Western Culture

Learning Materials for Students

Massive Adoption of Cultural Traits from Another Society

The Process of Acculturation


Acculturation is the process by which a culture is transformed due to the massive adoption of cultural traits from another society: http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/acculturation

All cultures change through time. No culture is static however most cultures are basically conservative in that they tend to resist change. Some resist more than others by enacting laws for the preservation and protection of traditional cultural patterns while putting up barriers to alien ideas and things.  For example, the French government has forbidden the commercial use of English words for which there are French equivalencies. This is a reaction particularly to the widespread use and popularity of terms such as "sandwich" and "computer" among young people. More recently, Starbucks has found it very difficult to become established in France despite the fact that it is becoming successful elsewhere in Europe. In contrast, some cultures are extremely open to some kinds of change. Over the last two decades, the Peoples Republic of China has been rapidly adopting Western technology and culture in everyday life. This can be seen in their wide acceptance of everything from cell phones to American television shows and fast food. McDonald's has already established 560 of their restaurants in China and soon will be adding 100 more. KFC fried chicken franchises have been even more popular. There are 1000 KFC outlets throughout the country with more than 100 in Beijing alone. Taco Bell, A & W, and Pizza Hut are not far behind. In 2003, the Chinese government made the decision to require all children in the country, beginning with the 3rd grade of elementary school, to learn English. This will very likely accelerate the Westernization of their country.

It is now abundantly clear that we are in an accelerating culture change period all around the world regardless of whether we try to resist it or not. It is driven by the expansion of international commerce and especially mass media. Ultimately, what is driving it is our massive human population explosion. The number of people in the world now doubles in less than half a century.

What Actually Changes When Cultures Change?

When analyzing the transformation of a culture, it is clear that different understandings are gained depending on the focus. Anthropology began its study of this phenomenon, during the late 19th century, largely from the perspective of trying to understand how artifacts, such as tools, are invented and modified in design over time. It became apparent that there rarely are entirely new inventions. Most often, only the function, form, or principle is new, but not all three. For instance, our modern jack, used for lifting up the side of a car, is usually based on the principles of the lever and/or the screw. Those principles were well known to the ancient Greeks more than 2,000 years ago.

By the 1940's, anthropologists began to realize that ideas and artifacts generally are not invented or changed in isolation. They are the product of particular cultural settings. Cultures are organic wholes consisting of interdependent components. Inventions often occur in response to other cultural changes.

Likewise, inventions potentially can affect all cultural institutions. Beginning in the 1950's, for instance, televisions in American homes affected how and when members of families interacted with each other. Less time was available for direct conversation. The sizes of houses in more affluent areas of the U.S. are now usually 2-3 times larger than they were in the 1950's. As a consequence, family members often have their own rooms and become even more isolated from each other.

Similarly, the introduction of new, effective birth control measures, mostly beginning in the early 1960's, allowed people to easily limit the number of children they had and to space their births. This affected the relationships of children with their parents and siblings. When there are fewer children, parents can give more attention to each one. Likewise, more money per child is available for clothes, entertainment, gifts, and education. Potentially, there is also more money and leisure time for parents when there are fewer children in their family.

The interrelated nature of cultural institutions can also be seen in the effects of changing roles for American women since the mid-20th century. As they have increasingly moved into the work force outside of the home, it has given them financial independence and has altered traditional roles within the family. Men are less essential as bread winners and less accepted as patriarchs. They have begun to take on more child rearing and other domestic household responsibilities previously defined as "women's work." Divorce has become an economically viable alternative for women in unhappy marriages. There also has been a marked decrease in the frequency of mother-child interaction. American children have increasingly been raised by non-family members in child care centers and schools.

By the early 1960's, it was evident to some anthropologists that cultures do not exist in isolation. When cultures change, they can have major impacts on the environment. Similarly, when the environment changes, there are likely to be impacts on culture. For example, global warming at the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, were major contributing factors leading to the invention of agriculture. This technological innovation allowed for such immense increases in human populations that we began to rapidly alter the environment by depleting resources. In the vicinity of ancient cities, forests often were cut down for construction materials and fuel and wild animals were hunted to near extinction for food.

