Cultural Mainstreams Tutorial Task

Cultural diffusion is the process of one culture influencing another and has existed for as long as humans have. However, determining the ethics of the use of another culture’s aesthetic is not always an easy task as it can be difficult to determine the point at which one crosses into the unethical terrain of cultural appropriation. This tutorial activity is designed to help us understand the way cultural artefacts are subsumed into the mainstream and how to avoid cultural appropriation.

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Start your tutorial by watching this video to recap some of the major themes of this week’s lesson.

Following the video, pose the following to the students: Given that the theme of this week’s lesson is ‘The mainstream’ it seems a little odd that we just watched a video on cultures, subcultures and countercultures. Or does it? Can someone explain the relationship between mainstream culture and subculture?

Facilitate a whole class discussion on this topic for around 15 mins.

Cultures, Subcultures, and Countercultures: Crash Course Sociology #11

Follow this discussion by showing them the map of the Amazon and the ‘Culture Cycle’ below and discuss the relationship between each of the larger bodies of water (i.e. cultural metaphors) and the flow of style/trends/taste/material culture. Explain how thinking of it this way allows us to see how the mainstream and subcultures are both parts of the same cultural ecology and that they sustain one another.

Allow approximately 15 for you to explain this and take questions from the students.

Cultural Diffusion

Cultural diffusion is the process of one culture influencing another and has existed for as long as humans have. However, determining the ethics of the use of another culture’s aesthetic is not always an easy task. Historically cultural diffusion has occurred for many reasons:

crosses into the unethical terrain of cultural appropriation present several challenges.

“Cultural Diffusion vs Cultural Appropriation “, John Spacey, Simplicable, September 26, 2016 

Appreciation vs. Appropriation

Appropriation has everything to do with power structures and very little to do with valuing or appreciating cultural practices and attributing credit to original sources. Sometimes it is obvious when someone has crossed into the unethical terrain of cultural appropriation: for example when someone with no connection to the original culture decides to wear a Native American headdress or Japanese Kimono for fashion or theatrical purposes. Or when someone blatantly steals a song from an oppressed minority for self-gain, performing it as if they had written it.

This does not mean we should retreat into cultural isolationism. Hypersensitivity to cultural appropriation can present further obstacles to overcoming the issue. Using aesthetic elements from another culture doesn’t automatically constitute appropriation.

According to Muslim-Iranian political fashion blogger, Hoda Katebi (2016), anyone thinking of engaging in the use of cross-cultural aesthetics should ask themselves which of the following most accurately describes their opinions and motivations before proceeding:


  • The act of a dominant/privileged group adopting cultural elements of another (most likely marginalized/oppressed) culture in an insensible manner
  • Plays on historic themes of oppression, domination, and privilege
  • Ignores the value, significance, or meaning of the object/practice
  • Does not give credit to the original culture/religion/ethnicity/etc
  • Looked down upon/mocked when practised/worn by the original marginalized culture, but becomes “cool,” “trendy,” or “edgy” when done by the oppressors/appropriators.


  • Understanding the significance of a particular practice/object/tradition and not undermining or destroying its significance or value.
  • Understanding histories of oppression and marginalization surrounding the particular object/practice/tradition and gauging the appropriateness of your actions in relation to this history
  • Being invited by an individual of that particular culture to participate in/wear their culture’s traditions/clothing for a specific event or occasion (weddings, religious rituals, etc.)
  • But a word of caution here: getting a “go” pass from one of your friends doesn’t mean that other people from their culture won’t be offended. Just like you can’t use your token Black friend as an excuse to be racist, you can’t use the invitation of one Muslim to wear a headscarf for a day as an excuse to expect that the rest of us are all going to be jumping up and down and applaud you for your bravery.

Katebi, H. (2016). A Guide To Cultural Appropriation Vs. Appreciation. Bust. Available online at: 

2 thoughts on “Cultural Mainstreams Tutorial Task”

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