Cultural imperialism refers to the practice of promoting the culture and/or language of one nation in another, usually in terms of a large and powerful nation promoting itself within the borders of a small and poor nation. This takes a variety of forms, ranging from an active policy to a very casual general attitude. The name comes from the analogy to military imperialism, or the conquest of nations by military might.
Cultural imperialism takes on two distinct forms based on the relationship between the dominating state and the dominated state.
Pre-Empirical Cultural Imperialism
Pre-empirical cultural imperialism occurs when the practice of promoting a culture or language occurs within a culture that is not nominally part of the empire of the culture being promoted. In other words, it occurs when the culture of one sovereign state is promoted within the borders of another sovereign state. In the modern age, this is the more common type of cultural imperialism.
One example of pre-empirical cultural imperialism is the use of Christian missionaries sent to non-Christian third world nations in order to both aid in the development of an infrastructure in a Western style as well as to spread the word of God.
Another example of pre-empirical cultural imperialism is the gradual pervasion of anime into America. It is a form of artistic expression developed and produced in Japanese culture, yet it is becoming widely spread throughout the United States.
Post-Empirical Cultural Imperialism
Post-empirical cultural imperialism occurs in the aftermath of a military conquest of a previously distinct culture. In this, the culture of the land is gradually transmogrified into the culture of the conquering state. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, this was the most common form of cultural imperialism.
One example of post-empirical cultural imperialism is the spread of the Etruscan and, later, Latin culture and language by the Roman Empire as it conquered Europe. This spread of Latin throughout Europe led to the foundation of most of the Romantic languages, which make up most of the tongues heard today that have originated in Europe.
Another example of this is the practice of the British Empire, who upon conquest of another culture, would actively participate in cultural imperialism. The British would provide education in spoken and written English, teach the people the game of cricket, and also promote and practice Christianity. These practices were a large part of the success of the British Empire.
Implications of Rejection of Cultural Imperialism
In many cases, the rejection of cultural imperialism can bring about unintended and undesired consequences. This can range from simple refusal to adopt a language or custom to outright revolution and military conflict.
Perhaps the best example of the rejection of cultural imperialism in a variety of manners is the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549 in Cornwall. England, in the process of rejecting non-English languages (the first rejection), sought to spread the English-language version of the Book of Common Prayer, thus replacing the Latin used in the Catholic Church with English. In Cornwall, however, many of the people did not speak English (the second rejection), speaking Cornish in conversation and writing and using Latin in church. When the rest of England attempted to replace the Latin Book of Prayer with an English one, many of the peasants in the area revolted against the change (the third rejection). This rebellion did not last long; the King's army invaded Cornwall, executed the leaders of the rebellion, and instituted numerous reprisals against the people.
Cultural Imperialism Today
Today, cultural imperialism is more of a factor than ever before, even to the point of transcending itself. In the era of globalization, the lines between states and cultures are extremely blurred, making it much easier for groups and individuals to visit other countries and practice and promote their own culture within these countries. The first clear example of this was the widespread multinational immigration into the United States in the past two centuries, creating the so-called melting pot.
Cultural imperialism in the past had a greater relationship to military imperialism, but in the modern era, it is more closely related to economics. For example, franchises born and developed in America but now present in other nations, such as McDonalds, occurs largely due to economic factors rather than a culture-spreading issue; this spread of culture is a mere side-effect.