Being Modern without being Western…is it possible? – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Being Modern without being Western…is it possible? – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


A common issue that most developing, non-Western countries are grappling with is finding a way to incorporate the current sense we have of “modernity” into everyday life without losing the very distinctly non-Western identity they have. Since “modern” has become synonymous with Western, it is difficult to distinguish what is fundamentally culture and what is necessary for development. So is it possible for these non Western countries to design their development trajectory so that it includes all the economic, technological and political progress without adopting the actual cultural-ideological systems in which they exist in the West?

There is evidence that would suggest that both options are plausible and currently occurring around the world. Through the influences of media (mainly Hollywood and the internet) and the dominating political and economic forces of the United States and the European Union most other countries are left with an overwhelming pressure to conform to the Western mode of existence. On a larger scale we see that some of these countries, especially those that have been colonized, even from conception had the idea of nation states and borders (in the sense that we think of them now) imposed upon them. The political and economic models adopted (and encouraged through targeted aid and international organizations) by these countries to survive in a world where they had no time to orient themselves took away their ability to organically and naturally work through the needs of their society and establish a system that can function with their many unique cultures. Not only does this process of global imperialism have the power to affect the way people in these countries live their everyday lives (what language they learn, the role models they look up to), but it can also be seen as a possible cause for the constant state of chaos most of these countries seem to be stuck in.

On a smaller scale we can also see people from these countries (especially the youth) immersing themselves in Western popular culture and in some ways ignoring/forgetting the rich and beautiful ones they have so close to them. Global popular media, by setting so called trends and the scars of colonization that have caused a deep and internalized inferiority complex within people come together to create the seductive attraction to the West people seem to experience. Of course the lack of comprehensive understanding of their own culture (which might not necessarily be their fault), the Western culture and history can feed into the choices made by people. If people and especially the youth seem to be moving in this direction, are we then in danger of losing these precious cultures?

On the opposite end we find a country like China that has been trying very hard to reject westernized models and ideas and have been relatively successful, although the economic and social sectors are less so. All of this, of course does not mean to imply that the people in the West have not been affected (although on a smaller scale) by the rest of the world in different realms of their life. In the increasingly globalized world we live in today it is almost impossible to have a country that is not somehow influenced by the foreign nations (North Korea might be a peculiar exception).


The answer for developing countries that are dealing with globalization and the other global imperial and colonial forces mentioned above does not involve figuring out a way to completely isolate and preserve cultures as they are, but finding a way to incorporate certain ideas and concepts without completely abandoning their own identities. We can find examples of this happening in different countries as well. In Ethiopia for instance there have been movements in the fashion industry to integrate traditional clothing with western fashion trends. They use the same fabric/patterns and design them to also follow popular fashion trends. Another simple example would be the way we eat. Traditionally everyone at the table would eat from one big plate, but now it is more common to eat from individual plates. All of our food is eaten by hand; that is something that has not changed. Large scale changes in our political and economic systems will be very difficult, but if the state is anything like the individual (Plato’s philosophy) we know that it is possible.

Eleni serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under Eleni Birhane, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

22 responses to “Being Modern without being Western…is it possible? – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Greta

    I like the examples you give in this article about the fashion trends and the ways we eat as things are changing and being modified to make things more modern. Also, when you said “finding a way to incorporate certain ideas and concepts without completely abandoning their own identities.” I think that this is an important idea as new ideas will form but they might not always be good ideas. Reflecting back on a video we watched in class about the flavored Kit Kats, I think that those Kit Kats wouldn’t taste good to use because we like the original chocolate better than a flavored Kit Kat that tastes like wasabi. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Der Yang

    Hi Eleni,
    What a thoughtful article! There have always been thoughts like these in my head, but I just have not had the chance to organize it out. You did it for me already so that is definitely a plus. While I read your article, I agreed with you on many points. I especially agree with you on the point that the children of this generation and younger are following everything they see on the internet. Whether this is good or bad, I am afraid it will become part of our reputation and history. I recently came across a video titled, “How We Met [in 2022],” and it was a very sarcastic but alarmingly true video about how a husband met his wife. In the video, we hear slang and manipulation of meanings that we often hear today on social media describing their relationship. Unfortunately, I chuckled a bit watching it, but a part of me was afraid a video just like that one would be on social media very soon. Anyway, thank you for sharing!

