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The Cultures

Key terms

Mentally, humans survive by recognizing patterns. We’re social animals; we like groups, especially our own. We want our lives to mean something, even if we have to invent and imagine that meaning.

Anyone you know?

Anyone you know?

Ethnocentric

You believe that your native country, culture, language, and behavior are central or superior to all others. Most humans, wherever they live, are ethnocentric and are not interested in other cultures, believing them inferior.

Polycentric

You take the view that local people understand their own life and practices. You can adapt to other cultures, including your own, while you are there. People with this “host-country orientation” enjoy immersing themselves in foreign cultures.

Geocentric

You accept that there are differences and similarities between home and foreign life and practices. You use whatever techniques are most effective without bias in any direction.


Our future?

Our future?

Most of the links below are to the Wikipedia articles on these topics, from which the accompanying text is quoted or adapted.

Eurocentrism

the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of the European social model.

Child Well-Being In Rich Countries

Afrocentrism

a reading of world history that emphasizes the importance of African people, taken as a single group and often equated with black people, in culture, philosophy, and history. Proponents of Afrocentrism claim that the contributions of various African cultures have been downplayed and need to be excavated from beneath an “official” historical record that has deliberately kept them hidden.

sinocentric

The world with China
in the center

Sinocentrism

an ethnocentric perspective that regards China to be the center of civilization and superior to all other nations (diagram on left). In China, common names for China include “Zhonghua” (中华/中華) and “Zhongguo” (中国/中國), Central Kingdom, most excellent center.

American exceptionalism

American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other countries. … Historian Gordon Wood has argued, “We Americans are a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty and democracy.” …Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many neoconservative and American conservative writers have promoted its use in that sense. To them, the United States is like the biblical “shining city on a hill,” and exempt from historical forces that have affected other countries.

The case for American exceptionalism was made recently by Newt Gingrich in the video A City Upon A Hill: The Spirit Of American Exceptionalism – trailer –

Ranking America – a site for information about the U.S. – How does the U.S. rank in …


What'cha up to?

What’cha up to?

Modernity

Certain socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices arose in Europe in the seventeenth century and have developed since, in various ways and at various times, around the world.

  • a questioning or rejection of tradition
  • priority given to the individual, freedom, and formal equality
  • faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological progress and human perfectibility
  • rationalization and professionalization (ex: accountants and spreadsheets)
  • a movement from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism and the market economy
  • industrialization, urbanization and secularization
  • the development of the nation-state and its constituent institutions (e.g. representative democracy, public education, modern bureaucracy) and forms of surveillance (wx: IRS tax forms, in-store cameras, National Security Agency spying, Facebook)

People in WEIRD countries take these values for granted. However, they are not espoused by most humans, who are struggling with modernity. Younger people in these countries, under influence of the Internet, are often stronger proponents of modernity than their parents.

Cultural Imperialism

This can be a scary place.

This can be a scary place.

While modernity is, by definition, new, cultural imperialism has been around as long as we’ve been human:

the practice of promoting and imposing a culture, usually of politically powerful nations over less potent societies.

As it relates to this course, cultural imperialism is expressed as media imperialism, the dominance of English-language media and thus the English language.

The threat is that smaller cultures are losing their identity because of the dominance of media from larger cultures. It can be equated to small community shops closing down due to large superstores moving in, taking over, and having a monopoly. When the most compelling media available in one country is produced by a different, more dominant nation, the culture of that larger nation, along with its values and interests, will displace that of the home country.

Social dominance orientation (SDO)

Homer speaks

Homer speaks

SDO is the name social scientists give to the universal human personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes. … It is a measure of an individual’s preference for hierarchy within any social system and the domination over lower-status groups.

Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are dominant, driven, tough, and relatively uncaring seekers of power. People high in SDO also prefer hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO adhere strongly to belief in a “dog-eat-dog” world. It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.

Globalization

the reduction and removal of barriers between national borders in order to facilitate the flow of goods, capital, services and labour producing an increasingly integrated and complex global system of production and exchange.


Numerical data about the countries

We are studying what some sociologists call countries that are not WEIRD: Westernized, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic.

Compared to the other WEIRD countries, the U.S. does not fare so well. For example, in the U.N.’s latest study of child well-being in 29 WEIRD countries, the U.S. The good news is that U.S. children and teens drink less alcohol and get more exercise and eat more fruit than children and teens in other countries. However, on almost all the other several dozen standards, U.S. children do not fare so well.

The map below shows the countries in the U.N.’s report, those shaded in blue. None of our countries is among them, except for the Netherlands, which is, by quite a wide margin, the best country in the world for children. Notice the similarity between the two maps. Those shaded blue in the upper map and all well-lit in the lower map. The countries we are studying are many of those that are well lit, that is, Industrialized, but not yet fully WEIRD.

weird_countries

The WEIRD countries in the U.N.’s report

Compared to the countries that we are studying, the U.S. fares much better. The pages below have numerical data comparing the countries that we’re studying along with the U.S. and the Netherlands.

Some of these data sources on those pages are more neutral than others. Some are sponsored by an organization with a well-defined purpose that takes the side of an issue. Many of the sources have insufficient and perhaps unreliable data. I have tried to provide sources that are diverse geographically and politically.

The Lights on Earth

The Lights on Earth

From those comparisons, you will come to see the special combination of characteristics that make each of your countries unique. You might want to apply this to your final essay for this course, which should also be based on data and information of the kind you will encounter during this assignment.

  • In what ways is your country similar to the others? In what ways different?
  • Is your country in the middle of most of the lists? On which lists is it on one end or the other?
  • What does it all say about the country you are researching?

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