Imperialism in the Interaction of World Cultures Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


Imperialism played a key role in the interaction of world cultures, resulting in new forms of literature, art and other forms of cultural expression. While there is no doubt that imperialism had a sinister side, scholars now realize that it was a platform for contact and cultural exchange between different communities.

Locals had a role to play in the reception of foreign culture from imperialists. Through an analysis of changes that took place during and after imperialism, this report will demonstrate that the phenomenon hybridized local culture. General focus will be given to the impact of imperialism on the local economy, culture, and architecture.


Definition of Imperialism

Imperialism is the process of dominating a region using cultural, economic, and territorial bias in order to create an empire. Imperialism may be extreme or progressive (Feuer 4). Feuer further claimed, “The Nazis practiced the extreme form by eliminating unwanted peoples” (4). Conversely, the British, French, and Belgians exerted progressive imperialism by assimilating the colonized people into their culture (Feuer 9).

The colonizers claimed that they had a civilizing mission in ‘backward’ nations. In the instance of the orient, this can be seen when the journalist from France likens it to Europe. However, there are quite a number of different versions of the beliefs of the origins of imperialism.

Unlike the Europeans who feel like it was deeply rooted in their culture, the Americans feel like the orient is more associated with Japan and China. With all the colonization that the European nations such as Germany, Portugal and Spain associated themselves with in the region, came the synchronization of their cultures.

Imperialism and its impact on culture

Imperialism had a profound effect on native languages. Many locals learnt the language of their colonizers. Some individuals, such as Bisong explain that this is not necessarily a threatening situation (124). The author speaks about his native country, Nigeria, and how most parents want their children to learn English. He explains that many of them are motivated by the need to develop their children’s opportunities in the future and enable them to earn the right education.

Unlike various critics like Bisong who affirm that “the imperial language – English – may potentially neutralize or replace local languages, the opposite is true” (125). Children who are already competent in their mother tongue do not need to regard English as threat. They only spend three or four hours a day speaking English while the rest of their time is spent communicating in their native languages.

As a result, many of them are reaping the benefits of being multilingual. It is pointless to stay monolingual when one lives in a linguistically rich state; English forms an indispensable part of this aspect (Bisong 126). Learning the colonialist language enabled many individuals to expand their consciousness and thus become richer (Bisong 133).

In the novel “Seasons of Migration to the North” written by Tayeb Salih, the author explains why it was vital for Sudanese to learn the colonialist’s language. The Sudanese people were apprehensive of the government officials who tried to set up schools in their regions.

They even went to the extent of hiding their young ones when the officials came around for registration (Salih 20). Conversely, the book states that Mustafa volunteered to go to school, and he was proud of it since he stated that it was the first time he had ever made an independent decision in his entire life (Salih 20). He uses poetry to entice and captivate the women whom he influences easily with statements like “I am like Othello—Arab-African” (Salih 33).

Additionally, the phenomenon also altered their worldviews. It affected their religious standing as well as their leadership structures (Gratale 95). Imperialism altered their conception of gender, collectivism, and health, as well. It should be noted that cultural imperialism could be either passive or active (Schumpeter 23). Active cultural imperialism occurs when the foreign culture subjects the dominated group to forceful adoption of their culture.

Passive cultural imperialism occurs when the colonized nation accepts different aspects of foreign culture passively (Schumpeter 15). In this regard, such individuals perceive their own cultures as partly deficient. Therefore, they presume that western culture would enrich them (Schumpeter 38). Usually, the local culture may not think actively about different dimensions of the culture as they presume that it is for their benefit.

A case in point was the character known as Hussain Kirsha in the novel Midaq Alley. He had grown up in the central location of the book, Midaq Alley, most of his life. His first job was as an attendant in his father’s job then he left this position for a vacancy at a bicycle shop (Mahfouz 39).

