Culture, according to Dr. Charles Heatwole of Hunter College, "involves a total way of life that characterizes a group of people." When those groups of people begin to mix and mingle, they bring their cultural attributes with them. Groups and individuals pick up both positive and negative traits from each other, which may help the culture evolve and improve or which may ultimately weaken it.
Advantages for the Individual
One advantage of cultural diffusion is that the individual is able to learn about ideas outside his own culture. He begins to see that there are other ways of doing things, other ways of thinking and other ways of reacting, Heatwole says. This expanded perception allows him to experience the enrichment and benefit of new concepts. For example, American corporations operating internationally often employ female executives. When exposed to this concept, individuals in societies with more limited gender roles may come to accept the idea that there is substantial benefit from the strong contributions women offer in the workplace.
Disadvantages for the Individual
Disadvantages of cultural diffusion can include the loss of a person's own cultural identity, according to Exeter University's Lesley Newson. As outside influences seep in, long-term traditions may be forgotten in the face of more dynamic ways of doing things. Unfortunately, feelings of rootlessness or cultural detachment may result. This can be seen within the cultural expression of folk dance. In several countries, performing folk dance companies have been formed by professional dancers, costumers and choreographers. The original dances are manipulated and polished for maximum stage appeal. This intrusion of a more commercial dance culture often makes traditional folk dancers feel that their participatory version of the dances are inferior to presentation versions and should be discarded, notes Lewis Segal in the Los Angeles Times.
Advantages for the Group
Culture groups often enjoy benefits of cultural diffusion by learning more effective ways of doing things. Long-standing problems may be solved and communication enhanced by borrowing positive cultural artifacts from another group. Cuisine is an excellent demonstration of this. Pasta, for example, became a staple of the Italian diet after it was imported from other regions, most likely Asia -- though most likely not by Marco Polo. It provided an affordable and accessible carbohydrate source that could be dried and stored for long periods of time and has become the basis of a style of cooking for which Italy has become world famous.
Disadvantages for the Group
Unfortunately, sometimes cultural diffusion may become cause for concern when members of a particular group feel that their own culture is being taken over by another culture. Strong nationalistic, patriotic sentiments may arise in an attempt to restore the original culture. In Ireland, for example, Gaelic was the native language until the 19th century, when Britain decided to assert more control by fostering English as the primary language of government and commerce and by banning Gaelic in the schools. As a result of political, economic and educational pressure, experts believe less than 5 percent of Irish speak Gaelic fluently today, despite being compulsory in schools. Today, various Irish culture societies that are working to teach Gaelic to new generations so that the native language will not be lost forever.
- Culture: a Geographical Perspective; Charles A. Heatwole Ph.D.
- Diffusionism and Acculturation; Michael Goldstein, Gail King and Meghan Wright
- Cultural Evolution and the Shaping of Cultural Destiny; Lesley Newson
- Uncover the History of Pasta; PBS The History Kitchen
- The International Business Challenge; John S. Hill
- Igor Moiseyev, 101; Elevated Folk Dancing into a Theatrical Art; Lewis Segal
- Where Are All the Gaelic Speakers?; Machán Magan
- Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images