Is there a somewhat established term for one culture (not state) having a comparatively large influence over surrounding/neighboring cultures?

I’m not talking about the volitional political or military influence or control of a country, where the terms hegemony or soft power (“when one country gets other countries to want what it wants”) come to mind. Rather, I mean when surrounding cultures voluntarily imitate, adapt, import and include the fashion, architecture, technology and ways of thinking and writing of the other culture, even if this is not desired or especially promoted by said culture. (Of course, military power may very well preceede the phase I’m looking for. And in turn the phase I’m looking for may very well preceede becoming a soft power. But neither are necessary.)

Examples in the West are probably the Roman Empire (vis-à-vis the Germanics), the Catholic Church and later the French and then British high societies, as well as the American Way of Life after WW2. Or the influence of Chinese culture over surrounding peoples.

  • 2
    I think that is the definition of soft power. Cultural imperialism has been used in this context.
    – MCW
    Aug 9, 2016 at 18:01
  • yeah maybe.. it's just that soft power seems to me to have an agent (i.e. it is done actively to promote the power) and that agent is necessarily a country...
    – mb21
    Aug 9, 2016 at 18:21
  • "A defining feature of soft power is that it is noncoercive;. . . " - to me, that conveys that it is exercised without agency. I'm also skeptical that if an agent exists that it must be a country. You cite the Catholic church; a strong argument could be made for Islam, or for "Liberalism", or "communism" or "consumerism", I think I understand your assumptions, but I think you're splitting a hair that doesn't need to be split.
    – MCW
    Aug 9, 2016 at 18:50
  • 1
    This might be a better fit for e.g. English Language or Politics SE.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 9, 2016 at 18:53
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question belongs on the English Language site. Aug 9, 2016 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


One term to describe this is cultural diffusion.

"The spreading out of culture...from a central point."

Today's "central point" might be America or China; Britain or France during the Industrial Revolution, and Greece or Rome in ancient times.

  • good find! will accept if nothing else comes along...
    – mb21
    Aug 9, 2016 at 20:11
  • @mb21: Yes, I like to wait a day or two before accepting.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 9, 2016 at 20:21

One term that comes to mind is Acculturation. You mentioned a larger culture influencing smaller surrounding cultures and that is more or less the definition of acculturation. It's not necessarily a forced effect, but rather through contact between the cultures, the larger culture tends to "assimilate" the less dominant cultures into it.

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