Transformation of culture

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Transformation of culture, or cultural change, is the dynamic process whereby the living cultures of the world are changing and adapting to external or internal forces. This process is occurring within Western culture as well as non-Western and indigenous cultures and cultures of the world. Forces which contribute to the cultural change described in this article include: colonization, globalization, advances in communication, transport and infrastructure improvements, and military expansion.

Theories of cultural change

Various scholars have proposed different theories of cultural change. Thomas R. Rochon proposed a differentiation between three modes of cultural change:[1]

  • value conversion – the replacement of existing cultural values with new ones (ex. changing views of slavery as an acceptable practice to an abhorrent one)[1]
  • value creation – the development of new ideas to apply to new situations (ex. emergence of the environmental issues or concepts such as sexual harassment)[1]
  • value connection – the development of a conceptual link between phenomena previously thought unconnected or connected in a different way

Transformation of Western culture

Luddites destroy machines, 1812

"Western" or European culture began to undergo rapid change starting with the arrival of Columbus in the New World, and continuing with the Industrial Revolution. The Modern Period, from 1914–1945, is characterized as a highly transformative era, with World War I serving as the watershed moment initiating and forever marking the Modern period.[2] In literature, the work of the High Modernists ruled this period. Notable High Modernists include: T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. The High Modernists were predominantly American expatriates living abroad after the war and strongly marked by the war experience. A great deal of literature was written attempting to convey the World War I experience. Among these is Ezra Pound's poem, "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley", published in 1920. The poem points out the perceived pointlessness of World War I, but also the loss of faith in the British Empire and Western ideals. Another example of literature during this time is the anti-war poem "Dulce et Decorum Est.", written by Wilfred Owen. This poem contests the deep-seated tradition of noblesse oblige, and questions the idea of dying for one's country.

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in Western culture, especially in Europe due to the severe restructuring necessary following the Post–World War II economic expansion and in the United States due to its controversial participation in both the Cold War and South East Asian political affairs with the Vietnam War, where the US role was perceived from a number of directions as prolonging the residual effects of decades of colonial patronization in the Asian region by economically well to do European powers. This period was marked by a number of nascent social changes including a heightened sensitivity to the futility of war which sparked hundreds of protest marches and popular uprisings on a world-wide scale, rising tides of awareness concerning the need to change overwhelmingly negative race-relations in the USA, experimental drug use, the growth of television, a new genre in popular music, and a general shift away from social normatives of previous generations. Out of this era stemmed some of today's most powerful forces, such as the internet. The internet was created in large part by people cooperating, taking chances, and experimenting outside of corporate settings. Many of the individuals who were drawn to the technology in its infancy were activists and progressives.[3] Some scholars and social theorists recognize that we are undergoing another cultural change brought about by the New Industrial Revolution. This Revolution is changing the way that products are made and disposed of,[4] how buildings are constructed, and our relationship to the natural world and its capital.[5] See also: segregation laws, conscientious objection, May 1968.

Transformation of indigenous cultures

Wi-jún-jon before and after his trip to Washington, DC, by George Catlin

Many of the themes discussed in the context of transformation of cultures and cultural change have particular urgency for the world's indigenous peoples. Indigenous systems of collective economic production and distribution do not conform to capitalism's emphasis on individual accumulation. This phenomenon is not new, although processes of globalization have increased the scale and frequency of such conflicts of perspective. The contradictions between indigenous and capitalist mode of production, and the tensions generated by their intersection, have deep historical roots in the process of colonization.[6]

In many cases, the two worldviews are indeed antithetical. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot activist from the Philippines, summarizes the difference when she writes that "industrialized culture regards our values as unscientific obstacles to modernization and thus worthy of ridicule, suppression, and denigration. The industrial world also views our political, social, and land-tenure traditions as dangerous: our collective identities; our communal ownership of forests, waters, and lands; our usufruct system of community sharing, and our consensus decision-making are all antithetical to the capitalist hallmarks of individualism and private property." [7]

Many indigenous peoples view "resources" in a very different way from that of global industry's commodity-centered calculus. A leader of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, Secwepemc author Arthur Manuel writes: "Mainstream economists tend to value development strategies solely in terms of their wealth generation potential for industry and governments. So resources are viewed in strictly monetary terms. But indigenous peoples consider the value of land and resources in far broader, more integrated terms, including cultural, social, spiritual and environmental values, and their sustainability. Among indigenous peoples, decisions about caring for resources and the environment are usually made as part of a collective process, where the community takes into account a full spectrum of values and benefits other than short-term economic gains"[8]

Around the world many indigenous groups have over centuries or millennia successfully sustained economies in one particular place and ecosystem. The co-adaptation of people with other elements of their ecological systems has meant that the integrity and functioning of these systems has been sustained even as the communities' culture developed and changed historically. These economic arrangements are viewed as one component of a cultural understandings that include sacred interactions with the world.[9]

Indigenous economies can thus be seen to be sustainable to the extent to which the holders of culture interact in a culturally appropriate way with the world around them, including those elements of the world known to modern scientists as "natural resources". In many areas indigenous people have sustained communities for centuries, and the ecological systems of which they are a component have maintained relative richness and resilience to natural perturbations such as drought or fires. The ecosystems that have been remained predominantly under control and care of indigenous peoples thus tend to be characterized by high biodiversity, abundant renewable resources, and relatively unexploited nonrenewable resources. For many indigenous groups, the advent of globalization threatens the sustainability of their economies by making their land and knowledge valuable targets as commodities in a globalized economy.

