How Does Cultural Diffusion Occur?

Cultural diffusion occurs via mechanisms including human migration, intercultural marriages or cultural exchange via letters, books or electronic media. It is a phenomenon in which specific cultural concepts, ideas or technologies spread from one culture to another. All of the mechanisms employed by cultural diffusion are categorized into three types: direct, forced and indirect.

Direct cultural diffusion occurs whenever two distinct cultures border one another. Through contact and interaction, including trade, social events, marriages or warfare, the interests and cultural concepts of one culture blends with the other.

Forced cultural diffusion occurs whenever a dominant culture imposes its customs and concepts onto the defeated culture through conquest. An example of forced diffusion is the Christianization of the native population in the Americas by European invaders and migrants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ethnocentrism and the belief in the superiority of a group’s own culture stands at the core of forced diffusion. Cultures use these beliefs to justify the imposition of cultural norms.

Indirect cultural diffusion occurs between two cultures that don’t share direct contact but interact via a middleman, including a specific population or even an entire culture. An example of indirect diffusion is the presence and popularity of Italian cuisine in the United States. The mass media and the Internet serve as cultural middlemen through their global presence and popularity.