The Cultural Lag Theory

Discussion Question:

1. With the introduction of new technologies and media (such as cyberculture) in education, what are some possible problems that may be created due to cultural lag?

Post your response in the Discussion Thread labelled "Cultural Lag and Implications" in Vista.


Points on Cultural Lag Theory:

1.      Cultural Lag is the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations, and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag.

2.      Dr. James W. Woodward explained that when the material conditions change, changes are occasioned in the adaptive culture, but these changes in the adaptive culture do not synchronize exactly with the change in the material culture, this delay is the culture lag.  

3.      The term was coined by sociologist William F. Ogburn in his 1922 work Social change with respect to culture and original nature.  

4.      Cultural Lag Theory suggests that a period of maladjustment occurs when the non-material culture is struggling to adapt to new material conditions.

                             i.            Material culture includes all of the physical objects that people create and give meaning to.  For example, cars, clothing, schools and computers. An object only becomes part of culture after meaning have been given to it. A computer has no meaning until it is used as a tool.

                           ii.            Non-material culture consists of thoughts and behaviour that people learn as part of the culture they live in. It includes politics, economics, language, rules, customs, family, religion or beliefs, values, and knowledge.

5.      Cultural Lag theory resonates with the ideas of Technological Determinism, in that it assumes that technology has independent effects on society at large.

6.      Ogburn posited four stages of technical development: invention, accumulation, diffusion, and adjustment.

7.      Invention is the process by which new forms of technology are created. Inventions are collective contributions to an existing cultural base that cannot occur unless the society has already gained a certain level of knowledge and expertise in the particular area. Accumulation is the growth of technology because new things are invented more rapidly than old ones are forgotten, and some inventions (such as writing) promote this accumulation process. Diffusion is the spread of an idea from one cultural group to another, or from one field of activity to another, and as diffusion brings inventions together, they combine to form new inventions. Adjustment is the process by which the non-technical aspects of a culture respond to invention, and any retardation of this adjustment process causes cultural lag.

8.      Cultural Lag is a common societal phenomenon due to the tendency of material culture to evolve and change rapidly while non-material culture tends to resist change and remain fixed for a far longer period of time. Due to the opposing nature of these two aspects of culture, adaptation of new technology becomes rather difficult. This distinction between material and non-material culture is also a contribution of Ogburn's 1922 work on social change.

9.      Cultural Lag creates problems for a society in a multitude of ways.  Where new technologies are considered.  For example, the advent of stem cell research has given rise to many new, potentially beneficial medical technologies; however these new technologies have also raised serious ethical questions about the use of stem cells in medicine.