Environmental stresses and impacts on cultures

Cultures around the world are undergoing change due to environmental stresses, such as climate change. Globalization and increased consumerism are increasing environmental stress by contributing to deforestation.[10] In addition to deforestation, other stresses such as introduction of foreign species,[11] pollution,[12] and urban sprawl.[13]

Indigenous resistance

In many cases, however, indigenous people have not passively acceded to the penetration of extractive capitalism into their communities. The following section thus not only reviews how globalization impacts indigenous people, but also describes how indigenous communities resist or negotiate to defend their territories and cultural integrity.

Economic policy, when set on a global scale, can undermine the political gains that indigenous peoples may have made within the legal systems of nation states. Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization has written of how World Trade Organization (WTO) authority is diminishing the sovereignty of nation states over their land, water, genetic material, and public services.[14] The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), for example, favors the privatization of systems (such as those for water distribution) that serve the general public but without an equitable provision of services that is often at odds with maximization of profits.[15] Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed as a condition of loans from global finance agencies such as the World Bank also often mandate privatization. The effects on indigenous peoples and other poor people can be devastating. World Bank-mandated SAP privatization of coal mining in the Indian state of Orissa in the 1990s, for example, resulted in contamination of rivers, increased rates of fluoride poisoning, infections, and cancer, displacement of towns, and power rates that increased by 500%.[16] The World Bank and IMF have also made water privatization a prior condition for granting loans and debt reductions.[17] Structural adjustment programs also weaken national-level environmental and labor laws that indigenous communities may have relied on in previous struggles to maintain control over territory and resources.[18]

Other new international trade rules also negatively impact indigenous peoples. For example, Article I of GATT prohibits national governments from restricting imported goods specifically from any single other WTO member nation. This article thus makes it impossible for national governments to restrict imports from other WTO countries with questionable human rights, labor, or environmental records and thus disallows a potential safeguard for the rights of indigenous peoples.[19] Article III of the GATT, together with its corollary Articles V and XI, requires governments to treat all imports "no less favorably" than locally produced goods and bans restrictions on imports. Victor Menotti writes of how this feature of GATT "prevents any government from favoring or protecting it own local industries, or farmers or cultures that might otherwise by overwhelmed by globe-spanning corporations bringing vast amounts of cheap imports that make local or indigenous economies non-viable". Similar "free trade" policies under NAFTA have already been demonstrated to undercut the livelihoods of small-scale Mexican corn farmers, many of whom are indigenous, who are unable to compete with cheap, mass-produced grain from the US.[20]

Technological impacts

Technological innovations can enhance, displace or devalue human existence and culture[21]

Advances in medical technology have contributed to demographic changes, including increased longevity and decreasing fertility. For example, although China has slowed its population increases through a one-child per family policy, the median age of its people will soar in the next 35 years.[22] In some Third World countries, kidneys, eyes and skin are sold in a flourishing market for body parts.[23] There is also rising concern amongst many[quantify] indigenous people groups over the interrelated issues of genetic patenting and biopiracy. For example, a Guaymi woman was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991. Whilst in hospital in the city of Panama she had blood samples taken and without her knowledge or free, prior, and informed consent. The cell-line enclosed in these samples was stored, "immortalized", patented, and put up for sale at a price of $136 US dollars. The scientists involved in this process claimed to have "invented" this woman's cell-line. Their rationale for taking the samples and processing them for patenting was that these samples held "commercial promise" in the scientific world for the discovery of potential medical breakthroughs and that the government[which?] encourages the patenting of anything which may have a link to such a discovery. The main contention in the debate apart from ethical dilemmas over genetic research is the fact that the woman from whom the samples were taken was never consulted about the process, so in effect, the whole process was done without her knowing it was going on or understanding what was happening to her.[24] This presents an additional dilemma alongside the issue of genetic manipulation: freedom of information. There is also the implication of "why her", "why an indigenous Guaymi woman and not a Euro-American". This type of technological case-in-point presents as a more recent dilemma for indigenous groups because commonly, such failure to properly inform insofar as the impact of either scientific research endeavours or corporate-style development schemes are concerned has historically tended to coincide with policies and paradigms of practice which have their basis in racial discrimination.[citation needed]