Later on, the British Army participated in the Second World War, and this paved the way for Kirsha’s subsequent job; he became a laborer for the Army. Hussain felt immensely proud of his accomplishments as an employee of the British Army and used his wages to live lavishly back in his community. He frequently told his friend, Abbas, to abandon his shop in Egypt and join the British Army. Mahfouz stated that Hussain even declared, “The war is a blessing from God, rescuing Egypt from poverty and misery” (69).

Clearly, Kirsha belonged to that group of people who believed that their culture was partly deficient. He felt that Egyptians would continue to live in misery unless they embrace what the imperialists had to offer. This was someone who felt that his culture needed to be enriched. One can deduce this attitude from the way he longed for approval from his British superiors and how he boasted about it when he got it.

Imperialism leads to low self-esteem and perception of the colonized cultured as inferior (Ferguson 80). These sentiments emanated from the colonizing bodies themselves. Said explains that most “westerners often perceived Easterners as separate, exotic, and inferior” (55).

They derived such thoughts from predominant literary and scholarly thinkers like Dante, Victor Hugo, and Shakespeare. Victor Hugo once wrote a poem for Napoleon and likened his rule to that of the Nile in the Orient. In the piece, the Orient is perceived as something exotic and peculiar (Said 83).

Therefore, the roots of the inferior-superior dichotomy were sown several decades ago. Another famous writer, Shakespeare, also contributed to these ideas through his legendary play –Othello. Othello was the protagonist of the play but also happened to be a black man. In the narration, he encounters many racist attacks from the father of his European spouse and a jealous soldier in the Army. Othello’s highly fulfilled life is never enough for those around him as they criticize his “thick lips” as well as his dark skin (Vozar 185).

In the end, he kills his wife because of a jealous fit. The individual thus fits into the stereotype of a savage black man (Vozar 185). Shakespeare’s portrayal of a non-European character had a profound influence on how others perceived the black man. Institutional structures created perceptions of non-westerners as worthy of sympathy and even backward (Vozar 186). It is these notions that were carried forth during interactions with colonized individuals. Many of them believed what colonizers told them and stuck to these ideas.

Imperialism and its impact on the economy

Imperialism perpetuated consumerism, in colonies around the world. Western nations introduced foreign products, which made life much easier for local communities than it had been before. They passively accepted the commodities without knowing that these products supported a capitalistic system (Ezema 10).

In essence, the products have hidden power or soft power since they could transform the way colonized countries managed their economies. Additionally, imperialism affected people’s understanding of trade through neoliberal thought. Western neoliberal ideology is centered on individualistic views. It is founded on the belief that competition and self-interest lead to economic prosperity.

These ideas eventually led to contradictions with local values (Ezema 10). Many communities abandoned their collectivist ideas in order to become successful. Ezema explains, “The West had conveyed only the culture of economics (profit) rather than the culture of values (morals), which is dangerous to the future generation and African values” (17). Others also took it to extreme levels by bribing, killing, and threatening their rivals in order to stay ahead.

A depiction of the dangers of these extremes was the central character of the fictional novel “The Death of Artemio Cruz”. Cruz grew up poor and dejected; however, he used his destituteness as a stimulus to become successful. Unfortunately, the character chose the wrong path to wealth creation.

He used his position as a soldier for the Mexican Revolution to negotiate shady deals with others after his side won the war (Fuentes 15). Therefore, his self-enrichment came at the price of other people’s well being. Cruz symbolizes the dangers of individualism and self-enrichment that imperialists taught the Mexicans.

Salih also manifests the same ideas in the fictional book “Season of migration to the North”. He was a well-educated Sudanese who got numerous opportunities because of European imperialism. However, his position in the government translated into no tangible results for the people.

He did nothing for his people because he was used to getting free things. In the end, he abandoned this passive attitude. In his book, Salih asserted, “All my life, I had not chosen, now I am making a decision” (169). These sentiments reflect the rot that emanates from the clash of cultures between imperialists and natives.

Imperialism and its impact on architecture

Imperialism also changed the built landscape of targeted countries; it altered religious infrastructure. For instance, many Muslims had unique architecture prior to the entry of imperialists in their nations. The novel “Midaq Alley” best describes how Egypt’s architectural landscape had altered after colonialism. The nation had streets and alleys that harbored several businesses (Mahfouz 46). Bakeries, barbershops, and several other enterprises are located in Midaq alley.

