Chapter 6: The Multicultural World

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the influence of globalization on culture and cultural identity.
  • Differentiate between the social patterns of cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization.
  • Explain the role of technological advancements in cultural creation and transmission.
  • Summarize the process of creating cultural awareness and building cultural intelligence.
  • Demonstrate methods and approaches for working with others in a culturally diverse society.

6.1 Globalization and Identity

Everyday production of culture centers on local and global influences (Giddens 1991). With the advancements in technology and communications, people are experiencing greater social forces in the construction of their cultural reality and identity. The boundaries of locality have expanded to global and virtual contexts that create complexities in understanding the creation, socialization, adaptation, and sustainability of culture.

Globalization is typically associated to the creation of world-spanning free market and global reach of capitalist systems resulting from technological advances (Back, Bennett, Edles, Gibson, Inglis, Jacobs, and Woodward 2012). However, globalization has the unintended consequences of connecting every person in the world to each other. In this era, everyone’s life is connected to everyone else’s life in obvious and hidden ways (Albrow 1996). A food production shortage in the United States affects the overall economic and physical well-being and livelihoods of people throughout the world in an obvious way. Our hidden connections stem from the individuals who grow, produce, and transport the food people eat. It is easier for people to recognize the big picture or macro-sociological influences we have on each other, but sometimes harder to recognize the role individuals have on each other across the globe.

Globalization also influences our cultural identity and affinity groups. Technology allows us to eliminate communication boundaries and interact with each other on a global scale. Globalization lends itself to cultural homogenization that is the world becoming culturally similar (Back et al. 2012). However, the cultural similarities we now share center on capitalist enterprises including fashion and fast food. Globalization has resulted in the worldwide spread of capitalism (Back et al. 201). Transnational corporations or companies with locations throughout the world like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Nike dominate the global market with goods and services spreading and embedding their cultural artifacts on a global scale. These corporations increase the influence of global practices on people’s lives that sometimes result in economic and social consequences including closing factories in one country and moving to another where costs and regulations are lower.

Along with people throughout the world becoming culturally similar, sociologists also recognize patterns of cultural heterogenization where aspects of our lives are becoming more complex and differentiated resulting from globalization. Our social relationships and interactions have become unconstrained by geography (Back et al.). People are no longer restricted to spatial locales and are able to interact beyond time and space with those sharing common culture, language, or religion (Giddens 1990; Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). People can travel across the globe within hours, but also connect with others by phone or the Internet within seconds. These advancements in technology and communications alters what people perceive as close and far away (Back et al. 2012). Our social and cultural arrangements in an era of globalization are adapting and changing the way we think and act.

Today people are able to form and live across national borders. Advances in transportation and communications give people the opportunity to affiliate with multiple countries as transnationals. At different times of their lives or different times of the year, people may live in two or more countries.

We are moving beyond local, state, and national identities to broader identities developing from our global interactions forming transnational communities. A key cultural development has been the construction of globality or thinking of the whole earth as one place (Beck 2000). Social events like Earth Day and the World Cup of soccer are examples of globality. People associate and connect with each other in which they identify. Today people frame their thinking about who they are within global lenses of reference (Back et al. 2012). Even in our global and virtual interactions, people align themselves with the affinity groups relative to where they think they belong and will find acceptance. Think about your global and virtual friend and peer groups. How did you meet or connect? Why do you continue to interact? What value do you have in each other’s lives even though you do not physically interact?


Our online future

Research three online sources on how online interactions and social media influence human social life such as the following:

  1. What is the relationship between inputting information online and privacy?

  2. Do you think the web re-enforces narcissism? How does narcissistic behavior influence our connections to the social world and other people?

  3. Even if we choose NOT to participate or be part of the online universe, how does the behavior of other people online affect what the world knows about us?

  4. Should everything we do online be open and available to the public? Who should be able to view your browsing patterns, profile, photos, etc.?

  5. What rights do you think people should have in controlling their privacy online?

Culture Today

With the world in flux from globalization and technological advances, people are developing multiple identities apparent in their local and global linkages. Cultural identity is becoming increasingly contextual in the postmodern world where people transform and adapt depending on time and place (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Social and cultural changes now adapt in response to single events or issues. The instant response and connections to others beyond time and place immediately impact our lives, and we have the technology to react quickly with our thoughts and actions.

