TOK: To what extent is this an accurate reflection of our shared cultural history?



cultural diffusion

the spread of cultural traits (ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages etc.) between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another.


cultural hybridity

the extent to which cultures are intermixed

cultural homogeneity

the state where different cultures increasingly share common characteristics as a result of adopting shared traits


1. Note 6 ways that cultural diffusion occurs, including examples.

2. Think about some examples of cultural diffusion and the spread of cultural traits

3. Make a collage of images that illustrate cultural diffusion 


Imperialism as a mechanism for cultural diffusion


countries where english is an official language

english official language.png

practice exam question

“Cultural diffusion is a process that takes place in many ways but can be halted by many barriers.” Discuss this statement. (15 marks)



Pathways for cultural diffusion include the movements of workers and tourists who carry cultural traits with them.

A wide variety of traits could be explored, such as language, religion, arts and music, cuisine, fashion etc. The movement of commodities and the diffusion of the internet and films, orchestrated by technology, TNCs and global media corporations respectively, are other key ways in which “messages” are transmitted.

Military and imperial ventures could also be discussed. A “Trojan horse” strategy of contemporary glocalization could be explored – wherein western cultural icons (for example, denim, burgers etc.) gain access to foreign markets by donning “cultural camouflage”).

MGO membership – notably the EU – also aids cultural transfers by easing restrictions on a variety of flows and pathways for cultural diffusion (such as greater freedom of movement for people or goods).

The barriers may be physical, political, economic or cultural and they can include nationalism and anti-globalisation movements and sentiments. A range of local responses could be explored that challenge cultural imperialism or at least negotiate glocalised outcomes in ways that restrict the pace of cultural change (censorship of Google in China is one example).

To access bands D and E, the answer should be well balanced between coverage of the processes themselves and of possible barriers to their operation. The best answers may look beyond a “black and white” world (where processes of exchange either do or do not operate) and might critically explore ways in which global cultural exchanges are negotiated locally, resulting in partial or selective transfers of culture that bring into being new hybridised cultural forms (language, art, music or cuisine often show a “fusion” of different influences).