Cultural blending refers to the fusion of various cultural elements, including customs, beliefs, and practices, from different cultures, to create new or changing cultural beliefs and artifacts (Codrington, 2005; Dorrell & Henderson, 2018).
This fusion can result in the creation of entirely new cultures or significant changes in existing ones.
Cultural blending often occurs when societies come into contact with one another. This contact can be the result of migration, trade, or conquest. For instance, when the ancient Greeks began to colonize parts of modern-day Italy, the locals adopted certain Greek cultural elements like their alphabet and pottery styles.
Cultural blending can significantly influence the progress of societies. It often fuels creativity and innovation by introducing new practices, ideas, and viewpoints (Collingham, 2007). Consider the Renaissance, a period heavily influenced by the cultural blending between Middle Eastern and European societies. The exchange of knowledge and concepts in areas like science, arts, and philosophy propelled unprecedented advancements during this era.
Cultural Blending Examples
1. Banh Mi (Food): This popular sandwich is a prime example of French-Vietnamese fusion. During French colonial rule in Vietnam, the baguette was introduced to the local cuisine (Inglis & Gimlin, 2015). The Vietnamese people ultimately transformed it into Banh Mi, incorporating local ingredients like coriander, pickled carrots, and daikon along with proteins like tofu or pork.
2. English Language (Language): English itself is a product of cultural blending, shaped extensively by both Germanic and Norman French influences. Words derived from Latin and Greek, along with those borrowed from myriad other languages throughout history, make English a rich tapestry of cultural influences (Baugh & Cable, 2002).
3. American Football (Sport): Even sports are not impervious to cultural blending. American football evolved from two sports – rugby from England and soccer (known as football in most of the world) – morphing into the distinct sport we know today with its unique rules and traditions.
4. Sushi Burrito (Food): Known as Sushirrito, this adaptation originated from the cultural fusion between Japanese and Mexican cuisines. The concept was created in San Francisco, a culinary hotspot for fusion foods. It combines the freshness and delicacy of Japanese sushi with the size and robust flavors of a Mexican burrito.
5. Bhangra music (Music): Disparate cultural elements from both the East and West have moulded Bhangra, a genre of music with roots in the traditional folk dance of the Punjab region in India and Pakistan. The genre has evolved drastically due to British descendants of Punjabi immigrants amalgamating it with Western pop, R&B, and reggae motifs.
6. Henna Tattoos (Body Art): Henna or Mehndi, which originates from North Africa and the Middle East, has been creatively adapted in western cultures. Henna’s traditionally intricate patterns and symbols for weddings and rites of passage, have been transformed into a range of trendy designs and applications, becoming a popular form of temporary body art worldwide.
7. Kimono-inspired Fashion (Clothing): The traditional Japanese garment, with its broad sleeves and characteristic wrap-around style, has found a place in global high-fashion. Designers from around the world, like Tom Ford, have drawn inspiration from the Kimono, integrating its design elements into their collections.
8. Zen Meditation (Practice): Originating in Buddhist traditions, Zen practices focus on meditation and mindfulness. These practices have spread globally and are now used in a variety of contexts outside of their original religious and cultural settings. In many Western societies, they’ve been woven into self-help and stress relief regimes, touted as a way to find inner peace and clarity.
9. Kizomba Dance (Dance): Originating in Angola, Kizomba is a dance form that blends traditional Angolan semba dance with French-Caribbean Zouk music. Today, it’s a worldwide phenomenon with variations adding elements of Tango or contemporary dance, showing a mesmerizing fusion of cultural expression.
10. Fusion Architecture (Architecture): Architectural designs also display cultural fusion. An instance is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) in Mumbai, India. This UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases a blend of traditional Indian and Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, reflecting the cultural amalgamation during the British colonial era.
Famous Blended Cultures
1. Indo-Persian culture: This culture emerged as a result of the cultural blending between native Indian and Persian cultures. This fusion began with the Delhi Sultanate’s establishment and flourished during the Mughal Empire. Its most remarkable byproducts are in architecture – just take a look at India’s famous Taj Mahal, an epitome of Indo-Persian aesthetic elements. The blend of Persian and Indian elements led to the creation of a unique culture accentuated by a fusion of language, painting, and cuisine.
