Influencing Cultures

What You Need


  • A whiteboard or blackboard at the front of the class
  • A large world map (optional)
Influencing Cultures


To explore what factors influence a change in culture amongst a community or group of people.


This lesson is part of a group of lessons that focus on the social, behavioral, and economic sciences. These lessons are developed by AAAS and funded by the National Science Foundation Grant No. SES-0549096. For more lessons and activities that take a closer look at the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, be sure to check out the SBE Project page.

Social change can come from various forces both inside and outside a community, yet globalization is one thing that seems to be able to influence the culture of even the most isolated groups of people, especially through the mediums of television and the Internet.

The Internet and mass media have had an impact on all societies, but this lesson highlights two communities for which the impact is blatantly visible. Students will be introduced to two groups of people, the first a remote Yupik Eskimo village of 350 people, a subsistence community in which the adults still hunt and fish for survival. Much of the younger generation, which is tied to the Internet and satellite television, is not interested in carrying on the traditions of their elders. The language, traditions, and way of life of this village are struggling to survive.

In the development of the lesson, students will focus on Bhutan, a remote Buddhist kingdom where until 1999, television and the Internet were illegal. This nation, protected by its monarchy, may be one of the most isolated nations in the world. Due to its isolation, the people of Bhutan still maintain a strong culture, but television and the Internet are definitely influencing society.

According to the National Science Education Standards, technology influences society through its products and processes. Changes in technology are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes that can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society. But students need to be aware that technological changes do not occur in a vacuum because social needs, attitudes, and values influence the direction of technological development.

Research shows that sometimes students will impose values from their own culture upon other cultures. If this becomes apparent through discussion with your students, the lens they are looking through may be worth exploring in conversation.

Planning Ahead

We recommend that you print hardcopies of all the articles students will read, just in case you encounter computer or printer problems.


Culture is not a word or a thing that is simply defined, but it is worth discussing in a broad sense before students explore factors that can change or influence communities. Keep in mind, too, that the learning goal is focused on social change, the word social perhaps having a broader scope than culture. This lesson uses both terms, each where it seems more appropriate.

First, have a brief discussion with students about what these words mean. You may want to write the definitions on the board before or after starting the discussion.

*Culture: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time (popular culture, southern culture)

*Society: a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests

* Definitions are taken from Merriam-Webster online. Feel free to use your own favorite dictionary.

Ask students these questions:

  • How would you define culture? (Answers may vary.)
  • How would you define society? (Answers may vary.)
  • What are the differences between the two? (This is a hard concept to put into words, but is worth pursuing with your students. It may be that culture applies to a group of people, but is broad, encompassing a variety of things. Culture also has historical roots. Society is based more on abstract concepts and structure, such as political structure or a religious belief system.)

Using the whiteboard or blackboard at the front of the class, write the following headings across the top and ask students to finish the sentences. Make lists below each heading.

  • Elements of culture are… (Some ideas for culture are art, language, beliefs, traditional ceremonies, dress, and music.)
  • Societies are grouped together based on… (One idea for society is its form of government. A way of life may fall under both.)
  • Factors that can change or influence a community, society, or a culture are… (Factors could include advances in science, new technologies, conflict, etc.)

You are encouraged to add to both lists throughout the lesson.

The last heading will help you gauge students' awareness of factors that influence groups of people to change. It addresses the learning goals taught in this lesson and there will be a chance for students to revisit this idea throughout the lesson.


In this part of the lesson, students will continue to learn about social change in the context of two cultures: the Yupik community in Alaska and Bhutan.

Now students should use the Influencing Cultures student esheet to go to At Remote Eskimo School, Yearning for the Lower 48. This article describes both older and young generations of the Yupik community that live in Tununak, a remote Alaskan village that is losing its culture as a result of globalization. After the reading, discuss these questions with students:

  • Describe the Yupik village, where it is, and what makes it different from how most Americans live. (A distinguishing feature of this community is its isolation. Also, the population is only 350; the main mode of transportation is snowmobile; there is a school and a medical center; and food is flown in.)
  • How would you describe traditional Yupik culture? (The Yupiks are a group of Eskimo people, a subsistence community that relies on hunting and fishing for survival. According to this article, "In Yupik culture, nature is a metaphysic—a source of abstract knowledge of cosmology and being. According to Yupik tradition, shamans, dreamers who are receptive to nature's voices, can travel freely in the unseen world. They return to this world with new rituals.")
  • What are the influences of social change in this community and who is leading the change? (In general, the outside world has seeped in via the Internet. The children are leading the change by wanting what they see and hear about outside of their own culture. Language is an important factor and the new generations of children are not immersed in the Yupik language—Yupiks have been told or lead to believe that their language is inferior. Loss of language is a strong indicator of cultural erosion.)
  • How do you think Yupik culture will change in the future? (There is no wrong answer to this question. Students should explore the different outcomes.)
  • What factors do you think could influence or affect social change in any community? Can you speak of any from first-hand experience? (Allow all types of answers. Perhaps your town or city has had political changes that affect the way people act.)

As students describe the Yupik village, have one or more students find Tununak (or Nelson Island where Tununak is located) on the world map. As they discuss the questions, refer back to the lists on the white or blackboard. Add to the lists if necessary. While television and the Internet may be the harbingers of change, you may want to get to the root of what TV and the net are delivering, which is one culture influencing another culture.

