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Cultural diffusion refers to the "spread of cultural characteristics from one group to another" (Glen Hoffarth, Blackhawk Technical College). Diffusion can consist of material culture, like cars or computers, and non-material culture, like beliefs or traditions. When cultural diffusion occurs, it can bring many benefits to a society but it can also present problems and obstacles.
One disadvantage of cultural diffusion is known as cultural levelling. This is process by which different cultures become increasingly similar to one another, most often as a result of travel and communication. The danger of cultural levelling is that it can erode the traditional cultural practices, beliefs and interests of one group, in favour of another, therefore creating one culture that dominates all others. Cultural levelling thus promotes uniformity over diversity.
Ethnocentrism is another danger associated with cultural diffusion. Ethnocentrism, the process by which we make false assumptions about another culture, can often lead to misinterpretation, prejudice and negative relations between social groups. For example, people may talk of British drivers driving the "wrong side" of the road, instead of saying the opposite or left-hand side. This style of thinking encourages people to judge others based on their own experiences and ideals, instead of learning about and respecting them for who they are.
One advantage of cultural diffusion is its ability to enrich the existing dominant culture. The expression "dissing," for example, originated as an aspect of African-American street culture but is now accepted and widely-used in everyday conversation. In addition, when the technological innovations of one culture are diffused to another, they can foster positive social change and dramatically improve the lives of people in other cultures. Examples include medical vaccinations or labour-saving devices, like dishwashers, that are produced by one culture and diffused into another.
Cultural diffusion also has the added advantage of promoting interaction and understanding between cultures. The Internet, for example, allows almost instant communication between people of different cultures, promoting interaction and understanding through the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, beliefs and values. Other aspects of cultural diffusion, like the popularity of world cinema, also promotes linguistic awareness and understanding of other cultures.
- Delmar College: Culture
- Houston Institute for Culture: Globalization
- South Nazarene University: Why Is Ethnocentrism Bad?
- "Sociology: Understanding A Diverse Society;" M. L. Andersen & H. F. Taylor; 2008
- New York State Education Department: Culture - A Geographical Perspective
- Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images