Since 1985, the average number of people living together in a household has been dropping in the 76 richest nations due to increased affluence and other social changes. Extended and joint family households are less popular. Divorce rates have gone up usually resulting in the establishment of new households by one or both former marriage partners. There also are larger numbers of unmarried adults who establish their own households. For a quarter century there has been a demand for housing that is significantly over what would be expected from the population growth in these nations. As a result, the need for lumber and other construction materials has caused a dramatic increase in the exploitation of forests. This in turn makes it increasingly more difficult to maintain global biological diversity.

The interrelationship between culture and environment also can be seen in our depletion of energy resources and forced adoption of new energy sources. As wood became relatively scarce by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, it was replaced by coal to fuel factories and heat homes. In turn, coal began to be replaced by oil and natural gas during the early 20th century. The increasing costs associated with petroleum products have now caused it to begin to be replaced by nuclear, solar, and other energy sources.

Human economies change as necessity forces us to alter our relationship with the environment. As our economies change, the rest of culture changes in response. We are now facing potential major global cultural changes over the next century as a result of the greenhouse effect that is presumably being caused or aggravated by the accelerated burning of fossil fuels and forest products. The result likely will be progressive global warming, shifting climates, and flooded coastal regions. Entire island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans may disappear below the sea. Actually, this process of people changing the global climate may have begun much earlier than the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as it has been commonly thought. William Ruddiman of the University of Virginia has evidence indicating that the rise of global temperatures began about 8,000 years ago with the early spread of agriculture. He suggests that the massive clearance of forests in Europe and Asia for farming beginning at that time released huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. He estimates that winter temperatures would be 7° C. (13.9° F.) higher now if this had not happened. In his estimation, this was enough warming to put off an impending ice age.

It is now clear that culture change is very complex. It has far ranging causes and effects. In order to understand all of the manifestations of change, we must take a holistic approach to studying cultures and the environments in which they exist. In other words, we must assume that human existence can be understood only as a multifaceted whole. Only then can we hope to understand the phenomena of culture change.

Processes of Change

All Cultures are inherently predisposed to change and, at the same time, to resist change. There are dynamic processes operating that encourage the acceptance of new things and ideas while there are others that encourage changeless stability. It is likely that social and psychological chaos would result if there were not the conservative forces resisting change.

There are three general sources of influence or pressure that are responsible for both change and resistance to it:


forces at work within a society


contact between societies


changes in the natural environment

Within a society, processes leading to change include invention and culture loss. Inventions may be either technological or ideological. The latter includes such things as the invention of algebra and calculus or the creation of a representative parliament as a replacement for rule by royal decree. Technological inventions include new tools, energy sources, and transportation methods as well as more frivolous and ephemeral things such as style of dress and bodily adornment.

Culture loss is an inevitable result of old cultural patterns being replaced by new ones. For instance, not many Americans today know how to care for a horse. A century ago, this was common knowledge, except in a few large urban centers. Since then, vehicles with internal combustion engines have replaced horses as our primary means of transportation and horse care knowledge lost its importance. As a result, children are rarely taught these skills. Instead, they are trained in the use of the new technologies of automobiles, televisions, stereos, cellular phones, and computers.

Within a society, processes that result in the resistance to change include habit and the integration of culture traits. Older people, in particular, are often reticent to replace their comfortable, long familiar cultural patterns. Habitual behavior provides emotional security in a threatening world of change. Religion also often provides strong moral justification and support for maintaining traditional ways. In the late 20th century, this has been especially true of nations guided by Islamic Law, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The fact that cultural institutions are integrated and often interdependent is a major source of resistance to change. For instance, in the late 20th century, rapidly changing roles of American women have been resisted by many men because it inevitably results in changes in their roles as well. Male and female roles do not exist independent of each other. This sort of integration of cultural traits inevitably slows down and modifies cultural changes. Needless to say, it is a source of frustration for both those who want to change and those who do not.

