Cultural Variation

Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11481

It is said the world is getting smaller due to rapid travel and communication. It is also more interconnected, resulting in sharing of cultural aspects. Evaluate the spread of culture and its effects!


World Cultures

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Based on what you see in the image below, in what country do you think this photo was taken? Explain to your parent or teacher the reasoning behind your guess.

McDonald's in front of the Xi'an Drum Tower

Image by BrokenSphere, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

If you chose China, you are correct!

The Chinese symbols on the buildings probably gave you an indication of the part of the world where the picture was taken. There are roughly 35,000 McDonald's fast food restaurants, and they are spread throughout 119 countries, including China. McDonald's offers up a great case study in examples of terms you will learn about today: cultural variation, cultural leveling, and cultural diffusion.

If you haven't already done so, complete the previous lesson in this series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, to learn the aspects that are common to all cultures.

  1. Review the meaning of "culture" by studying this What Is Culture? infographic, courtesy of RioMar Villages.
  1. While reading the first 12 paragraphs of Horace Miner's article, Body Ritual among the NaciremaAmerican Anthropologist, 58:3, June 1956), write down cultural practices and beliefs that seem odd to you. When you have read those 12 paragraphs, discuss with your parent or teacher what you wrote down.
  1. Now look again at the name of the people being described in the article. It says "American" backwards. Horace Miner used elaborate language to describe parts of American culture.
    • What is the "shrine" he refers to in paragraph four?
    • What is the "mouth-rite" he refers to in paragraph ten?

The "shrines" are bathrooms and the "mouth-rites" include teeth-brushing.

  1. Now, take an outsider's perspective of your own culture. Make a list of the aspects that would seem odd. For example, as part of many Americans' Christmas celebration, they cut down a perfectly healthy tree, bring it inside, decorate it, and place presents beneath it. Discuss your list with your parent or teacher.

When viewing other cultures, it is easy to become ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism includes judging other cultures based on the standards and customs of your own culture.

When studying other cultures, sociologists and anthropologists encourage individuals to identify that cultural variation exists. Cultural variation refers to the differences in social behaviors and beliefs among cultures of the world. Although cultural variation is evident, a certain amount of cultural leveling has taken place.

Cultural leveling occurs because of increased contact — cultures become similar to one another. More travel, trade, and mass market media among countries of the world has led to cultural leveling. This cultural leveling has also caused — and been a result of — cultural diffusion.

Cultural diffusion is the spread of cultural aspects. Consider food or clothing fads as examples of cultural diffusion. In our globalized world, the concepts of cultural variation, cultural leveling, and cultural diffusion are evident in everyday life. Think back to the image of McDonald's in India. How might these terms apply to that single photo? Discuss this with your parent or teacher.

In the Got It? section, you will use the example of McDonald's to practice identifying these concepts.

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We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.