Approximately two-thirds of American adults are online connecting with others, working, studying, or learning (Griswold 2013). The increasing use of the Internet makes virtual worlds and cybersocial interactions powerful in constructing new social realities. Having a networked society allows anyone to be a cultural creator and develop an audience by sharing their thoughts, ideas, and work online. Amateurs are now cultural creators and have the ability to control dissemination of their creations (Griswold 2013). Individuals now have the freedom to restrict or share cultural meaning and systems.

Postmodern culture and the new borderless world fragments traditional social connections into new cultural elements beyond place, time, and diversity without norms. People can now live within global electronic cultural communities and reject cultural meta-narratives (Griswold 2013). Postmodern culture also blurs history by rearranging and juxtaposing unconnected signs to produce new meanings. We find references to actual events in fictional culture and fictional events in non-fictional culture (Barker and Jane 2016). Many U.S. television dramas refer to 9/11 in episodes focusing on terrorists or terrorist activities. Additionally, U.S. social activities and fundraising events will highlight historical figures or icons. The blurring of non-fiction and fiction creates a new narrative or historical reality people begin to associate with and recognize as actual or fact.

Cultural Transformation

  1. How has globalization and technology changed culture and cultural tastes?

  2. How have people harnessed these changes into cultural objects or real culture?

  3. How do you envision the growth or transformation of receivers or the audience as participants in cultural production?

  4. What cultural objects are threatened in the age of postmodern culture?

6.2 Building Cultural Intelligence

In a cultural diverse society, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to interact effectively with others. Our ability to communicate and interact with each other plays an integral role in the successful development of our relationships for personal and social prosperity. Building cultural intelligence requires active awareness of self, others, and context (Bucher 2008). Self-awareness requires an understanding of our cultural identity including intrinsic or extrinsic bias we have about others and social categories of people. Cultural background greatly influences perception and understanding, and how we identify ourselves reflects on how we communicate and get along with others. It is easier to adjust and change our interactions if we are able to recognize our own uniqueness, broaden our percepts, and respect others (Bucher 2008). We must be aware of our cultural identity including any multiple or changing identities we take on in different contexts as well as those we keep hidden or hide to avoid marginalization or recognition.

Active awareness of others requires us to use new cultural lenses. We must learn to recognize and appreciate commonalities in our culture, not just differences. This practice develops understanding of each other’s divergent needs, values, behaviors, interactions, and approach to teamwork (Bucher 2008). Understanding others involves evaluating assumptions and cultural truths. Cultural lens filter perceptions of others and conditions us to view the world and others in one way blinding us from what we have to offer or complement each other (Bucher 2008). Active awareness of others broadens one’s sociological imagination to see the world and others through a different lens and understand diverse perspectives that ultimately helps us interact and work together effectively.

Today’s workplace requires us to have a global consciousness that encompasses awareness, understanding, and skills to work with people of diverse cultures (Bucher 2008). Working with diverse groups involves us learning about other cultures to manage complex and uncertain social situations and contexts. What may be culturally appropriate or specific in one setting may not apply in another. This means we must develop a cultural understanding of not only differences and similarities, but those of cultural significance as well to identify which interactions fit certain situations or settings.

Cultural Intelligence Resources

  1. How do you develop collaboration among people with different backgrounds and experiences?
  2. What role does power play in our ability to collaborate with others and develop deep levels of understanding?
  3. How might power structures be created when one group tries to provide aid to another?
  4. Research the Cultural Intelligence Center and online videos on the topic of building cultural intelligence such as Cultural Intelligence: A New Way of Thinking by Jeff Thomas. Describe what information and free services are available online to help people improve their knowledge and communication skills with people of different cultural backgrounds and experiences.
  5. Provide examples of how you will apply the following skills to develop global consciousness:
  • Minimize culture shock
  • Recognize ethnocentrism
  • Practice cultural relativism
  • Develop multiple consciousness
  • Step outside your comfort zone

As we come into contact with diverse people, one of our greatest challenges will be managing cross-cultural conflict. When people have opposing cultural values, beliefs, norms, or practices, they tend to create a mindset of division or the “us vs. them” perspective. This act of loyalty to one side or another displays tribalism and creates an ethnocentric and scapegoating environment where people judge and blame each other for any issues or problems. Everyone attaches some importance to what one values and beliefs. As a result, people from different cultures might attach greater or lesser importance to family and work. If people are arguing over the roles and commitment of women and men in the family and workplace, their personal values and beliefs are likely to influence their willingness to compromise or listen to one another. Learning to manage conflict among people from different cultural backgrounds increases our ability to build trust, respect all parties, deal with people’s behaviors, and assess success (Bucher 2008). How we deal with conflict influences productive or destructive results for others and ourselves.