The processes leading to change that occur as a result of contact between societies are







Diffusion is the movement of things and ideas from one culture to another. When diffusion occurs, the form of a trait may move from one society to another but not its original cultural meaning. For instance, when McDonald's first brought their American style hamburgers to Moscow and Beijing, they were accepted as luxury foods for special occasions because they were relatively expensive and exotic. In America, of course, they have a very different meaning - they are ordinary every day fast food items.

Acculturation is what happens to an entire culture when alien traits diffuse in on a large scale and substantially replace traditional cultural patterns. After several centuries of relentless pressure from European Americans to adopt their ways, Native American cultures have been largely acculturated. As a result, the vast majority of American Indians now speak English instead of their ancestral language, wear European style clothes, go to school to learn about the world from a European perspective, and see themselves as being at least a peripheral part of the broader American society. As Native American societies continue to acculturate, most are experiencing a corresponding loss of their traditional cultures despite efforts of preservationists in their communities.

While acculturation is what happens to an entire culture when alien traits overwhelm it, transculturation is what happens to an individual when he or she moves to another society and adopts its culture. Immigrants who successfully learn the language and accept as their own the cultural patterns of their adopted country have transculturated. In contrast, people who live as socially isolated expatriates in a foreign land for years without desiring or expecting to become citizens and assimilated participants in the host culture are not transculturating.

There is one last process leading to change that occurs as an invention within a society as a result of an idea that diffuses from another. This is stimulus diffusion -- a genuine invention that is sparked by an idea from another culture.  An example of this occurred about 1821 when a Cherokee Indian named Sequoyah saw English writing which stimulated him to create a unique writing system for his own people. Part of his alphabet is illustrated below. Note that some letters are similar to English while others are not.

It is also likely that ancient Egyptians around 3050 B.C. invented their hieroglyphic writing system after learning about the cuneiform writing system invented by Sumerians in what is today Southern Iraq.

There are processes operating in the contact between cultures as well that result in resistance to change. These are due to "us versus them" competitive feelings and perceptions. Ethnocentrism also leads people to reject alien ideas and things as being unnatural and even immoral. These ingroup-outgroup dynamics commonly result in resistance to acculturation and assimilation.


In order to better grasp the relationship between all of the different mechanisms of change operating within and between societies, it is useful to see them again in summary:

We now understand that this holistic approach to understanding culture change must also include consideration of changes in the environment in which a society exists. For instance, environmental degradation of fresh water supplies, arable land, and energy sources historically have resulted in the creation of new inventions, migrations, and even war to acquire inadequate resources.

Acculturation: Part 1

When alien culture traits diffuse into a society on a massive scale, acculturation frequently is the result. The culture of the receiving society is significantly changed. However, acculturation does not necessarily result in new, alien culture traits completely replacing old indigenous ones. There often is a syncretism, or an amalgamation of traditional and introduced traits. The new traits may be blended with or worked into the indigenous cultural patterns to make them more acceptable.

The Highland Maya Indians of Guatemala and Chiapas State of Southern Mexico provide an example of religious syncretism. Spanish colonial authorities forced Christianity upon them beginning in the 16th century. However, the Maya defined some of the Christian saints as also being their ancient Indian gods. As a result, their indigenous religious belief system was only added to and modified. The overt religious practices seemed to be Christian to the Spanish authorities but they retained dual meanings for the Maya. Their religion was enriched by the syncretism.

Whether acculturation takes place often depends on the relationship between the culture that is receiving the new traits and the culture of their origin. If one society is militarily dominant in the culture contact and they perceive their own culture as being superior in terms of technology and quality of life, it is not likely that they will be acculturated.  This was the case in the contact between the English settlers of Australia and the Aborigines they encountered. Visiting an Australian city today, you see European culture almost exclusively. The English generally did not adopt Aborigine ways. However, some minor traits, such as words for plants, animals, and geographic locations, were accepted by the English. Since they were in control of the contact situation, the English were able to pick and choose the traits that would be incorporated into their culture.

