Cultural Anthropology

How Cultures Resist Change



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Cultural change in reality equals the sum of a society’s ability to incorporate new ideas, innovations and habits. Different cultures differ to the degree that they are able to incorporate ideas, innovations and habits and a culture may therefore be said to be both predisposed to stability or change. The ability to incorporate these elements into society is not by itself stable, and may therefore change over time.

To understand how a culture can resist change, one must first understand what the sources of cultural change are and how change actually occurs. The literature looks at three primary sources of change:

1) forces at work within a given society
2) contact with other societies
3) changes in natural environments that are relevant to/for the society in question

Both forces within a society (such as new ideas being agitated or new technological innovations (for example Facebook) being marketed, contact with other societies or even changing natural environments can therefore influence any dominant culture at hand. In a way, these challenges to the existing culture can be viewed as a sort of “attack” on the given, established culture.

How do cultures change?
A society’s culture is in many ways the sum of its ideas, innovations or habits. Every individual that acts within a culture contributes to the society’s culture and every form of change among groups or individuals within that society, influences the society’s culture. Culture is thus in many ways a local phenomenon. The local response to such change can, however, be influenced by local, regional, national or even global events. It is, for example, reasonable to assume that the national media can have profound influence on how people respond to cultural “cues”.

What limits cultural change? 
Any resistance to cultural change must also occur at micro levels. Old people are, for example, typically slower at embracing new technological innovations than those who are younger. Religion can, furthermore, provide justification for the view that traditions should be upheld – this particularly counts for Islamic countries. But even the national media or strong political groups can mobilize heavily to prevent what is deemed as a foreign culture’s increased influence in what they consider “their” culture.

When cultural change leads to pressure on other groups – and ultimately changes that they too must suffer from the consequences of – that too slows or halts cultural change. This was particularly relevant to the roles women played in Europe and North America in the 20th century or the role black men and women played in North America the same century. In both these cases, white men or whites in general often resisted change because it would influence their social position as well.

In todays society, the role of the media plays a primary role in accelerating or slowing cultural change. By promoting new technology, for example, the media plays a role to increase the pace at which culture is changing. The same media branches may, however, also frame issues, or even choose not to write about them, and in that way prevent cultural change.

Sources
Processes of Change. Retrieved November 25, 2010
URL : http://anthro.palomar.edu/change/change_2.htm

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