Self-assessment is key to managing cross-cultural conflicts. Having everyone involved in the conflict assess herself or himself first and recognize their cultural realities (i.e., history and biography) will help individuals see where they may clash or conflict with others. If someone comes from the perspective of men should lead, their interactions with others will display women in low regard or subordinate positions to men. Recognizing our cultural reality will help us identify how we might be stereotyping and treating others and give us cause to adapt and avoid conflict with those with differing realities.

Some form of cultural bias is evident in everyone (Bucher 2008). Whether you have preferences based on gender, sexuality disability, region, social class or all social categories, they affect your thoughts and interactions with others. Many people believe women are nurturers and responsible for child-rearing, so they do not believe men should get custody of the children when a family gets a divorce. Bias serves as the foundation for stereotyping and prejudice (Bucher 2008). Many of the ideas we have about others are ingrained, and we have to unlearn what we know to reduce or manage bias. Removing bias perspectives requires resocialization through an ongoing conscious effort in recognizing our bias then making a diligent effort to learn about others to dispel fiction from fact. Dealing with bias commands personal growth and the biggest obstacles are our fears and complacency to change.

Additionally, power structures and stratification emerge in cross-cultural conflicts. The dynamics of power impact each of us (Bucher 2008). Our assumptions and interactions with each other is a result of our position and power in a particular context or setting. The social roles and categories we each fall into effect on how and when we respond to each other. A Hispanic, female, college professor has the position and authority to speak and control conflict of people in her classroom but may have to show deference and humility when conflict arises at the Catholic Church she attends. The professor’s position in society is contextual and in some situations, she has the privileges of power, but in
others, she may be marginalized or disregarded.

Power effects how others view, relate, and interact with us (Bucher 2008). Power comes with the ability to change, and when you have power, you are able to invoke change. For example, the racial majority in the United States holds more economic, political, and social power than other groups in the nation. The dominant group’s power in the United States allows the group to define social and cultural norms as well as condemn or contest opposing views and perspectives. This group has consistently argued the reality of “reverse racism” even though racism is the practice of the dominant race benefitting off the oppression of others. Because the dominant group has felt prejudice and discrimination by others, they want to control the narrative and use their power to create a reality that further benefits their race by calling thoughts and actions against the group as “reverse racism.”

However, when you are powerless, you may not have or be given the opportunity to participate or have a voice. Think about when you are communicating with someone who has more power than you. What do your tone, word choice, and body language project? So now imagine you are the person in a position of power because of your age, gender, race, or other social category what privilege does your position give you? Power implies authority, respect, significance, and value so those of us who do not have a social position of power in a time of conflict may feel and receive treatment that reinforces our lack of authority, disrespect, insignificance, and devalued. Therefore, power reinforces social exclusion of some inflating cross-cultural conflict (Ryle 2008). We must assess our cultural and social power as well as those of others we interact with to develop an inclusive environment that builds on respect and understanding to deal with conflicts more effectively.

Communication is essential when confronted with cross-cultural conflict (Bucher 2008). Conflicts escalate from our inability to express our cultural realities or interact appropriately in diverse settings. In order to relate to each other with empathy and understanding, we must learn to employ use of positive words, phrases, and body language. Rather than engaging in negative words to take sides (e.g., “Tell your side of the problem” or “How did that affect you?”), use positive words that describe an experience or feeling. Use open-ended questions that focus on the situation or concern (e.g., “Could you explain to be sure everyone understands?” or “Explain how this is important and what needs to be different”) in your communications with others (Ryle 2008). In addition, our body language expresses our emotions and feelings to others. People are able to recognize sadness, fear, and disgust through the expressions and movements we make. It is important to project expressions, postures, and positions that are open and inviting even when we feel difference or uncomfortable around others. Remember, words and body language have meaning and set the tone or atmosphere in our interactions with others. The words and physical expressions we choose either inflate or deescalate cross-cultural conflicts.