The novel also talks about a street of apartment buildings found on Pasha Street. It also has a University known as Al-Azar. It is likely that these physical structures would have been absent if the British Imperialists had not entered Egypt (Mahfouz 93). The book is fictional but bases most of its descriptions on real life events. Consequently, it is correct to assume that Egypt possesses comparable facilities to the ones mentioned in the book.

The institutionalization of the empire notion and how it affected the development of culture

The Spanish invasion and its impact on Latin American Life

Latin American life changed tremendously owing to the Spanish invasion and imperialist connection. They brought about alterations in communication and management of land. The fictional character of Artemio Cruz exemplifies these issues. He was a newspaper and property owner; such titles were almost non-existent prior to the Spanish invasion. Furthermore, his local culture would have placed many restrictions on access to wealth.

Too much concern was given to one’s lineage, as well as one’s upbringing (Fuentes 93). Therefore, Latin Americans did not have equal opportunities for wealth creation owing to this cultural bias. Cruz’s family rejected him because of the Creole – Mulatoe differences that existed in that society. Imperialism introduced the notion of self-made wealth because it instilled the concept of neoliberalism in Latin Americans. Colonialists paved the way for optimistic tendencies among inhabitants of the region.

Imperialism and its impact on African art and culture

One of the most adverse effects of imperialism was manifested in Africa because Africans fought for independence bitterly, and almost all countries in the continent were colonized. Indigenous language was the first aspect to be affected by the presence of colonialists (Ezema 18). Formal institutions and access to economic opportunities were associated with knowledge of the English language or the Western language that had colonized a country. As a result, imperialists perpetuated the domination of African nations using language.

Various art forms in these nations are a reflection of imperialistic influences. The same phenomenon is prevalent in Caribbean nations or states that consist of black people. Jamaican popular culture, as seen through television, is a localized version of western culture (Gordon& Nickesia 312).

Its stations were initially government owned, but obligations from the World Trade organizations forced the nation to private its television companies. As a result, no safeguards were present to ensure that cultural programs were aired. Many of these stations borrowed concepts from dominant European cultures.

Many nations cultivate the development of art through the education system. In Africa, most schools were organized along colonial lines. This implies that their perceptions of what literature or visual art represented western thought (Gordon& Nickesia 312). Nonetheless, one must not ignore the fact that hybridization of cultures still occurs among numerous African nations.

Individuals still sing local songs although they often use modern instruments to enrich them. Furthermore, many sculptors and painters have a distinct Africa style, which unites concepts from western and local cultures. Therefore, influences from imperialism have created new forms of expressions that would otherwise have been non-existent in the continent.

Imperialism and its manifestation in Indian and Asia art and culture

Indians’ interactions with colonialists may have led to some positive attributes in their culture. Some of their religious beliefs were radical and violent. Rahman explains that prior to British occupation, “Bangladesh managed to abide by strict anti-blasphemy laws” (11). However, imperialism brought about a new worldview that challenged these aggressive stances. Islamic Asian nations still struggle with difficult laws, but progress is being made. Women, especially, have been downtrodden by religious penal codes (Rahman 12).

Some feminists, such as Dr. Humayun Azad have challenged the male-oriented ideologies of the Islamic faith. She is aware of the fact that women have an alternative way of life, which was propagated by imperialists and other people of non-Eastern origin (Rahman 18). Therefore, imperialism can liberate oppressed members of society if their laws are too extreme.

A further illustration of how imperialism affected India was through the fictional novel “Sea of Poppies”. One of the key figures in the book is Deeti, a humble Indian wife whose husband dies in her lifetime (Amitav 137). The Indians used to conduct a ritual known as Sati, in which a man is cremated along with his wife and most of his belongings. A man known as Kalua who plans to take Deeti as his wife rescued her.

