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Westernization or Westernisation (see spelling differences), also occidentalization or occidentalisation (from the Occident, meaning the Western world; see "occident" in the dictionary), is a process of cultural change, where societies come under or adopt Western culture in such matters as industry, technology, law, politics, economics, lifestyle, diet, language, alphabet, religion, philosophy, and/or values[1]. Westernization has been a pervasive and accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries. It is usually a two-sided process, in which Western influences and interests themselves are joined by a wish of at least parts of the affected society to change towards a more Westernized society, in the hope of attaining Western life or some aspects of it.

Westernization can also be related to processes of acculturation and enculturation. Acculturation refers to changes that occur within a society or culture when two groups come into direct continuous contact. After contact, changes in cultural patterns within either or both cultures are evident. In popular speech, Westernization can also refer to the effects of European expansion and colonialism on native societies. Natives who have adopted European languages and characteristic Western customs are called acculturated or Westernized. Westernization may be forced or voluntary.[citation needed]

Different degrees of domination, destruction, resistance, survival, adaptation or modification of native culture may follow inter-ethnic contact. In a situation where the native culture experiences destruction as a result of a more powerful outsider, a "shock phase" often results from the encounter. Such a phase is especially characteristic during expansionist or colonialist eras. During a shock phase, repression using military force may lead to a cultural collapse or ethnocide, a culture’s physical extinction. According to Conrad Phillip Kottak, the Westerners "will attempt to remake the native culture within their own image, ignoring the fact that the models of culture that they have created are inappropriate for settings outside of Western civilisation".[2]

Definition of the WestEdit

Main article: Western world


The "West" was originally defined as Western world. Ancient Romans distinguished between Oriental (Eastern) cultures that inhabited present-day Egypt and Occidental cultures that lived in the West. A thousand years later, the East-West Schism separated the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church from each other. The definition of Western changed as the West was influenced by and spread to other nations. Islamic and Byzantine scholars added to the Western canon when their stores of Greek and Roman literature jump-started the Renaissance. The West expanded to include Russia when Peter the Great brought back ideas from Holland. Today, most modern uses of the term refer to the societies of Western Europe and their close genealogical, linguistic, and philosophical descendants, typically included are those countries whose ethnic identity and dominant culture are derived from European culture.

Western civilisation can be defined as at least Northern America (U.S.A. and Canada), Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Widening this definition however invites controversy. This widened definition can include these countries, or a combination of these countries:

  • Other parts of Europe - Due to their membership in the European Union and European Neighbourhood Policy, these countries are included in the definition of the West, as they more or less share a common European identity with Western Europeans. This view has increasingly gained support, especially since the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc and the current European integration process in Central and Eastern Europe that is a direct result of that disintegration.
  • Latin America. Some countries in Latin America are considered Western countries, largely because most of its peoples are racially descended from Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese settlers mainly). And thus their society operates in a highly Westernized way. Indeed, most countries in Latin America use their official language, either in Spanish or Portuguese. According to the CIA -The World Factbook-, there has also been considerable immigration to Latin America from European nations other than Spain and Portugal, (For example, from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, etc. See Immigration to Argentina or Immigration to Brazil.).[3]
  • Turkey. Although geographically only 3% of Turkey lies in Europe, Turkey has a similar economic system, has a customs union with the European Union in addition to being an official candidate for membership, and is a member of typical Western organisations such as OECD, Council of Europe, and NATO. It is usually a member of European organisations for sports and cultural events such as UEFA and the Eurovision Song Contest.
  • Israel.[4] Many Jewish immigrants to Israel were from Western countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Germany. It is a member of the OECD. It is usually a member of European organisations for sports and cultural events such as UEFA and the Eurovision Song Contest.
  • Lebanon. Although geographically Lebanon is located in the Middle East north of Israel, Lebanon has almost 40% Christians, which are heavily influenced both culturally and socially by Western countries especially France but also to some degree United States, Canada and Australia.

Different viewsEdit

File:Clash of Civilizations map.png

Others, however, like the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, consider based on religious affiliation that the majority-Orthodox Christian part of Europe, Latin America and other parts of the world as very different from the West. From a different angle, this part of the world does not fulfil the economic and standard of living criteria one would associate with the "West".


A different view on the Western world is not defining it by its territory, but by its people, as these tend to differ in an increasingly globalised world. This view highlights the non-Western population in countries with a Western majority, or vice versa. The Boers for instance can be regarded as Western inhabitants of South Africa.


It would be incorrect to regard the Western world as a monolithic bloc, as there exist many cultural, linguistic, religious, political, and economical differences between Western countries and populations. The Western world itself is changing over time as it has in the past.

