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Activity: Cultures in change. Image: People demonstrating against racism and discrimination.
Foto: Unseen Histories/ Unsplash

Cultures in change

What is culture really? What are the “codes in the back of our mind”? Which cultural changes over time have been positive for women and children? Can we create new culture?

Photo: Unseen Histories/ Unsplash

Quick facts

activity topic
Negative social control • Culture and identity
Target audience for the activity
Youth school • High school • Adult education • Organizations and others
Activity duration
Ca 1.5 hours
Materials: Large flip-over sheets and felt pens for group work.Topic article about culture for the participants.

Activity goals

  • To reflect on the concept of culture
  • To raise awareness that culture consists of “codes in the back of the mind”, but is also continuously changing
  • To create understanding that we can create new culture and a better society
Background of the activity
Activity from “Freedom, yes!" – a manual for workshops on the rights of women and children, and negative social control. Developed by Human Rights Academy with funding from the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity.


  • A PowerPoint presentation of cultural traditions no longer practised


  • The facilitator asks the following questions in a plenary session: What is culture? Responses are written on the board or a large flip-over sheet as they are offered. The following will probably be mentioned: food, clothes, music, art, celebration of memorable days or dates, language, religion, tradition, etiquette, values and norms, social organisation (the relationship between men and women, children and parents).In which ways is culture important for people?
    • Why does culture differ from one place to the next, or from one country to the next?
    • How does culture affect us?
    • Idea for reflection in a plenary session: Can you do things today your grandmother could not do?
  • The facilitator continues:
    • We are born and live in cultures. To varying extents we take over the culture we live in and carry it forward. Language is a good example. Other things in our traditions, such as etiquette, religion, food, music, art forms and how we celebrate birth, marriage and death are things we learn and pass on, often without thinking about them. Culture may thus be said to be the “codes in the back of our mind” which we unconsciously carry with us. For some people, shaking hands is natural, while the French kiss three times on the cheek. We are all culture carriers when we meet others.
    • But culture is not static. Rather, society is in continuous change. Often cultural changes occur over a long period of time and may be difficult to notice. The further back in history we go, the easier it is to discern the changes.
  • Form groups of four to six participants. The groups can focus on their country of origin, the world in general or another country or region. They then work on finding answers to these questions (30 minutes):
    • Find examples of “codes in the back of our mind” (before and now) which refer to gender role pattens. Were/are girls and women still considered differently and treated differently than boys and men? Are they seen as equals? Have “the codes in the back of the mind” changed over time?
    • Find examples of cultural change which have particularly affected women (and/or children) positively. It may be a good idea to look back in history. Have discrimination, negative traditions and social patterns disappeared? Why did these changes occur?
  • The groups present their findings. This round will show that cultures are changing, and that women and children have more freedom and opportunities than in earlier times.


The concept of culture is complex. “The codes in the back of the mind” can explain why we are so closely attached to our culture, and also why we may be “culturally slow” so that it takes time for us to get used to change. If we look back in history, it is easier to see cultural changes. Women have often been treated differently than men.

There are many examples showing that discrimination and harmful traditions are no longer practised because of new knowledge and new attitudes. This shows that we are able to change society.

(English translation: John Anthony)