A Global Transformation in Culture & Cultural Imperialism

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  • 0:03 Global Culture
  • 0:45 Globalization &…
  • 2:45 Gender & Sex
  • 4:00 Multinational Companies
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the concepts of globalization and cultural imperialism, two important issues that have only just begun to shape the 21st-century world.

Global Culture

When I say the word 'culture,' what do you think of? Perhaps you think of your favorite band, the common values you share with your friends or your community, or perhaps you think about your recent trip to an art museum. Culture, believe it or not, is all those things and then some.

Culture is essentially whatever values, practices, beliefs, interests, and customs are shared by a collective group of people - whether it's a few hundred people in a small town or several million people of an entire region. Today the globalized world is changing cultures quicker and forcing interactions between cultures more than ever before. In this lesson, we'll explore just how cultures around the world are being changed and their reactions to globalization.

Globalization & Cultural Imperialism

In order to talk about how it is affecting world cultures, we should probably first discuss just what globalization is. Globalization can refer to many things, but generally it refers to the increased exchange of ideas, values, and culture across borders between disparate cultures and regions. Anything can be conscious or unwitting agents of this change, be it corporations, cultural trends, or actual people themselves.

Globalization and its effects on the world are still a hotly contested issue. Some see globalization as a natural side effect of the growth of global capitalism and a generally positive development. After all, the exchange of beliefs and values across cultures has led to some of the greatest discoveries and challenged the greatest minds in our shared history. In addition, the integration of global economic markets has spurred some of the greatest economic growth in human history.

In recent years, however, there's been considerable backlash against globalization, particularly in cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere who feel European and Western values in general are being unfairly forced upon them. While part of this is surely due to the intermittent military campaigns the United States and the Western world has conducted in those regions in the past quarter-century, much of the anger can be traced to the encroachment of Western values upon traditional cultures in those regions. In fact, many of the terrorist groups with which the Western world seems to be constantly at war state a rejection of Western values and culture as one of the central tenets of their organizations.

This encroachment of Western values upon the cultures of other worlds - whether conscious or not - is often referred to as cultural imperialism. The imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries often referred to nations foisting their laws upon other nations with armies and co-opted governments. Cultural imperialism is much subtler - it refers to the supplanting of one culture for another in the minds of a people traditionally of another culture. Often, this refers to the encroachment of Western values on the rest of the world.

Gender and Sex

One area in particular where there is often conflict is in gender roles and in the treatment of sex. For example, for the past century, women have been gaining greater and greater freedom in Western society as traditional gender roles have been attacked by feminist groups, philosophers, and other commentators. Though many of women's gains have been relatively recent, many of the philosophical underpinnings of the women's liberation movement - to make a long but incredibly important story short - were formulated during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment itself was a movement particular to Western Europe and its cultural antecedents in North America; its values, therefore, have very little cultural currency in other parts of the world which did not create and adopt Enlightenment-era principles.

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