On the more positive side, certain technological innovations such as computers, the Internet, and miscellaneous sound and visual recording media have been welcomed and embraced by indigenous peoples as a means of communicating to wider society their concerns about the dilemmas not only faced by them but by the whole world in view of the extent of socioeconomic, cultural and political transformations that have continued to evolve and impact global diversity in far-reaching and often unpredictable ways.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Thomas R. Rochon, Culture Moves: Ideas, Activism, and Changing Values, Princeton U. Press, 1998, ISBN 0-691-01157-5, p.55-56
  2. Professor Robert Hershey, at the James E. Rogers College of Law expands on this concept and how it relates to transformation of cultures in his globalization course.
  3. How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. New York, NY: Penguin Group. 2005. ISBN 0-670-03382-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. William McDonough & Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press, New York 2002).
  5. Paul Hawkins, Amory Lovins & L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism (Little, Brown and Company, New York 1999).
  6. Eric Wolf (1982), Europe and the People Without History. Univ. of California Press, LA.
  7. from "Our Right to Remain Separate and Distinct" In PARADIGM WARS: INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' RESISTANCE TO ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION (hereafter "PARADIGM WARS") 10-11. (Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds., 2005).
  8. (Manuel 2005: 177). From "Indigenous Brief to WTO: How the Denial of Aboriginal Title Serves as an Illegal Export Subsidy." In PARADIGM WARS 177.
  9. For an attempt to correlate levels of knowledge of an ecosystem with the number of generations that a people have been living in a particular place, and a description of the means by which knowledge of sustainable economic practices becomes incorporated into the sacred practices and beliefs of a community, see F. Berkes, C. Folke, and M. Gadgil, Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Biodiversity, Resilience, and Sustainability. In BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION 281-289. (C.A. Perry, ed.) (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995).
  10. Jensen & George Draffan, Derrick (2004). Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests. White River Jct., Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing. ISBN 978-1-931498-45-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Barringer, Felicity (March 5, 2004). "Where There's No Room for All Three of Them". NY Times. pp. sec. A, p. 10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Evans, Ed., Nancy (2004). Chemical State of the Evidence: What is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?. Breast Cancer Fund.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Buzbee, William W. (1999). "Urban Sprawl, Federalism, and the Problem of Institutional Complexity". 68 Fordham L. Rev. p. 57.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Victor Menotti. How the World Trade Organization (WTO) Diminishes Native Sovereignty. In Paradigm Wars, 46-57. (Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds., 2005). ISBN 1-57805-132-0
  15. Investment in infrastructure to provide water to a small village, for example, may not make business sense if the number of users is too small or too poor to provide a return on the initial construction costs. A national or local government agency may choose to pursue such a project either out of social responsibility or in response to political pressure, but a private company is less likely to do so. Additionally, costs of basic services such as water often rise under privatization as companies seek to increase profits, a change that can result in a loss of access for poor people. Id.
  16. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. World Bank and IMF Impacts on Indigenous Economies. In Paradigm Wars, 40. (Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds., 2005).
  17. Antonia Juhasz. Global Water Wars. In Paradigm Wars, 88-93. (Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds., 2005).
  18. Tauli-Corpuz, 42-43. For a specific overview of how a SAP resulted in an impoverishment of small-scale farmers as measured by household nutrition studies, see Wycliffe Chilowa, The Impact of Agricultural Liberalization on Food Security in Malawi. FOOD POLICY. 23(6): 553-569. (1998). For an examination of how SAPs lead to environmental degradation as rural people are forced into vulnerable situations, see David Kaimowitz, Graham Thiele, and Pablo Pacheco, "The Effects of Structural Adjustment on Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Lowland Bolivia". World Development. 27(3): 505-520. (1999).
  19. Victor Menotti. How the World Trade Organization (WTO) Diminishes Native Sovereignty. In Paradigm Wars 48. (Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, eds., 2005). Chillingly, Menotti notes that under current GATT rules it would thus have been impossible to boycott South African goods during apartheid.
  20. Gonzalo Fanjul and Arabella Fraser. Dumping without Borders: How U.S. Agricultural Policies are Destroying the Livelihoods of Mexican Corn Farmers. OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER NO. 50. (2003).
  21. Marx, Leo (1964). The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Kahn, Joseph (May 30, 2004). "The Most Populous Nation Faces a Population Crisis". NY Times. Retrieved July 5, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Andrew Kimbrell (2001) [1996]. "The Patenting of Life and the Global Market on Body Parts". In Edward Goldsmith and Jerry Mander (eds.). The Case Against the Global Economy: And for a Turn Towards Localization. Random House. pp. 141–144. ISBN 0-87156-865-9.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Whitt, L. Science, Colonialism, and Indigenous Peoples: The Cultural Politics of Law and Knowledge, 2009, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Further reading