Process of WesternizationEdit

Colonisation (1492–1960s)Edit

Main article: Colonialism


From 1492 onward, Europeanisation and colonialism spread gradually over much of the world, colonising major portions of the globe. The two World Wars weakened the European powers to such extent that many colonies strove for independence, often inspired by nationalistic movements. A period of decolonisation started. At the end of the 1960s, most colonies were autonomous. Those new states often adopted some aspects of Western politics such as the adoption of a constitution, while frequently reacting against Western culture.[citation needed]



A reaction to Westernization can include fundamentalism, protectionism or embrace to varying degrees. Countries such as Korea and China tried to adopt isolationism, but they have been unable to resist the adoption of many aspects of Western culture. In Japan, the Netherlands continued to play a key role in transmitting Western know-how to the Japanese from the 17th century to the mid-19th century, as the Japanese had opened their doors only to Dutch merchants before US Navy Captain, Commodore Perry’s visit in 1852. After Commodore Perry's visit, Japan began to deliberately accept Western culture to the point of hiring Westerners to teach Western customs and traditions to the Japanese starting in the Meiji era. Many Japanese politicians have since also encouraged the Westernization of Japan using the term, Datsu-A Ron, which means the argument for "leaving Asia" or "Good-bye Asia". In Datsu-A Ron, "Westernization" was described as an "unavoidable" but "fruitful" change.

After Japan's surrender to the USA and its allies ended World War II, the Westernization process of Japanese culture was further completed and today, Japan is notably among the most Westernized countries in Asia. [citation needed] On the other hand, it is notable that despite many advances in industrial efficiency, Japan has managed to sustain a culture of strict social hierarchy and limited individualisation[5].

Globalization (1960s-now)Edit

Westernization is often regarded as a part of the ongoing process of globalisation. This theory proposes that Western thought has led to globalisation, and that globalisation propagates Western culture, leading to a cycle of Westernization. On top of largely Western government systems such as democracy and constitution, many Western technologies and customs like music, clothing and cars have been introduced across various parts of the world and copied and created in traditionally non-Western countries like Japan, China, India, etc.

The main characteristics are economic and political (free trade) democratisation, combined with the spread of an individualised culture. Often it was regarded as opposite to the worldwide influence of communism. After the break-up of the USSR in 1991, many of its component states and allies nevertheless underwent Westernization, including privatisation of hitherto state-controlled industry.

With debates still going on, the question of whether globalization can be characterized as Westernization can be seen in various aspects. Globalization is happening in various aspects, ranging from economics, politics and even to food or culture. Westernization, to some schools, is seen as a form of globalization that leads the world to be similar with Western powers. Being globalized means taking positive aspects of the world, but globalization also brings about the debate about being Westernized. Democracy, fast foods, American pop-culture can all be examples that are considered as Westernization of the world.


Due to the colonisation of the Americas and Oceania by Europeans, the cultural, ethnic and linguistic make-up of the Americas and Oceania has been changed. This is most visible in settler colonies such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where the traditional indigenous population has been overtaken demographically by non-indigenous settlers. This demographic takeover in settler countries has often resulted in the linguistic, social, and cultural marginalisation of indigenous people. However, even in countries where large populations of indigenous people remain or the indigenous peoples have mixed (mestizo) considerably with European settlers, such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, marginalisation still exists. But continued immigration to Chile and eventual "white" majority regions like Costa Rica made these cultures have a castizo or a more Europeanized-mestizo background. [citation needed]

Due to colonisation, the prevalent native languages in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and part of South Africa, are now usually European languages or creoles based on them:

Many indigenous languages are on the verge of becoming extinct. However, some settler countries have gone to lengths to preserve indigenous languages, for example, in New Zealand the Māori language is the second official language.

See alsoEdit


  1. Thong, Tezenlo. "‘To Raise the Savage to a Higher Level:’ The Westernization of Nagas and Their Culture," Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 4 (July 2012): 893-918
  2. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. (2005). Window on Humanity. New York: McGraw-Hill
  3. CIA - The World Factbook -- Field Listing - Ethnic groups. URL accessed on 2008-02-20.
  4. (1996) The Fulbright difference, 490, Transaction Publishers. URL accessed 2010-05-26.
  5. Dore 1984, Unity and Diversity in World Culture in Bull & Watson eds. Expansion of International society, OUP, p 416
  • Gunewardene, Huon, and Zheng (2001). Exposure to Westernization and Dieting: A Cross-Cultural Study. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 29: pp. 289–293.
  • Khondker (2004). Glocalization as Globalization: Evolution of a Sociological Concept. Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. Volume 1. Number 2. pp. 12-20.

Further readingEdit


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