Subcultures develop over time. These cultures differ in their material culture

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Synthesis of Fundamentals of the Human Mosaic, Cultural Geography: Chapter 2

Through association or isolation, cultural norms diverge, and subcultures develop over time. These cultures differ in their material culture, (possessions and commonly held built objects) and non-material culture, (which includes what they do, how they do it, and believe). We also differentiate folk and popular cultures, based on their differing characteristics.

Folk cultures are small, isolated cultures, which have enough internal cohesion to survive. Their isolation makes them largely or completely self-sufficient, and their small, cohesive nature tends to make them culturally and physiologically homogeneous. Their traditional folkways developed to fit their natural environments, and they tend to migrate to places similar in natural characteristics when feasible. Clan and religion often strongly influence choices and behavioral norms. Isolation produces a subsistence economy, and risk-aversion when dealing with survival and security decisions. Individual differences are minimal, often only varying by gender roles. Space-time compression is faster in popular cultures.

Popular cultures, logical opposites of folk cultures, are large, culturally diverse, based on cash based consumer economies. Specialization, individualism, consumption, and varied and fast communication and transportation contribute to rapid cultural changes. This combined diversity produces a high degree of stimulus diffusion, which enhances change.

Incongruously, folk cultures are sources of stimulus diffusion, benefiting popular cultural variety and change, but popular culture often diffuses into traditional cultures, leading to their assimilation into popular cultures. Physical and cultural barriers slow down this change, and folk cultures without these barriers become popular cultures quickly. Folk cultures in isolated (islands, mountains, deserts, swamps, rainforests), and relatively unpopular places (too cold, hot, dry, wet) which often happen to be isolated, are good places to look for folk cultures. As they assimilate, folk cultures leave behind both material and non-material cultural variation, sometimes called a cultural substrate.

Popular culture can be considered placeless, although the tendency for homogenization is offset by regional and sub-cultural preferences, as well as different adaptations to different physical regions [Jordan et al. 2012]. Fairs and rodeos are two different cultural responses to differing agricultural patterns driven by different physical sites. Vernacular regions also indicate that people do not consider their environments to be entirely placeless. However, these distinctions may be lost to most people in the homogenized cash economy and global distribution networks. Time will tell.

Some cultures provide barriers to contact and communications, so that they can control outside cultural influences. The internet, television access, program access, and behavioral restrictions regarding programming have all affected diverse cultures. Also, local preferences limit what we access, what we pay for, and what is ultimately produced for consumption.

Some inventions occur at one place, popularize, and are disseminated globally, while others may be independently invented, but never spread beyond the cultures they are developed in. In traditional cultures, the spread is limited to their migrations, which are often from one isolated region to a similar physiographic region.

Ecology: In traditional culture, nature is accessible, immediate, useful, and a source of sustenance and medicinal remedies. In popular culture, what remains of nature is often a remote mystery, sometimes found in vacation destinations, or on useless or idle land. Values vary by individual and by culture, but they stand in stark contrast. In popular cultures, we have even lost connection to our sources of food, water, and raw materials for products that sustain and entertain us.

Interaction and assimilation of these cultures lead some to postulate a convergence hypothesis, in which regional variety is being slowly lost. Others look to local consumption cultures and consumer nationalism as forces that lead to regional cultural diversity. [Jordan et al. 2012] Place images also tend to support this tendency for cultural diversity as well. (This is tied to the concept of placelessness.)

Cultural landscapes are shaped by both cultural preference and adaptation to physical conditions. Porches, central hearths, thick walls, compact construction, cellars, and other construction patterns reflecting both cultures and the environments they reside within. While traditional cultures tend to more strongly reflect their environments, popular cultures tend to modify their surroundings more, producing consumption, suburban, leisure, amenity, and elitist landscapes. Sometimes, these landscapes and their re-construction reflect idealized aspects of actual (or fictional) cultural adaptations of the region.


Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G., Mona Domosh, Roderick P. Neumann, Patricia L. Price. 2012. Fundamentals of the Human Mosaic. W. H. Freeman and Company, NY, NY. 357 pp.


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