  3. Megan Bingham

    This is a great article. During class we often talk about finding a balance between new ideas and old traditions and habits. This can very very hard for some people because change is not something everyone is accepting to. technology usually has a lot to do with change. Even from something as simple as sending an email instead of writing a letter. Traditions are starting to change more, but we need to be careful not to misplace the true meaning behind the rituals.

  4. Matthew Breeze

    Thank you for writing this piece Eleni. I enjoy how you weave the current situation, political, economic, as well as that of the culture industry in Hollywood into the historical framework of colonialism and imperialism. Although the current struggles against American and European imperialism are facing struggles that the world has not seen before, often because of our globalized world, globalization has also given people amazing tools to fight for causes they believe in. Modernizing without westernizing, I hope that more countries are able to do so in their own ways. Diversity is important, whether that be in the classroom or in global cultures.

  5. Kalley Friederichs

    Eleni, interesting post! I think that you brought up an interesting point. I also found this post interesting because this topic often comes up in class and is debated. We often talk in class about the constant changes and advancements in our world today and finding a way to balance it all. With every generation to come and go new traditions are incorporated and other traditions are lost. Many people want to be up in the newest and greatest, however they still want to incorporate their own identity.

  6. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Eleni. When I think about this topic, it makes me sort of sad. Developing countries should not feel pressured to conform to the Western mode of existence and lose their culture in that transition. Culture is, I think, very important. That is what makes traveling so fun–seeing and experiencing all the different cultures. If it is not possible to to become more modern without adopting Western culture, then the world is going to become all the same and thus very boring. Traveling to new places would not really feel like going somewhere new since the culture would be the same. I’ll save a lot of money since I will not be traveling as much, but it will be very sad to lose all of that culture. However, if it is possible, then I think the world will be able to make some great advancements in the following years. Great article, Eleni!

  7. Sarah Plankers

    Thanks for such an excellent article. It really left me with a lot to think about and ponder. Recently I studied abroad in a foreign country and one of the most striking things for me was how westernized the country was because I expected the culture to be much more “pure” or “well preserved”. Globalization and westernization are tough to conceptualize unless they are seen with ones own eyes, I think. Personally, I think its so vital to find the balance between a modernized but not necessarily westernized culture because that is the exact direction our society is moving in as a whole.

  8. Amanda Sullivan

    This is a wonderful article, that has me thinking about a lot. I have always thought of countries abroad as traditional and very cultured. However, as the younger generations begin to take over, it seems as if all they want to do is become westernized. The idea of westernization is almost depressing. Traditions and our cultures are what make individual nations unique. It is important that we continue to modernize how we live as the world ages. However, it is also good for us to keep some of our traditions for the well-being of our cultures.

  9. We have been speaking about this struggle for a great portion of the semester in one of my classes. It is interesting that the West is always associated with modernity in it’s customs, values, etc. What is the exact definition of modernity? This gets at the core of how each individual person or group may define modernity. This piece allowed me to see another piece of the struggle in blending cultures or identifying with different cultural groups. I appreciated the examples you included about fashion and meals. What other changes do you foresee happening in the future? It is more difficult to consider what changes may occur over large spans of time. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Thank you so much! This really has made me think back to my trip to China last year and how I did not realize westernized the country was until getting back and reflecting. It makes me sad in that people lose their culture to resort to western ways. I am nervous to see the future and to see a lack of culture and identity. Anywho, thanks so writing! Cheers!

  11. Joel Scheuerlein

    I love this article. I love this article because it definitely changes you open on other societies. I also enjoy the question on can you be modern without being western? I like this question because it makes you stop and ponder what is modern. I think that as Americans we have gotten the false illusion that our society is right and we are thee most advanced, which causes us to look down on other cultures. I however am a history major, and enjoy the simpler times before technology when friends used to hang out and enjoy each others company. I think this report brings up a deeper question and that is what is “modern society”?

