Causes of Cultural Discontent

Demonstration of Discontent

Written by Alana Jolley

January 3, 2019

Causes of Cultural Discontent

Before examining causes of cultural discontent, we should revisit the word culture, and its context.  We defined the word culture according to anthropological standards in previous posts and lessons.  We know culture is written, spoken, and acted out.

A common language within a cultural context allows each culture to maintain both identity and ideology.  We know culture is learned from birth; which helps us to understand ourselves, socially, politically, and spiritually.  We inherit traditions, literature, oral history, past perspectives, and past interpretations, almost in a genetic way.  Such inheritances contribute to each person’s overall cultural knowledge. We might describe them as “historical memory.”

A World Without Culture?

When we study the global villages map, as described on this website, we realize how important elements of culture are to every human being’s growth and development.  Without culture we could not thrive or survive. What would a world look like without culture?

So we see how “boring” the world would be without culture; but what does the world look like without control over these elements of culture?  Many populations of the world are experiencing exactly what happens when culture is out of control.  Way back in the dark ages of 2006, Brian McNair described it as The Culture of Chaos.  It still rings true in 2024.

When out of control chaos becomes destabilizing, we may refer to such chaos as the culture of discontent. Before we examine possible reasons for the destabilizing pressures, it should be noted here that the discontent we are talking about is not the Freudian discontent of 1929.  Freud’s, weird psychology of “. . . anxiety . . . mixed with guilt, pertaining to an aggressiveness . . .,” is not today’s discontent.  We can examine only a few causes of cultural discontent, as it applies to our day, but there is much lack of cultural restraints.

Adding Digital to Cultural Aspects

It is possible to enumerate some, but not all of the reasons for destabilization of cultures.  First, on the list of impacts, in our own time, is the many digital devices and their communication technologies. Digital communications were new to most cultures only a few decades ago.

All of the global villages, no matter how complex their cultures on the one hand, or how simple on the other hand, are feeling the pressures of online media.  The quantity of news and information is overwhelming all populations everywhere.  The fact that social media adds to the quantity of news makes more and more information exponentially available at all times and in almost all places. This onslaught of information is both external and internal; and adds confusion and stress to everyday life (even if we don’t admit it).  No culture is free from these destabilizing processes.  Even remote populations are able to include cell phones into their daily lives, as the Maya mothers below.  Years ago, while visiting a village in the Maya highlands of Guatemala, where there was no running water or toilet facilities or heating in homes, the midwives had cell phones!

Going digital in Guatemala










Added to the barrage of information overload are other social problems brought to light, which might otherwise have been unknown or not previously thought of.  Over exposure to media may contribute to the processes of social and cultural fragmentation and unrest. The destabilizing factors listed below are not new; but adding 24/7 news content from around the world, and the social media attached to it, stokes the fire of the culture of discontent.

Causes of Cultural Discontent

Genocidal conflicts, epidemics, violence, crime, wars, political forces, racism, religious conflicts, terrorism, gender inequalities, hunger insecurity, overpopulation, environmental concerns, homelessness, contradictions of our place in the world, displacement of peoples and infiltration of refugees, are all easily recognizable reasons for cultures to become discontent.

Even stable cultures can become discontent for various reasons other than the pinnings of a digital culture.  Examples are easy to pinpoint; but they are not so easy to rectify.

Past Discontent Caused By World Leaders-Examples

President Trump’s trade ideology was welcomed by some and disdained by others. Trade policies affect businesses, investors, consumers, as well as the stock markets around the world.

Germany’s Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, has had a difficult time                    with her refugee policies.  This caused a great deal of discontent in her country, because the influx of more diversity upsets the cultural                    “apple cart.”

Theresa May, previous Prime Minister of the UK, tried to manage exiting          the European Union to comply with the Brexit vote.  Not all were happy          about leaving the EU. Many protested, even as plans were being made to        complete the exit.

Conflicts Contribute to Discontent

Conflicts, and wars around the globe cause discontentment in more places than just the war-torn country itself.  Here are some countries dealing with discontent, some because of war, past wars, or politics in general.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico (drug wars and drug cartels), Central African Republic, countries in West Africa, and in East Africa . . . and the list goes on.  What can be done about the many causes of cultural discontent?  Discontentment is complex; but simplicity may be the way to start.


Might we start with conversations?  How about the kind of conversations that involve listening?  What about the kind of conversations that pass wisdom from one generation to the next? We ought to have conversations that give us hope.

Conversations [ethnography] in the Classroom

As a professor, at the beginning of each new semester I have my students interview each other.  They are not allowed to interview their friends.  The students randomly choose whom they will interview.  They are given a list of questions to ask; but as their interview progresses they are to make up more questions on their own.  They are given class time for face to face interviewing; but they also may communicate with their partner by emails or social media.  In many instances they meet outside of class and become best friends.  I even had a couple who interviewed each other and eventually married!

The purpose of the interview is two-fold for the students.  1) They get an opportunity to understand the process of ethnographic methods in anthropology.  2) They must write about their interview experience for a grade.  What does this accomplish?  They begin to respect each other’s humanity.  They learn about the difficulties of trying to get an education when there are both language and cultural barriers. In my classrooms in Southern California there is much diversity. I have students, literally, from all over the world, and from many different cultures. This is a huge learning curve for many of my students.

For me, as their professor, the papers I grade from their ethnographic experience helps me to know my students in a personal way.  It is a learning experience for me, too, reading about each students’ background, and ethnic identity.  I discover things about my students I would never learn without the interviews. This knowledge helps me to help them learn in a more positive way.  The best thing that happens in my classroom is that there are fewer conflicts among my students. Their conversational experience lessens, in many ways, discontentment in the classroom. Why wouldn’t this work on a larger scale?  Actually, it does!

StoryCorps, Inc.

There is another place to learn more about the art of conversation and interviewing.  On their website, StoryCorps tells us that, “. . . every story matters and every voice counts,” when having conversations.  They record interviews [conversations] about people’s lives, which leaves, “. . . a legacy for the future.”  Their mission statement says this, “These powerful stories illustrate our shared humanity and show how much more we share in common than divides us.”  StoryCorps has given millions of people the chance to record interviews about their lives.

Once we are able to realize all people everywhere have struggles, heartbreaks, grief, financial woes, health problems, death and despair, our own culture of discontent is less pressing. StoryCorps makes it possible for our great-great grandchildren to hear our voice in conversations they can have with us posthumously. They will learn that discontentment can be managed, as it has been in generations past.

Visitors may contribute conversations, and stories, on this website.  I look forward to those stories and conversations with great anticipation.

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