If a society is militarily dominated but still perceives its culture to be superior, it also is not likely to be acculturated to the dominant society's culture. This sort of disdaining rejection of acculturation occurred following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire during the 5th century A.D. The end finally came as a result of repeated invasions by militarily superior Germanic tribes. The Romans did not adopt the language or other cultural patterns of their conquerors. It was just the opposite, the Goths and other Germanic tribes generally adopted Roman Christianity, the outward trappings of the Roman political system, and Latin as the language of learning.

A society that is militarily dominant in a culture contact situation but perceives its culture as being inferior is a likely candidate for acculturation. This was the case with the Mongols of North Central Asia under Genghis Khan after they conquered China in the 13th century A.D. The Mongolian occupiers largely adopted Chinese culture within a generation. They were acculturated by the people who they had defeated in war.

Contact between societies that are militarily and technologically equals rarely results in acculturation. This is especially true if both societies believe themselves to be culturally superior to the other. Contemporary France and England are an example. Words, foods, and other relatively superficial cultural traits regularly diffuse back and forth between them (especially in the upper social classes), but there is no massive influx of cultural traits. As a result, the Frenchman remains strongly French and the Englishman remains essentially English in culture.

In contrast, rapid, psychologically overwhelming acculturation usually occurs in societies that are both militarily dominated and believe themselves to be culturally inferior in terms of technology and quality of life. Many of the indigenous societies of Australia and North America suffered this fate. Not only were they ultimately powerless to prevent the occupation of their lands but they could not effectively control the impact of the alien culture on their own people. The consequence frequently was massive acculturation and the replacement of indigenous cultures with little syncretism with their own traditional cultural patterns.

Millenarian Movements

When a society is helpless to resist a massive cultural invasion and strong pressure to abandon traditional cultural patterns in favor of alien ones, there is usually considerable psychological stress. There is nearly constant culture shock in response to the new reality and disorientation from the failure of traditional skills and values in dealing with the rapidly changing situation. Under these circumstances, it is common for millenarian movements to occur. These are conscious, organized attempts to revive or perpetuate selected aspects of the indigenous culture or to gain control of the direction and rate of culture change. These movements have also been referred to as messianic, nativistic, and revitalization movements.

Millenarian movements are started and led by prophets who preach a religious-like belief in the coming of a new millennium, or period of great happiness, peace, and prosperity brought about by a new order of things. Some of the best known millenarian movements were the Cargo Cults of New Guinea and neighboring islands of Melanesia. They first appeared in 1931 at Buka in the Solomon Islands. Prophets predicted that a flood would soon engulf all Europeans in the region. This flood would be followed by the arrival of ships laden with European goods. Cult believers were to construct storehouses for the goods and to prepare to repulse colonial police. Because it was predicted that the cargo ships would arrive only after the believers used up their own supplies, they stopped farming.

The 1931 Cargo Cult leaders were arrested and the cult quickly died. However, it cropped up again and again in various forms throughout Melanesia, especially after World War II. Some of the later movements blended Christian theology with indigenous cultural ideas.  For instance, the resurrection of dead Melanesians was to coincide with the destruction and enslavement of Europeans. Later Cargo Cults also tended to focus more on controlling the ongoing acculturation rather than stopping it. Believers were promised that they would soon get European material wealth and knowledge without being dominated by their colonial masters.

A North American Indian equivalent of the Cargo Cult was the Ghost Dance Movement of the late 19th century. It began in Northwestern Nevada with a prophet named Tävibo. He was a partially acculturated Paviotso Indian who had worked enough as a ranch hand to get a superficial understanding of European American culture. In 1869, he began preaching his ideas about a new order of things that was coming. As a result of visions, he claimed that all non-Indian Americans would be destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake and that the Indians would get all of their wealth and power. Dead Indians would return to the living, food would be plentiful, and all would live peacefully and happily together. These millenarian ideas spread over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to North and Central California in 1870 where they flourished. The Ghost Dance followers were instructed to purify themselves, dance in a certain way, and sing special songs in order to hasten these changes. By 1872, most of the followers lost faith and the movement began to die out. This was followed by even more rapid acculturation in North and Central California.

