Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) 's online course, Introduction to Korean Philosophy. Join the course to learn more.
Cultures are formed from a people's traditions and customs. This can be linked to their ethnicity, beliefs, their traditions, and in a more modern sense, their nationality.
Since there are no strict definitions for what is considered a culture, we can look at certain elements of a culture to differentiate it from others.

Cultural Boundaries and Cultural Innovation

In the video in 2.1 , I mentioned the term “cultural boundary”. What does this mean? And how can this lead to cultural innovation?

The term “cultural boundary” is in fact an existing term in human geography and anthropology. It is usually used to describe a geographic area where a group of people live under the same aspects of culture, such as language, religion, and tradition. Of course, as cultures continuously shift, you cannot chart these out on a geographical map, and, more importantly, these cultural boundaries do not necessarily lie on a state or nation’s borders. In fact, there may be multiple distinct cultures within a single nation, or on the other hand, a broad overarching culture spanning across a few countries.

From ancient times till today, cultural boundaries are lines of conflict; two distinct cultures are, in a sense, vying for dominance over a certain area. Though this sort of conflict may not necessarily be an aggressive one, it is one that breeds innovation. I believe that this results in two main types of cultural innovation.

Adaptive Innovation

The example I gave of adaptive innovation, Sungkyun, arises from a general idea of adopting an element from a culture beyond your own, and adapting both the element and your own culture to assimilate them. It is important that there is the element of innovation involved, however. For example, the acceptance of Buddhism and its later development into Zen Buddhism in pre-modern China can also be considered more of an adaptive innovation.

Disruptive Innovation

This type of innovation works in almost the opposite way of the former. Adaptive innovation assimilated foreign elements of culture, somewhat blurring the line between cultures. Disruptive innovation, on the other hand, serves to strengthen these cultural boundaries by making one culture more distinct from another. This is seen in Hangeul, the Korean written language, which replaced the Chinese written script, disrupted existing conventions in Korean literature, and produced something which reinforced the cultural boundary between Korea and China.

This does not mean that Hangeul was created from “nothing.” The elements of East Asian thought had a profound effect on the ideas of the structure and design of Hangeul. We will explore Hangeul a little more on its own later. There, you’ll understand how disruptive innovation can still have cross cultural influences.

As you can see, differences in culture can lead to either a blending of the two through adaptive innovation, or a strengthening of their uniqueness through disruptive innovation. I believe that cultural boundaries allow for a kind of innovation which a single culture will find difficult to achieve. Try to think about cultural differences in your culture, and what kinds of innovation spawned from them.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Korean Philosophy

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: