Re: Westernization and its effects on culture
Sun, 26 Nov 1995 22:17:05 GMT

Shannon Goins <> wrote:

>I am writing a paper on the effects of westernization on traditionally
> non-western cultures. I would be interested to hear opinions about
>the decrease in cultural diversity, as a result of the availability
>of western ideas through the media, tourism, and music.

Before I begin to answer your questions about the effects of
westernization, let me give you my qualifacations concerning this
topic. First, I have a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology. After
compleating my M.A., I joined the Peace Corps and served for one and a
Half years in Senegal, West Africa. Most of my work there was
conducted in Wolof, thus I did use the local language. I work for the
Ministry of Public Health and Social Action as a Public Health Agent.
My primary task was to decrease infant mortality through education and
other projects designed decrease the effects of contagious illnesses.

Now that you know where I am coming from, I can start to answer you
questions based on my knowledge and expereinces.

>How serious is this?

In Senegal, the effects of Westernization is very pronouced. In the
large cities (Dakar, Thes and Kolack) the youth are extremly catch up
with the "Myth of the West." Since this country has access to
Television and Radio (mostly French but also American shows translated
into French) they have developed an idea that EVERYONE in the West are
rich and live a life style that they see on such shows as Dallas and
Dynasty. Also, they are very facinated with American Pop Heros such
as Micheal Jordan and Micheal Jackson.

In these large cities, most of the youth (ages 11-35) dress in jeans,
t-shirts (most Chicago Bulls t-shirts) and Niki look-alike short
shoes. They wear ear-rings (studs or loops) in their left ears, and
basicly try to act according to their perception of what an American
African American would act like. Recently, American Rap music has
began to be played in Senegal, with the music videos being played on
their only T.V. station, and this has led to a redefination on how
they think they should act and dress to be more like Americans.

I must say, it is an odd sight to see young Senegalese dressed in
Chicago Bull Jackets when the tempature out-side is between 100-120 F.

The effect in the rural villages are not as pronounced as in the city,
but over time the influance will be greater. Most of the youth that
live in the city are from rural families. Because of the lack of
rain-fall which as effected Senegal for almost 30 years, many families
sent young boys to the cities to find work. While they are in the
cities they are effected by this Westernization and bring it back to
the villages. It is now common to see villagers wearing Chicago Bulls
T-shirts and Niki look alikes. Also jeans are becoming very coomon.

Most of the people in Senegal have access to short-wave radios and
they are always listening to them. These Radios have also had an
great impact on their Westerization. Also every person I meet in
Senegal knows most of our presidents and famous people. The funny
part of this, is that some people thought that I knew these people
personaliy becuase I was working through the US Gov't. (This gives
you a hint on how their gov't apoints people)

In General, Senegalese Society bases affluance on how Western some one
is. The more Western they look, the more prestigious they are. The
only exception to this rule are the Senegalese Marabouts (Relgious
Leaders) who still maintain a more traditional dress and behavior.

>Are there ways to prevent it?

The only way to prevent this is for the people effected to stop
wanting to be like Westerners. However, this will not happen, as far
as I can see.

> What about foreign aid workers - does the ability to speak the language of
>the region where one is working help to reduce the risk of imposing
>western cultural values?

No, if any thing, this can increase the risk of influance because then
the foreign aid workers can communicate their values better by
speaking the language.

You need to be careful and not make the mistake of thinking that
language and culture are synonymous. When I was speaking Wolof to the
people of Senegal, I wasn't speaking to them like a Wolof, but instead
I was speaking like an American who knew how to talk to them in their
langauage. This is the improtant point to remember.

In the "Foreign Aide Game" an important commodity is at work that must
be understood. I should say at least in Senegal, but I am sure this
happens in other countries also. Like I have already said, to have
Western things is to show that one is prestigious. What does Foreign
Aide bring? Western things. Thus, at least in Senegal, the folks
will do almost any thing to get stuff from us. The primary motivation
is not to inprove their material lives, but instead to have symbols of

Personally, I think this is one of the major reasons why aide projects
do not work. For example, if someone goes into a village and builds a
latern for every compound to decrease the effects of illness, the
folks in the village will not have the same reason for wanting these
latrines. The Foreign Aide workers wants to decrease mortality, but
the villagers want a symbol. For the latrines to work, they must be
properly maintained, so that flies can't get inside and spread the
vectors that cause the illnesses. However, for the villagers having
tha latrine is sufficient for their reason. The end result is that
the villages will not do the maintance on the latrines, and thus the
vectors will continue to effect the village.

I got a little side tracked.

Any way, since the villagers want these symbols of westernization,
they will go anything they can to get them. Since the Foreign Aide
worker can speak their language, the villagers have an easyer time
trying to figure out the worker. As a result, they will find out how
the worker thinks and feels about things (basicly their cultural
matrix) and will act infront of them based on this information. Thus,
they will use our cultural perceptions to get want they want. Since,
we see them acting the way "we do" we come to expect them to continue
to act "Western." From my experince, I can tell you that it is a
shock when I stopped a project in a village, and they didn't have any
reason to continue to act they way they thought I wanted them to act.
It confused me, untill a Senegalese friend of mine explained that they
are acting like Wolofs now, not like Americians.

So in a nut shell, Wetsern Values will always be a factor in Foreign
Aide. Unless we are able to de-socialize our selfs before going over
to other country, our values will continue to be they and either we or
the people we are working with will bring them to the surface and
enter them in to the work.

I hope that this has help you with you paper,