A second Ghost Dance Movement began a generation later as a result of prophesies by Wovoka (also known as Jack Wilson). Wavoka may have been a young relative of Tävibo. It was claimed that Wovoka died of a fever and returned to the living after being told by God to renew the Ghost Dance Movement. Beginning in 1889, his preaching excited the Northern Plains Indians. He said that a new messiah was coming and that he would bring the ghosts of the Indian dead to join the living. In preparation, men and women had to purify themselves and give up alcohol and violence. They also had to dance in a large circle appealing to their ancestors for help. If this was done properly, the old Indian ways would be restored and the Plains Indians would be independent and powerful once again. This movement was taken on with great religious fervor in 1890 by the Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Oglala Sioux. All of these peoples were then embittered by being forced to settle on reservations where there were inadequate food supplies. Emboldened by "ghost shirts" with painted symbols that supposedly would protect them from bullets many left their reservations and renewed hostility with the U.S. Army. This proved to be a tragic decision. They were hunted down and many were killed at Wounded Knee and other skirmishes. The Ghost Dance Movement failed to deliver its promises and was abandoned.

All of these and other millenarian movements around the world have a number of things in common. They typically develop in small, previously isolated societies with low levels of technology. They are largely a response to the psychological stresses resulting from oppressive culture contact situations in which they are pressured to acculturate with little control over the changes. Their old cultural ways no longer seem to work and the new, alien culture is only partly understood. They also usually use supernatural means to carry out their goal. This involves a leap of faith. In doing this, they are acting rationally from their own culture's perspective. However, they are using good logic based on false assumptions.

The goal of millenarian movements is usually one of two things--the elimination or control of the alien people, customs, and values that are threatening the native ones. These movements are deliberate, organized, conscious efforts to construct or reconstruct a satisfying culture. While there is a focus on particular aspects of culture, apparently there is always a perception of the culture as a whole system in the minds of a movement's participants.

Millenarian movements are, in a sense, healthy signs in that they occur only as long as there is enough of the old culture surviving to be viable.  These movements are attempts to stem the tide of psychological disorientation by constructing a meaningful culture from what is remembered of the past and what is poorly understood of the alien culture that is dominating them. If acculturation has proceeded to the point that there is little of the old culture left and there is widespread anomie, a millenarian movement is much less likely to occur.

Millenarian movements are not just phenomena of the past. They still appear from time to time. A recent one called Naparama developed in Mozambique during the 1980's. This movement was spawned in the chaos and destruction of a prolonged civil war. Mass starvation and cultural disintegration were rampant.  Manuel Antonio was the prophet leader of the Naparama "Spirit Army."  He was a mysterious man in his 20's who intentionally kept his tribal identity a secret. He attracted followers by saying that he had died of measles and after 6 days had risen from the grave to receive a message from God instructing him to liberate people behind the lines of the Renamo Army faction.

A core Naparama belief was that warriors who were "vaccinated" would be protected from bullets, spears, and knives. "Vaccination" was a rite in which numerous cuts were made on the chest and neck of initiates with a razor blade. Ashes and unidentified herbs were rubbed into the wounds. At the conclusion, initiates were struck hard with the sharp edge of a panga to prove their invulnerability. If the initiate flinched, the "vaccination" procedure was repeated. Twenty or more teenage boys were usually initiated at a time. When at its peak, the Naparama movement reportedly had about 3,000 dedicated followers.

When the Naparama warriors went into battle, each carried a short spear and a red ribbon pinned on their clothing for protection from bullets. Antonio said that this provided magical protection that would work as long as the young men did not give in to fear. During the late 1980's, the Naparama Spirit Army apparently overran at least 24 well armed Renamo rebel strongholds. Reportedly, the Renamo defenders gave up without a fight when confronted by the magic of Naparama. With the end of the Mozambique civil war in the early 1990's, the Naparama Spirit Army seems to have faded away.

