonial clothes are not as prominent anymore, as members of the Xingu communities opt for Western clothes – particularly football jerseys and articles bearing known advertisements. According to an LA Times article, women prefer long cotton dresses and men prefer shorts and shirts. This phenomenon is especially so because half of the current Xingu population is less than 15 years old. A youthful population means the tribe is more receptive to new, foreign ideas.

B. Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism is said to exist when one culture imposes itself on another. It can be deliberate, active or formal or otherwise. It is usually the case that the former is a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter is a smaller, less powerful nation. It dates back to the era of colonization when the former colonial masters imposed their cultures on their colonies.

Today, cultural imperialism has taken a new dimension by becoming a political or economic process. For example, TNCs and international media organizations have promoted cultural imperialism in the interest of western and non-western nations such as CNN in the USA, BBC in the UK, and Al Jazeera in Qatar.

In some cases, it has led to the development of a hybridized culture of the complete adoption of the foreign culture. With western music for instance, young children have associated listening to western hip-hop music with development and progress and in some cases, local musicians blend the western genre of music with their local genre to produce a new form of music genre. E.g. Hip-hop (USA) and High life music (Ghana) have been hybridized to form what is called Hip-life; a new genre of music in Ghana.

Aspects of culture that have been influenced by cultural imperialism

  1. Language – English becoming the most dominant language in the world, due to the influence of colonial masters (UK) on many former British territories in many parts of the world. It has become the dominant language of business communication, education, etc.
  2. Tourism – Tourists exhibit cultures in places they visit by promoting lifestyles that are not familiar to the local population of the tourist destination. Eg British tourists visiting Costa del Sol in Spain often drink beer and eat fish with chips, while lying on a crowded beach. The local people indirectly adopt these lifestyles.
  3. Democracy – Capitalist countries promote democracy directly or indirectly by funding democratic elections in poor or developing countries. Eg. The imposition of democracy and western education on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan after the US invasion of these countries is a form of cultural imperialism
  4. Media – Global Media networks (Disney, Time Warner, etc) transmitted via the internet or satellite have led to the imposition of western cultures on others. Advertisers also use the media to portray western cultural products as the best for everyone.
  5. Global brands – Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have dominated the global food industry and are present on almost every continent (except Antarctica). McDonald’s has 31,000 branches in 119 different countries and in 1997, it opened an outlet every 4 hours. Coca-Cola products can virtually be found in every town or village in the world today. It is western drink that is presented as a local cultural product – now served at traditional functions such as marriage ceremonies, etc.

Criticisms of cultural imperialism

  • It is one-way. One culture is imposed on another but that is not the case for the weaker culture to influence the stronger.
  • It leads to homogenization of the landscape, which might not be in the interest of the weaker culture. E.g democracy is not always the best for illiterate societies. It leads to the exploitation of the poor by the rich.

C. Glocalization of branded commodities and cultural hybridity

  • McDonald’s Case Study
  • Coca-Cola Case Study

Question: Explain how TNCs use glocalization to maintain their cultural influence in a given society.

D. Cultural landscape changes in the built environment

Homogenization of Landscapes refers to the similarities or uniformity in the landscape of major cities worldwide. This can be seen in terms of:

  • Transport infrastructure design – multiple carriage roads, inner-city ring, underground railway systems, urban bus network, airports etc
  • location of certain services – e.g. the location of the CBD in most cities is the center of the city, characterised by shopping areas, pedestrianized zones, high land values, fast food restaurants etc
  • arrangement or patterns of housing – eg, inner cities with low-quality housing, middle-class neighbourhoods in suburban areas, urban sprawl as well as land zoning where services are located in specialized areas
  • colours of buildings
  • signs and symbols for traffic management, etc. – eg. symbols of TNCs characterize the skyline of most major cities. Typical symbols are M for MacDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Sony, Philips, HSBC, Barclays, etc

Factors responsible for the homogenization of the landscape

  1. Technology: Improvements in communication technology have made it possible for people worldwide to study or observe the pattern of cities and replicate them in their own countries.
  2. Improvements in transport infrastructure: It has facilitated migration between cities, enabling the sharing of ideas between cultures.
  3. Increase in international migration and the spread of ideas and cultures. Mexicans migrating to California build restaurants in the Mexican style. Indonesians and Lebanese in Ghana introduce shisha lounges and other cultural businesses locally.
  4. Time-space convergence, allowing improvements in global interactions: Interactions between people all over the world such as Facebook and other social media, YouTube,
  5. Desire for global brands such as Sony, HSBC, Apple etc.: Due to the branding of these products, stores and services, the same type of building can be found wherever the brands are.
  6. Improvements in the standard of living and the desire to become part of the global community.
  7. Globalization of economic activity, culture and politics: economic activities such as businesses, shops, malls, etc. becoming global phenomena. In terms of culture: art and sports are becoming more popular internationally.

Question: Using examples, analyse the increasing uniformity of many of the world’s urban landscapes.

How diasporas influence cultural diversity and identity at both global and local scales

Question: Examine the role of diasporas in preserving culture and the adoption of minority traits in one country.

A diaspora is a group of people that has been displaced outside its original homeland. Diasporas usually develop through voluntary or forced migration. Examples of diasporas include Irish Diaspora (about 70 million people living in different parts of the world, especially the UK and the USA, claim Irish ancestry), Jewish diaspora, Chinese diaspora, Polish diaspora, Indian Diaspora etc.

Diasporas can influence cultural diversity and identity at both global and local scales in a number of ways. A case study of the Irish diaspora in the USA can demonstrate this:

  1. Irish Pub culture: Guinness , Banges and Mash are consumed in many countries today, as a result of the cultural diffusion by the Irish Diaspora. This is associated with culture pub culture, and has been adopted worldwide
  2. Irish sport: Gaelic football and curling are of Irish origin. It is played in many countries in Europe and N. America.
  3. Irish myths and legends: Leprechaun and four leafed clovers are often considered signs of good luck. This is associated with Irish culture and has been accepted internationally in most cultures.

4. Halloween celebrations originated from Ireland to America and now celebrated worldwide. The history has roots in Irish culture.

St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Ireland

5. Festivals such as St. Patrick’s Day is Irish culture. This is widely celebrated in the USA and Europe and with the popularity of social media it is celebrated by many in different parts of the world.

6. Irish Food: Irish potatoes is a popular meal in many parts of the world. It is eaten at home, restaurants and served at social functions. This is associated with the Irish population, and it is the Potato Famine that led to the death of many in the 17th Century, which led to the massive out-migration of Irish to Europe and N. America.

7. Irish Music and Dancing

Source: The Irish cultural traditions and their origins

Question: Examine how economic, technological and political factors may all influence the growth of global diaspora populations. ((BO)


  1. “Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam. Amazon Watch. Web. 31st October, 2017.
  2. Guinness, Paul. Global Interactions. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2011. Print.
  3. Michael Astor/Associated Press Writer. “Brazil’s Indians Trying to Keep Culture Alive.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 14th March 2004. Web. 31st October, 2017.
  4. Pantone, Dr. Dran James. “The Indians of the Xingu.” Xingu Indians. Web. 31st October, 2017.
  5. Photograph by Aaron Vincent Elkaim, The Aexia Foundation. “Amazon Tribes Stand Up for Their Survival.” The National Geographic. 23rd June, 2017. Web. 31st October, 2017.
  6. Vidal, John. “The 7,000km Journey That Links Amazon Destruction to Fast Food.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 6th April 2006. Web. 31st October, 2017.