2. Creole culture: Derived from the cultural blending of native Caribbean, African, and European traditions, the Creole culture illustrates how cultural blending leads to entirely new cultural identities. Creole languages, for instance, typically blend elements from different parent languages, often including a mix of European tongues and African or Native American dialects. A glance at Creole cuisine (like the Jambalaya dish in Louisiana) demonstrates this blend, incorporating European, African, and Native American cooking techniques and ingredients.
3. Afro-Brazilian culture: When enslaved Africans were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese, they brought their cultural practices with them. Despite facing brutal conditions, they managed to preserve and blend their customs with native South American and colonial Portuguese elements, creating the distinctive Afro-Brazilian culture. The vibrant Capoeira martial art is a prime real-world example of this cultural blend, combining dance, acrobatics, and music, and originating from African slaves in Brazil.
4. Chinese-Peruvian culture (Tusan): Originating from the waves of Chinese immigrants arriving in Peru in the 19th and 20th Century, Tusan culture is a blend of Peruvian and Chinese traditional elements. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in Chifa cuisine, a style of food that fuses Chinese and Peruvian culinary traditions. Dishes such as lomo saltado (stir-fry beef with vegetables) and arroz chaufa (fried rice) exemplify this cultural blend on a plate.
5. Mexican-American Culture: This cultural blend, primarily found in areas of the United States near the Mexican border like Texas and California, has deep roots in both Mexican and American traditions. The Mexican-American culture is a result of decades of interaction and cohabitation between the two communities. Notice the traditions like the Fiesta San Antonio, which fuses American and Mexican celebrations, and Tex-Mex cuisine, where dishes like chili con carne and nachos combine Mexican culinary traditions with the tastes and ingredients of the American South.
How Cultures Blend: The Cultural Diffusion Theory
Cultural blending can occur through the process of cultural diffusion (Dorrell & Henderson, 2018). This process, which I’ve discussed extensively elsewhere (see, for example, my types of cultural diffusion article), tends to happen during moments of migration or travel, when cultures carry with them cultural forms and elements.
We can further break down cultural diffusion into a few key forms:
- Expansion Diffusion: This occurs when one cultural group expands its cultural influence, such as when one ethnic group grows and migrates to surrounding regions. During this process, cultural blending will occur (Codrington, 2005).
- Relocation Diffusion: This occurs when a cultural group relocates, such as in the case of the Jewish diaspora post-WWII. In such situations, the relocating culture and host culture may begin to blend.
- Hierarchical Diffusion: This occurs when the elites take on a new cultural form, or blended cultural form, which spreads from the elite down, such as when French high fashion spreads throughout the world.
- Contagious Diffusion: This refers to cultural spread, or blending, that happens as a result of direct person-to-person contact, such as when a new idea is spread by word-of-mouth (Dorrell & Henderson, 2018).
- Stimulus Diffusion: This refers to the process of cultural change when a culture spreads to new areas and takes on some traits of the host culture, and is the most direct overlap between ‘cultural diffusion’ and ‘cultural blending’.
How Globalization Causes Cultural Blending
Globalization has played a significant role in intensifying and accelerating cultural blending worldwide. This can be attributed to several key factors.
- Worldwide Connectivity: Technological advancements, starting with affordable international travel and satellite communications, and leading to the current era of instant global connectivity via the internet, have made it possible for different cultures to interact like never before (Tzanelli, 2011; Appadurai, 1996). This constant interaction has led to an unconstrained exchange of ideas, traditions, and customs, fostering cultural blending. For instance, K-pop, a music genre from South Korea, has gained immense global popularity due to such connectivity.
- International Trade: As international trade has expanded, products, people, and their cultures have become increasingly mobile. This mobility allows for new adjacencies of different cultural practices and traditions (Tzanelli, 2011). Take the example of food. Sushi, a Japanese delicacy, is now enjoyed worldwide, with fusion forms like Sushi Burrito appearing in places far from Japan.
- Migration: The movement of people across national boundaries, whether for work, education, or seeking refuge, has drastically increased cultural blending (Steger, 2020). Migrants often bring their cultural traditions to their new homes and integrate local customs, creating a fusion of cultures. The blend of Mexican and American cultural elements in the Southwest United States is a clear reflection of this.
