Culturation and Cultural Diffusion: Broadening our Perspective on New Things

Often, when I am asked to talk about the need to impact community (and promote macro change) I use the term "culturing" or "Culturation."  People usually think this means education, but I see a big difference between education and culturation. To me, education is a deliberate attempt to promote a particular thesis to a particular group of people. The educator has a plan and often compliments their approach with books, materials, pamphlets, and the like. The goal is to get the audience to appreciate and then act on the new information. 

Culturation, on the other hand, is a much more informal, and to a certain extent, a broader and insidious process. It is about presence, and patterns and observable cues that are couched in the environment and language of the members of the culture. It is about informal leadership patterns, valued roles, and influential cultural features that lead way to an appreciation and understanding or that which is new.

Often education is anticeptic, and downward. That is, the teacher packages the information, introduces the students to it, and then tests or evaluates the students retention.  In fact, in more classic interpratation, gauges the student to see if they "learned" the new material. With Culturation, however, the process is different. It is not clear who the influencer is, and exactly when the influence might play out. As something new, say a person, product, or idea is introduced to the culture it is done in softer ways. People just come to know through presence and constancy.

Anthropologists call this type of learning, "cultural diffusion." It relates to the process of new information or experiences becoming absorbed by the culture. Once a critical mass of people start to act on the new information, cultural learning has occurred. 

It is my contention that we need to think more about the process of cultural diffusion in our work than using "difference-related education. We must understand how new information, no matter how diverse, becomes a part of the cultural norm.  This is a better way for new people to become included in the community. To this end, inclusion strategies work better through cultural diffusion.