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How do Cultures Change?

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  • 0:02 Definition of Culture
  • 0:46 Internal Cultural Change
  • 1:54 External Cultural Change
  • 3:09 Cultural Change Today
  • 3:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

The culture of a society is not stagnant. It can change under certain situations. This lesson will provide examples and discuss both outside influences and factors within society that can cause cultural change.

Definition of Culture

Imagine you live in a remote village that has had little contact with the outside world. The oldest members of the community are respected decision makers for the village. Your daily life is centered on traditions that have been passed down for generations. You're generally happy and do not desire a different life.

Let's envision this remote village as a tropical island paradise. The customs, attitudes, and beliefs that are part of your society make up the culture of the people who live on the island. Culture is unique to each group of people and defines who they are. However, under the right circumstances, cultures can change. We are going to examine some different ways change could happen to your island paradise.

Internal Cultural Change

Cultural change can occur from within through new philosophical ideas or technological advancement. People may rebel against government decisions and declare their independence. Someone might discover that washing your hands can help prevent illness better than performing a religious ritual. Someone else might invent a faster way to harvest crops. All of these things change a culture in some way.

For example, someone on your island paradise learned to farm. Before this time, people would rely on fishing to provide them with food. The fish would be supplemented by coconuts, fruits and berries, or other edible plants that were gathered. There are still fishermen on your island, but now there are farmers as well. Less time is spent looking for food, leaving time for other pursuits.

The culture of your island has changed because farming has made fishing less important. Other trades can be taught to new generations, and society has changed. There are many examples of this in our culture today. How has society changed since the invention of the computer? How have the Internet and cell phone changed society?

External Cultural Change

Another way culture can change is through contact with other cultures. When contact occurs between two cultures, diffusion may occur. Diffusion is the transfer of ideas between cultures. In the past, this was limited because fewer people were able to travel or communicate with people from far away lands. Today, technology has made communication and travel much easier. We can experience different cultural ideas by logging on to our computers and surfing the Internet.

Another change is taking place on your island paradise. A few years ago, two Christian missionaries came to your island. They taught their beliefs, and some of the people on the island began to practice this new religion. Over time, more people are beginning to show interest in Christianity and more are beginning to lose interest in the old ways. Religion is no longer a common bond among all of the people of your island.

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