Many charismatic leaders have founded millenarian movements in rapidly changing modern industrialized nations as well. While they did not arise in small isolated, technologically limited societies, as was the case with the Cargo Cults and Ghost Dance Movements, they share many of the same characteristics. The followers typically are disillusioned, alienated people who are desperately searching for a more meaningful world view. Recent examples of these new movements in America include the Heaven's Gate (led by Marshall "Do" Applewhite), the Branch Davidians (led by David Koresh), and the People's Temple (led by Reverend Jim Jones). All three movements failed to achieve their prophesized rewards and came to an abrupt end with mass suicide and murder.

There have been other similar religion focused millenarian movements that have not failed. Examples of these include the Jehovah's Witnesses (founded by Charles Russell in the 1870's), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (founded by Joseph Smith in the 1830's). Likewise, some indigenous millenarian movements elsewhere in the world have survived by changing and adopting methods that do not require magic and leaps of faith. For example, the Mau-Mau Movement in Kenya during the early 1950's survived, after a bitter but successful war of independence against Britain, by evolving into a national political movement.

Acculturation: Part 2

Not all isolated, small-scale foraging or horticultural societies developed millenarian movements when they were put under great pressure to acculturate by militarily powerful outsiders. However, rapid destructive acculturation most often has been common. The dominant, controlling society in a culture contact situation rarely takes the time and effort to find out ahead what the impact of their technology and culture will be on the indigenous societies that they are dominating.

The Purari Delta tribes of coastal Papua New Guinea provide an example of unintended effects in such culture contact situations. Prior to their first encounter with Europeans, they lived as hunters, gatherers, and small-scale farmers in the isolation of 500 square miles of densely vegetated delta land, rivers, and swamps. The 8,000 Purari people were concentrated in 6 large villages which had institutionalized patterns of raiding each other to obtain victims for ritual cannibalism. The large settlements provided personal defense and the social benefits of a more exciting ceremonial life.

The Purari tribes all shared an elaborate religious belief system in which all adult males participated. To become a participant, boys had to go through an initiation ceremony (pairama) in which they ate part of a dead enemy. By so doing, they acquired the power (imunu) of the victim. Only males were cannibals and it was only done in connection with this initiation ceremony. However, victims could be male, female, young, or old. Without acquiring imunu, boys could not become men, get married, or assume political and religious offices. They would remain children all of their lives. As a result, it was inconceivable that they would not go through this initiation.

The first European contact with Purari people was in 1907 when the London Mission Society established an outpost near their territory.  Beginning in 1913, the British government sporadically recruited men from the delta to work in labor gangs at the Vailala oil fields and the Public Works Department of Port Moresby. About this time, the Purari tribes made peace with the European missionaries and allowed government patrols to pass through their territory. The outsiders were no threat to the Purari food sources and stayed out of their social life. Christianity did not appeal to them. The old religion and ritual cannibalism continued.

Over the next several decades, government control over the Purari Delta progressively tightened and intertribal warfare began to be suppressed, but the old belief system remained intact and cannibalism continued. Missionaries still made no progress in converting the people. World War II accelerated contacts with Europeans since more Purari men were hired as laborers. By the end of the war, intertribal warfare and cannibalism were largely stopped by a strong police presence. This created a major problem for the Purari people. They were not able to properly initiate boys. They tried to substitute eating pig in place of human meat, but it was not satisfactory. They did not question the validity of their beliefs, but they were prevented from following them.

Most of Purari culture was left unaltered by the colonial authorities. They were only interested in suppressing war and cannibalism, both of which were at the core of the Purari religious system. By the early 1950's, life had become dissatisfying. Ceremonies were now only family matters and, subsequently, ineffective. The large villages dispersed into small, isolated settlements.  Traditional marriage practices generally ended because boys were not becoming men and only men could get married. The kinship system and codes of conduct became vague. There was a dramatic increase in incest, murder, and suicide--boys were not responsible for adhering to the adult moral code. Over the next 30 years, the population dropped by 1/3 and rapid acculturation began.

An implication of the Purari Delta case is that when culture contact is so overwhelming as to change important institutions that are cultural focal points, it should be expected that it will set in motion far ranging impacts resulting in the rapid destruction of the old way of life, widespread anomie, and even depopulation. The elements of culture are interrelated in a way that makes them interdependent, and some elements are more essential to a particular culture than are others. Changes in these central elements will produce more significant and far ranging effects. For the Purari people, it was the pairama ceremony and associated cannibalism that proved to be central.