The act of reframing or rephrasing communications is also helpful in managing conflicts between diverse people. Reframing requires active listening skills and patience to translate negative and value-laden statements into neutral statements that focus on the actual issue or concern. This form of transformative mediation integrates neutral language that focuses on changing the message delivery, syntax or working, meaning, and context or situation to resolve destructive conflict. For example, reframe “That’s a stupid idea” to “I hear you would like to consider all possible options.” Conversely, reframe a direct verbal attack, “She lied! Why do you want to be friends with her?” to “I’m hearing that confidentiality and trust are important to you.” There are four steps to reframing: 1) actively listen to the statement; 2) identify the feelings, message, and interests in communications; 3) remove toxic language; and 4) re-state the issue or concern (Ryle 2008). These tips for resolving conflict helps people hear the underlying interests and cultural realities.


1. Interview another student in class. Record the student’s responses to the following:


  •  What are typical foods served in the culture?

  • Are there any typical styles of dress?

  • What do people do for recreation?

  • How is space used (e.g., How close should two people who are social acquaintances stand next to one another when they are having a conversation?)

  • How is public space used? For example, do people tend to “hang out” on the street, or are they in public because they are going from one place to the next?


  • How do people greet one another?
  • Describe how a significant holiday is celebrated.
  • How would a visitor be welcomed into a family member’s home?
  • What are the norms around weddings? Births? Deaths?


  • How important is hierarchy or social status?
  • How are gender roles perceived?
  • How do people view obligations toward one another?
  • What personal activities are seen as public? What activities are seen as private?
  • What are the cultural attitudes toward aging and the elderly?


  • How important is the individual in the culture? How important is the group?

  • How is time understood and measured? (e.g., How late can you be to class, work, family event, or appointment before you are considered rude?)

  • Is change considered positive or negative?

  • What are the criteria for individual success?

  • What is the relationship between humans and nature? (e.g., Do humans dominate nature? does nature dominate humans? Do the two live in harmony?)

  • What is considered humorous or funny?

  • How do individuals “know” things? (e.g., Are people encouraged to question things? Are they encouraged to master accepted wisdom?)

  • Are people encouraged to be more action-oriented (i.e., doers) or to be contemplative (i.e., thinkers)

  • What is the role of luck in people’s lives?

  • How is divine power or spirituality viewed?


1. Exchange the photos each of you took in the exercise.
2. Next visit the website Dollar Street.
3. Compare the visual ethnography photos with other people throughout the world.
4. In complete sentences, explain the differences and similarities based on income and country. Specifically, describe what the poorest conditions are for each item as well as the richest conditions and what similarities and/or differences exist in comparison to the student photos.



Write a paper summarizing the ethnographic data you collected and examined. Your paper must include a description and analysis of the following:

  • Thesis statement and introductory paragraph (3-5 sentences) about the student you studied and learned about for this project and methods used to gather data.
  • A summary of the ethnography interview containing a minimum of five paragraphs (3-5 sentences each) with first-level headings entitled cultural expressions, standard behaviors, specific beliefs, and
    entrenched ideologies.
  • A comparison of visual ethnography photos with other people throughout the world using the Dollar Street website. Write a minimum of 10 paragraphs
    (3-5 sentences each) discussing the poorest and richest conditions of the archived photos on the
    website, and explain the similarities and/or differences to the 22 photos shared by your study
  • Concluding paragraph (3-5 sentences) telling what you learned by completing an ethnography project and the significance to understanding cultural sociology.

Type and double-space project papers with paragraphs comprised of three to five sentences in length and first-level headers (left-justified, all caps) as appropriate. Do not write your paper in one block paragraph. Include parenthetical and complete reference citations in ASA format as appropriate.


Albrow, Martin. 1996. The Global Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Back, Les, Andy Bennett, Laura Desfor Edles, Margaret Gibson, David Inglis, Ronald Joacobs, and Ian Woodward. 2012. Cultural Sociology: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.

Barker, Chris and Emma A. Jane. 2016. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 5th ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Ltd.

Beck, U. 2000. What Is Globalization? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bucher, Richard. D. 2008. Building Cultural Intelligence (CQ): 9 Megaskills. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Griswold, Wendy. 2013. Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Kottak, Conrad Phillip and Kathryn A. Kozaitis. 2012. On Being Different: Diversity and Multiculturalism in the North American Mainstream. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Ryle, Jacqueline L. 2008. All I Want is a Little Peace. Fresno, CA: Central California Writers Press.


Adapted from Modules 1 through 5, pages 1 through 77 from “Beyond Race: Cultural Influences on Human Social Life” by Vera Kennedy under the license CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.



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