World Cultures

There are believed to be up to 200 countries in the world, populated by thousands of ethnic groups who speak 6,800 languages. Generalizing on world cultures is impossible because of the wide range of ethnic, religious and cultural differences even within the limits of a country. Of course, none of the ethnic cultures can exist in isolation and is likely to co-exist with others, at least in the purely physical aspect of two or more neighboring cultures. Due to this co-existence and resulting cross-cultural exchanges, many cultures share common characteristics geographically, historically, linguistically and demographically. However, a detailed view on specific world cultures is an inexhaustible subject matter and this is why only a broad overview on general trends will be offered.

There are two main approaches to world cultures - retaining cultural identity and diversity and globalization. The first one, which is largely based on isolationism, is regarded as outdated and is not very popular in the 21st century. Isolationism may have different dimensions - economic, political and demographic are just a few examples. It has become obvious that economic and political isolationism is hardly possible in the modern world, cultural isolationism still has many supporters. Many consider "importing" culture dangerous, since it may suppress the local culture, causing reduction in diversity or even assimilation. Modern isolationists often come from countries with a low birth rate and worry that higher birth rates in immigrant communities might cause their own ethnic group with its customs to sink into obscurity.

At the beginning of the 21st century, isolationism was considered not only unpopular but also potentially threatening. In contrast, globalization has been seen as a much more welcome trend. In many ways, globalization of culture seems inevitable because of the worldwide access to the same sources, including the Internet, social networks, TV channels, advertising, music, sports and movies. All these factors have contributed to a worldwide exchange of cultural trends, resulting in a much more homogeneous world culture and the notion of the "global village." The concept of the global village was introduced by social scientist Herbert Marshall McLuhan as early as the 1960s, when the extent of 21st-century globalization may have seemed like science fiction. McLuhan used it to mark the rising popularity of television over printed papers and radio and he claimed that with the invention of every type of non-face-to-face communication, including telephone and telegraph, the world has been constantly shrinking to a village. The notion was revived in the 1990s and since then it has become a powerful and popular metaphor for understanding the media and its cultural impact in the following decades. As a result, it is not only possible, but also likely that a given age group has similar interests in the United States, Russia, Australia, Japan, India and South Africa, for instance, which would have been impossible a century ago. Numerous popular brands have become household names all over the world and huge multinational corporations have outsourced to countries halfway across the globe.

Globalization of culture can appear to be a bit one-sided. The majority of cultural trends are borrowed from the Western world, most likely due to the fact that other societies were either at one point colonized by Western countries, or they want to imitate the more developed countries. Historically strong countries determine global culture and this trend is also known as cultural imperialism. The only major exception from this tendency is Japan, which has also introduced local inventions in the world culture - Manga comics or Tamagotchi pets, for example. This tendency is valid for non-material objects, too.

Western values are infiltrating the whole world, replacing ethnic specific values that have existed for centuries. There are people who strongly oppose to cultural imperialism. They argue that cultural diversity is a valuable asset, since it preserves human historical heritage and knowledge and because it makes available more ways of solving problems and responding to crises or natural disasters. Globalization is likely to continue in the future, although a resulting assimilation and unification of culture is difficult to imagine. Worldwide, the cultural trends may be spreading and world economy may only benefit from globalization but on the micro levels - families and communities, traditions and customs are still observed and passed from generation to generation and children are still taught their mother tongues.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Atlas of World Cultures
George Peter Murdock.
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981
Ethnic Cultures of the World: A Statistical Reference
Philip M. Parker.
Greenwood Press, 1997
National Cultures of the World: A Statistical Reference
Philip M. Parker.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Linguistic Cultures of the World: A Statistical Reference
Philip M. Parker.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Religious Cultures of the World: A Statistical Reference
Philip M. Parker.
Greenwood, 1997
Migrations and Cultures: A World View
Thomas Sowell.
BasicBooks, 1996
News of the World: World Cultures Look at Television News
Klaus Bruhn Jensen.
Routledge, 1998
A Globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics
David Held.
Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Interrelations of Cultures: Their Contribution to International Understanding
Unesco.
Greenwood Press, 1971
Death and Bereavement across Cultures
Colin Murray Parkes; Pittu Laungani; Bill Young.
Routledge, 1997
Personal Relationships across Cultures
Robin Goodwin.
Routledge, 1999
Search for more books and articles on world cultures