The Effects of Contact & Exchange Between Societies

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  • 0:04 What Are Societies?
  • 1:04 The Negative Aspects…
  • 2:47 The Positive Aspects…
  • 3:39 Hyperbole
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what societies are, and describe the effects, both positive and negative, of contact and exchange between those societies. A short quiz will follow.

What are Societies?

A society is a group of people living together in an ordered community, often having similar laws, customs, and social organization. Societies can be hugely different from each other. In western countries, we have very different ideas about things than African countries, who also have very different ideas about things than cultures in Asia. You only have to look at remote tribes in the Amazon rainforest to see just how different societies can be.

So what happens when those societies make contact with each other? What happens when they exchange cultural ideas and trade goods? Today, we're going to summarize what can happen, both the bad and the good.

The Effects of Contact & Exchange

It's easy for people to talk about the benefits of contact and exchange. Most of us want people to get along, and you can argue that having contact with different cultures is wholly a good thing. After all, the more we understand each other, the more we understand other cultures and societies, the more tolerant we become, the more knowledgeable we are about social norms, and the less likely it is that conflict will happen. Understanding can't be anything but good, right?

Unfortunately, historically, the effects of contact and exchange have been a much more mixed bag than we might like. In fact, it could be argued that the effects, especially initially, were almost exclusively negative.

The initial contact of indigenous peoples with outsiders can be a huge shock in itself. Historically, missionaries, slavers, farmers, and miners have visited these cultures and forced themselves on the indigenous peoples in aggressive ways. It's not hard to impact a culture significantly when you do that.

Many indigenous cultures would take on the politics, economics, or religion of the outsiders in an attempt to gain power. This created conflict between the indigenous people as well as between them and the outsiders. This process by which cultures are changed or mixed by contact with one another is called acculturation.

But it isn't just cultural influence at work here. When two societies make contact with each other for the first time, they often transfer disease between them. The two groups of people might have totally different diseases that their bodies won't be able to fight off. When Europeans (like the British, French, Dutch and Spanish) explored the world and claimed land for themselves, they often brought diseases that Europeans could handle, but that would wipe out hundreds or even thousands of indigenous people. There's even evidence that early European explorers and conquerors unknowingly spread enough disease to wipe out almost 95% of the native population in the Americas!

Regardless of intent, Western cultures would take advantage of these native populations in their weakened states and exploit their land and resources. To an extent, this continues even to this day, though it's more likely to be multinational corporations than foreign governments.

On the positive side, it's hard to argue there haven't been benefits to contact and exchange between cultures. There are fewer wars now than ever before, and life-expectancy is higher worldwide. While the European system of economics and government has become dominant, displacing and destroying many other cultures, it's hard to argue that this system isn't also responsible for the higher life-expectancy as well as greater education, health, and living standards.

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