- Multinational Corporations: These enterprises often spread their operations across nations, bringing along their corporate culture (Tzanelli, 2011; Appadurai, 1996). In turn, they are also influenced by the local cultures of the countries in which they operate. The result is a blending of corporate and local cultures that can have significant impacts on work dynamics and practices.
- Media: Globalized media has also contributed considerably to cultural blending. From Hollywood films to Korean dramas and Anime, media from certain cultural hubs is consumed worldwide and influences viewers’ cultural understanding and aesthetics. Some theorists argue that media will lead to a single blended global culture while others think it will lead to new and unique blended forms of culture. For more on this debate, see my piece on Appadurai’s debate over homogenization vs heterogenization)
While globalization has accelerated cultural blending, leading to beautiful fusions and enriching human experience, it also presents challenges such as the risk of cultural homogenization and loss of unique cultural identities. So, it’s crucial to navigate this process mindfully, ensuring cultural preservation alongside cultural fusion – which leads me to the next section: what are the pros and cons of this process?
Pros and Cons of Cultural Blending
|1. Enrichment of Cultures:|
– Introduction to new art, music, and traditions.
– Diverse culinary experiences (Steger, 2020).
|1. Loss of Identity:|
– Some groups might feel their traditions get overshadowed.
|2. Increased Tolerance:|
– Better understanding and acceptance of other cultures.
– Reduction in cultural stereotyping and prejudices.
|2. Cultural Homogenization:|
– Global cultures may become too similar, reducing diversity (Hassi & Storti, 2012).
|3. Economic Opportunities:|
– Fusion products and services can reach larger markets.
– Tourism can be boosted by showcasing blended cultures.
– Cultural elements might be commodified, losing their essence (see: McDonaldization of Culture).
– New ideas emerge when cultures intersect.
– Evolution of art, music, literature, etc.
|4. Resistance and Conflict:|
– Pushback against perceived cultural “takeovers” (Hassi & Storti, 2012).
– Potential for cultural appropriation.
|5. Social Cohesion:|
– Enhanced mutual respect and unity among communities.
|5. Risk of Misunderstanding:|
– Customs may be misinterpreted or misused (Steger, 2020).
|6. Broadened Perspectives:|
– Exposure to different ways of thinking.
– Better adaptability and flexibility in global settings.
|6. Dilution of Traditions:|
– Some traditions might become watered down or altered.
|7. Evolution of Languages:|
– New words, phrases, and ways of expression emerge (Baugh & Cable, 2002).
|7. Dominance of Major Cultures:|
– Smaller cultures might get overshadowed by dominant ones.
Of course, cultural blending has nuanced effects that might vary depending on the regions and groups involved. Some groups may embrace it, while others may not. Similarly, some might experience more benefits than drawbacks, while others might have a reversed experience.
Respectful mutual understanding and collaboration can mitigate many of the cons and enhance the benefits.
Remember, cultural blending is complex. Its impacts can vary depending on various factors, including power dynamics between cultures, societal structures, and historical contexts. A prime example is the global phenomenon of Westernization, where Western culture heavily influences societies worldwide, raising issues of power asymmetry and cultural erasure.
Finally, cultural blending continues to be topical in our increasingly globalized world. While it promotes diversity and opens new avenues for progress, it is crucial to remember the need for cultural sensitivity and preservation.
Baugh, A. C., & Cable, T. (2002). A History of the English Language. Prentice Hall.
Codrington, S. (2005). Planet Geography. Solid Star Press.
Collingham, L. (2007) Curry: A tale of cooks and conquerors. Oxford University Press.
Dorrell, D., & Henderson, J. P. (2018). Introduction to Human Geography. Georgia: University of North Georgia.
Hassi, A., & Storti, G. (2012). Globalization and culture: The three H scenarios. In Globalization-Approaches to Diversity. IntechOpen.
Inglis, D., & Gimlin, D. (2015). The globalization of food. NewYork: Bloomsbury.
Price, P. L., & Jordan-Bychkov, T. G. (2011). The Human Mosaic: A Cultural Approach to Human Geography. W. H. Freeman.
Steger, M. B. (2020). Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]