Despite the good intentions of the colonial authorities who stopped cannibalism, the result was ultimately disastrous for the Purari people and their culture. Far more people died when this practice was eliminated and Purari culture began to collapse. No doubt, other factors also were involved in this ethnocide and near genocide, but the destruction of traditional Purari religious practices in particular knocked out the crucial underpinnings of their society, resulting in the confusion and disillusionment that led to the collapse of their traditional culture.

Not all acculturation is as harmful for indigenous peoples. If their military domination is more protective than exploitive, indigenous societies can be selective in accepting which alien traits enter their cultures. For this to happen, it is crucial that outsiders take the time to learn about the cultures of the indigenous peoples they control. If the key cultural institutions are recognized and left intact, healthy syncretism can occur. It is the job of applied anthropologists to help in this transition. They study endangered indigenous cultures in order to gain information needed to prevent disastrous culture change. They provide this information to both the indigenous peoples and to national governments who often are the sources of change.

Global Change

Most of the isolated peoples that anthropologists studied around the world in past generations are now in dismal situations. Small indigenous societies have suffered greatly from the spread of Western culture over the last century. Some of these peoples have died out, while most are in terminal phases of the stressful process of rapid acculturation. This radical, often painful culture change is occurring mostly in underdeveloped nations today. These countries have persistent low levels of living that can be linked historically to the manner of their integration into the world economic system. They usually provide cheap raw materials and labor. Their natural and human resources are bought cheaply by rich nations and transnational corporations.

It is quite clear that small indigenous societies have not been the only ones experiencing rapid, dramatic culture change over the last century. People in all societies have faced unprecedented changes in their lives. There has been a globalization of economies so that the entire world is now economically tied together by complex webs of interdependence. Most manufactured items that we buy have components produced in several countries on different continents. Fresh produce in our supermarkets often was grown elsewhere, especially in the winter. Corporations regularly outsource their tech support and other phone based services to India. Manufacturing jobs also progressively move to China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other nations where labor is comparatively cheap. In a very real sense, geographical barriers are things of the past. Distances do not matter any more for communication and business. When there is a stock market collapse in Asia, Europe, or North America, it reverberates throughout the rest of the world. Regional economic independence no longer exists. Economic wealth also has progressively shifted from nations to transnational corporations. At the present time, 51 of the 100 biggest economies in the world are corporations and this trend is continuing. More than 20 million Americans now work for major transnational corporations.

The rate of globalization has been accelerating over the last decade. Contributing factors in making the world a smaller place have been the spread of Internet and email access as well as massive levels of international travel. Every year, approximately 8 million Americans travel to other countries on business trips and 19 million visit other parts of the world as tourists. Frequent international travel is by no means limited to Americans. It has become common for people in the industrialized regions of the world. However, the majority of those living in underdeveloped nations do not travel internationally nor do they have Internet access. Over half of all North Americans are using the Internet, but only 1% of the people in Africa and the Middle East have it available to them. However, images, values, and tastes from the Western World are now flooding virtually all nations via television, movies, and billboards.

We are living in a time of a continuously accelerating knowledge revolution. This has resulted in shorter time periods between major impacting technological inventions. In less than a single lifetime, jet aircraft, televisions, transistor radios, hand held calculators, cellular phones, computers, and the Internet have appeared and radically changed our lives. Rapid, inexpensive global communication and travel are a reality. On the down side, information overdose is now a common problem. People in developed nations have 24 hour access to news and entertainment in many forms and vast databases of information are as close as the nearest desktop computer.

Driving all of these global changes has been a dramatic increase in the size of the human population. Our numbers have doubled over the last 4 decades.  However, only 5% of that growth has occurred in the developed nations. Because the underdeveloped nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are generating nearly all of the population growth, we will have added the equivalent of 3 more impoverished sub-Saharan Africas to the world within a quarter of a century.