Now, students will look at a different culture in a completely different part of the world—Bhutan. Going back to their student esheet, students should read Journey to the Hidden Kingdom, written by a film producer who made a documentary about Bhutan. The write-up gives a good overview of Bhutan and how television and the Internet were legalized in the country only in 1999. Students also should read Did You Know?, a list of facts about Bhutan to broaden their understanding of this place. They should answer these questions based on the resources:

  • How would you describe the people of Bhutan? (Some basic information about Bhutan includes: people practice Buddhism; speak their own dialect called Dzongkha; live a life very untouched by Western influences such as advertising and consumerism.)
  • How has the nation kept out outside influences? (The Bhutan government has kept the number of tourists low and until 1999, television and the Internet were illegal.)
  • Refer to the list on the white or blackboard. How does Bhutan's culture compare to what is on the board under elements of culture? (Answers may vary.)
  • Do you think television and the Internet will cause change among the people in Bhutan? If so, what kind of change? (Students' answers will vary. Encourage them to explore many different scenarios.)

Before you start this discussion with students, have one or more students find Bhutan on the map. It is sandwiched between India and China. In this discussion, students may be able to foresee how television and the Internet will have an effect on society.

They should continue on their esheets and read Perspectives from Bhutan: The Impact of Television. These statements from various people give great insight to how isolated they have been and how TV influences society. For instance, one newspaper editor tells how people don't understand the World Wrestling Federation and why people are hitting one another. Once they've read all the statements, discuss these questions with students:

  • From the statements you read, what is your sense about how television has affected the people of Bhutan? (There are many statements, so answers may vary.)
  • How do you think television will change society in Bhutan? Do you think it will change the culture of Bhutan? How? (There seems to have been a change of focus since television came to Bhutan. One girl says they all wear pants as often as possible; a boy says he used to play with his dog, now he watches television. Could these changes in behavior lead to a change in culture?)

Now, students should read an article from 2003 in the Guardian, Fast Forward into Trouble. Ask students: "Were you surprised by the changes in Bhutan? Why or why not?"

Note: It is important to point out the date of the article (2003). Things have continued to change in Bhutan. Most recently, they are moving toward a democratic government. See the Extensions section for a link to an article about the 2008 elections.

Now that students have learned of the impact mass media had on Bhutan, ask them to take what they have learned and think about it in the context of their own lives. Discuss with students:

  • Television and the Internet surely have an affect on all societies, and even though we’re used to it here in the United States, it is an influence nonetheless. How do you think television and the Internet have influenced social change in the U.S.? (In a general sense, you may point out how technology has changed how people do things in our society: the Internet allows shopping from home; CNN allows us to get news as it happens; cell phones allow us to talk from anywhere. How do these things change society? Do we talk less? Another angle to take is to discuss political races. Before television, how did candidates campaign? How did people learn about the issues and make their decisions?)
  • If time allows, you may want to broaden the discussion further to encompass the broader issue of social change vs. traditional culture. Students likely know of, maybe even firsthand, how social change in the United States has affected Native American tribes. You may want to ask: “Why are there reservations set aside for Native Americans to live on?” Even if students do not know the actual historical facts, it is a thought to ponder. Do students think that the establishment of reservations would have an impact on the culture of a society? If students have personal views from their own cultures or experiences to share, the discussion could be very interesting.


For the assessment, ask students to write a 600-word essay that addresses some or all of these points:

  • Describe how mass media such as television and the Internet can affect a society. Give one or more examples.
  • Do you think there is a difference in how mass media will affect the first generation that experiences it, as opposed to later generations? Give examples.
  • How does one culture influence another? Describe how television can deliver Western influences.
  • Using example(s), describe how other cultures influence Western society. For example, where did Americans learn about yoga and meditation, a way of life to which some Americans subscribe? Refer to the lists you created at the beginning of class for ideas.

If you are using a rubric for this assignment, give students the link or pass out the rubric to help guide the assignment. There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.

To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.

For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out these sites:

Finally, you can go to Teacher Created Rubrics for Assessment, which links to various rubrics. Scroll down to find one on essays.

You should see in students' essays that they understand the impact television or the Internet can have on an isolated group. Also, that culture and society can be influenced by the two. They should support their ideas with specific examples either from the readings in the lesson, further research, or personal experience.


For a more recent (2008) article about elections in Bhutan, go to Tiny Bhutan Will Vote Today to Trade Absolute Rule for Democracy. You also may want to encourage students to research other current articles that cover news in Bhutan since it is a country experiencing dramatic social change.

The PBS Frontline site, Bhutan, the Last Place, has other articles on the country and its acceptance of television and the Internet. In particular is one article called Gross National Happiness, in which the author of Virtual Tibet, Orville Schell, examines the cultural effects of television and the Internet on the Buddhist kingdom.

The Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian offers more examples of cultures, some of which are working to keep traditions alive. Click on cultures to read about the people from more than ten regions. The Aleut region gives good examples of how a culture has responded to change due to societal change from outside forces.

Grant Info
National Science Foundation
Some of the above content was created with support from the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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