Since the residents in Kalua’s and Deeti’s villages do not accept such arrangements, the two individuals are forced to escape into an American ship. It was sailors such as these who brought imperialism to India. While the story may not have involved a direct case of colonization, it illuminates the excessive cultural practices of the Indian people. Burning someone to death was a cruel and violent act (Feuer 99). The imperialist established new laws that eliminated such cultures, and thus enriched those target nations.

In the book “Burmese days”, George Orwell, writes about British imperialism in Burma. In his description, he features two natives as main characters – Dr. Veraswami and U Po Kyin.

The latter was a magistrate in the country and was well respected. However, he often cheated people of their money and engaged in other vices. Dr. Veraswami, on the other hand, was a respectable doctor (Orwell 12). He was friends with one of the British colonists known as Flory. Veraswami often defended the British and lauded them for giving him an education and causing him to become a doctor.

Surprisingly, Flory despised the British, and claimed that they were in Burma simply to rob them off their resources. In essence, the Burmese character credited Britain for the introduction of education and various forms of infrastructure (Orwell 50). Therefore, one may assert that imperialism provided colonized subjects with a different viewpoint on life. Through modern science, they were able to prolong their lives using modern medicine and enriched it through ease of travel (owing to the newly built roads).

Therefore, the way of life of the Asian people diversified tremendously (Orwell 50). It should be noted that there were several problems that arose in these colonies, but after imperialism ended and the reins of power were restored to the Asians, the overall result was a hybridized culture.


Most imperialists had negative perceptions about locals, which stemmed from writings by predominant authors. Furthermore, many indigenous people were subjected to misery and suffering. However, this encounter with the colonialists was not a particularly unconstructive one for the individuals concerned.

It affected art and culture in various countries by hybridizing it. Sometimes foreign cultural elements intermingled with local forms of expression, such as language and enriched them. On the other hand, it also created individualistic thought, which led to materialism.

Imperialism opened economic opportunities for the colonized, and gave a chance to people who would have been marginalized by their communities owing to a traditional custom such as illegitimacy in parentage. It saved locals from aggressive laws, which oppressed them, and was especially useful for women. Therefore, the study illustrates that a need for more studies concerning imperialism and culture ought to be done in order to demonstrate both sides of the phenomenon.

Works Cited

Amitav, Ghosh. Sea of Poppies. Delhi, India: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.

Bisong, Joseph. “Language Choice and Cultural Imperialism: A Nigerian Perspective.” ELT Journal, 49.2(1995): 122-133. Print.

Ezema, Ifeanyi. “Globalization, Information Revolution, and Cultural Imperialism in Africa”. Information, Society and Justice 3.1 (2010): 11-22. Londonmet. Web.

Ferguson, Niall. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London, England: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

Feuer, Lewis. Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind. London, England: Transaction Publishers, 1989. Print.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009. Print.

Gordon, Ann., & Stacy Nickesia. “Globalization and Cultural Imperialism in Jamaica”. International Journal of Communication, 3.1 (2009): 307-331. IJOC. Web.

Gratale, Joseph. “Globalization, Culture, and the Question of Cultural Imperialism: The Case of Goody’s and the Greek Context”. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 4.8 (2009): 93-100. Cgpublisher. Web.

Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. London, England: Transworld, 2011. Print.

Orwell, George. Burmese Days. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.

Rahman, Harisur. “Cultural Imperialism and Its Possible Effects on Global Communication”. Centre for Practical Multimedia Studies, 1.1 (2011): 1-39. Academia. Web.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. London, England: Vintage Books, 1978. Print.

Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. London, England: Heinemann, 1991. Print.

Schumpeter, Joseph. Imperialism and Social Classes. New York: The World Publishing Company, 1951. Print.

Vozar, Thomas. “Body-Mind Aporia in the Seizure of Othello.” Philosophy and Literature 36.1: 183-186. 2012. Print.

Leonard, Valorie and Rolland LeBrasseur. “Individual Assignments and Academic Dishonesty: Exploring the Conundrum.” The Australian Educational Researcher 35.1 (2008): 37-56. Print.

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