However, the overall world growth rate is now declining, especially in the developed nations. Birth rates generally are down, but life spans are longer. Consequentially, the elderly are the fastest growing age group worldwide, even in many of the poorer nations. Those 65 and older are likely to increase in numbers twice as fast as the population as a whole at least until 2020. One result of this change will be an increasing financial burden on younger working people to pay for the pensions and medical costs of the expanding elderly group. The graying of the population is most pronounced now in Europe and Japan. Italy has the unenviable record of being the first nation to reach the point at which there are more people over 60 than under 20 years old. Spain, Germany, and Greece will shortly achieve this ratio also. In North America, similar trends are being statistically masked by an enormous immigration of young people from Latin America.

In some regions, however, the trend is just the opposite. For instance, Nigeria's continued high birth rate will likely result in a doubling of its population over the next quarter century. While the highest projected growth rates are in Africa, the biggest population increases will be in the developing nations of Asia.

Accompanying the dramatic growth in population has been a massive immigration into the richer nations of North America, Western Europe, and Australia by people from the poorer ones. This primarily economic driven migration has had a profound effect on life in the receiving countries.  The new diversity has been felt particularly by public services. For instance, major school districts in California now must cope with more than 75 different languages being spoken by their students. Generally, these demographic changes have more profoundly affected cities than rural areas. In Los Angeles, for example, only 9% of its residents were foreign born in 1960. By 1990, that number had grown to 40% of the population.

Within the industrialized nations, there has also been massive internal migration over the last half century. Many middle class urbanites moved out into suburbia and beyond. In addition, there have been extensive regional migrations. For instance, many Southern Italians have moved to Northern Italy for jobs. Many people from Ireland, Scotland, and the old industrialized cities of Northern England have moved to Southern England for the same reason.

Over the last two centuries, there has developed a progressive disparity in wealth between nations and between major regions. Economic power has become concentrated mostly in the industrialized nations of the northern hemisphere. Their control of manufacturing and international trade resulted in an unequal playing field. This disparity has provided people in the richer nations with greater access to food, electricity, fossil fuels, education, and medicine with the consequence that their lives are materially more comfortable and their life spans are significantly longer. By comparison, 1.2 billion people in the third world live on less than one U.S. dollar per day.

The disproportionate amount of resources used by the rich nations has exacted a high cost for our planet. There is increasingly burdensome environmental decimation and pollution as well as depletion of key non-renewable resources.  This situation will likely become much worse over the next few decades as China, with its enormous population, becomes highly industrialized and the standard of living for its population increases dramatically. They already consume more meat, grains, coal, steel, and other basic resources than the United States. Americans still use more oil than any other nation, but its consumption is increasing rapidly in China. If the trend in growth of the Chinese economy and standard of living continues at its current rate, by early in the 2030's they could be consuming more oil and other key resources than the entire world currently produces. The phenomenal growth in the Chinese economy comes at a high price for its own people. Their cities are among the most polluted in the world. Not far behind China in becoming an economic powerhouse in the 21st century will likely be India, the second most populous nation. A consequence of this will be a dramatic increase in the competition for resources.

One of the most far ranging social and cultural changes that has occurred over the last century has been the increase in economic and political power of women in the developed nations, especially in the Western ones. During the 19th century, women in these countries generally could not vote, attend a university, become doctors, lawyers, politicians, government officials, or corporate leaders. They were expected to only aspire to become housewives and mothers. When married, their husbands often gained full legal rights to their property.

This second class status of Western women has largely ended. Men gave up some of their power due in part to the need for women to actively participate in the war efforts of the great world wars of the first half of the 20th century. It also has been due to the emergence in recent decades of post industrial economies that require much less manual labor in factories. An additional important factor has been the constant pressure by women to be treated as equals. However, the significantly increased status and power of Western women generally has not been matched by women elsewhere in the world.


Home Assignment


Please study the website below and prepare to speak about


(1)     the processes of culture change

(2)     diffusion and acculturation

(3)     millenarian movements

(4)     global change

(5)   http://anthro.palomar.edu/change/default.htm






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