  12. Emily Bugni

    Thank you for your story. It is something how our culture and things that we do not even noticed are treasured in different countries. Many people want that “Western” way of life that we take for granted everyday. Like you said we can see this taking place in the fashion industry as well as the food industry. What I find interesting is that we take other cultures food, because Americans love food, and turn it into our own idea. For example, the Chinese rarely eat their meals with any kind of sauce. Here in the United States, our “Chinese food” is basically soy sauce with noodles. We also like to think of pineapples and ham as Hawaiian, and it is, but most of us do not know that these foods are not served on pizza, they are served with rice, which is a main staple in the Hawaiian culture. With the blending of these culinary ideas, will we see a cease in the original versions of food?

  13. Caroline Grube

    This was a very interesting article to read! I enjoyed your brief analysis of how Western culture and the want to become more modern affects smaller countries and their cultures. As an American myself, I do not always see this effect and how it goes both ways. However, I am aware that it happens. I liked how you gave examples of how countries try to incorporate modernisms and keep their own unique culture. This is a great example of how humans are adaptable, which is one of the emphasis’ of this semester. Smaller countries that figure out a good way to become more modern while continuing to keep their own culture will be the first to grow in the future, in my opinion.

  14. McKenna Holman

    Eleni, I find your post incredibly thought provoking. In one of my classes we’ve been discussing this idea a lot. I have quite a few international students in my class, so its interesting to hear their thoughts on this idea of westernization in non-western nations. It makes you wonder how much of one countries culture has been lost through westernization? It also makes me wonder if these cultures can revitalize the lost aspects of their culture. I hope that non-western nations continue to fight westernization in order to keep their own identities because that is what makes them unique and their own country.

  15. Ashley Kittelson

    Reading this article made me wonder what drives people to desire Western culture. I understand why people would want the wealth and health care provided in Western nations, but those things could be achieved without drastic cultural changes. I do not see the type of clothing or style of eating affecting a country’s economic success. The media is a big influence as it portrays Western culture, but what about the media’s message makes Western culture seem ‘cool’ to the younger generation? In addition, I would like to point out that spreading Western culture is not entirely “bad” or undesirable. Certain values in Western culture like democracy and more equality among people are undoubtedly being spread as well.

  16. Sheila Iteghete

    This title intrigues me because it questions my identity because I am proud to be Nigerian, but being so far away from my homeland has made it difficult for me to claim that part of me. From the lenses of those still back in the homeland, my identity is not clearly accepted. It is also conflicting when being here, I am viewed as a washed African when they are doing all they can to become modernized. Modernized in their perspective means to be accepted as in from the American way of living. So, to answer your question, it is possible when you are from a place, living in a place and developing as they become more modernized in their version of modernized.

  17. Dylan Brovick

    It is interesting to see how Pop culture affects the styles and trends of people especially the youth. I feel it does cause an issue of taking away from the traditions of some countries that do try to modernize or become like the west, like you said. Also so many from the younger generations are going to be connected through the internet at an even younger age than we were. I feel that this could cause a lack of uniqueness among individuals who all try and wear or have what the latest online trend is. Another idea I got while reading this article is the impact other cultures have on the west also, it is seen in fashion and food that the United States has gotten inspiration from these non-western countries. This was a very interesting and enjoyable article to read.

  18. Mariah Koenig

    This was a really interesting article to me! As for the food becoming more modern, I think a big part of that is due to the fact that many people from our generation really don’t know the basics of cooking, so they just get take out or throw a pizza in the oven or boil some noodles. This is really sad in my opinion especially that in the United States, we have people of different backgrounds and ethnicities all over our country with amazing culinary styles. I strongly agree with another point you made about how the younger generation is so influenced by what they see on the internet. Social media blends a lot of cultures together to the point where you don’t really know what the separate ones are anymore. In a way, the “westernized” culture is a culture in its own!

  19. Ellen Hansen

    Wonderful article! Right off the bat, I think it is strange how people sometimes mistake “western” and “modern” as synonymous terms. Firstly, using the term “modern” suggests that there is a certain set of traits and ideals inherently characteristic of modernity- given the vast array of viewpoints and and lifestyles in Western society alone, I have trouble thinking such a thing even exists. (Smart phones, maybe? I would like to think the arch of history bends toward social progress, but the effort put in that direction often seems just as easily reversed.) Admittedly, my lifestyle is a western one, so it can be difficult for me to imagine being someone from a separate culture, trying to balance “western” and culturally traditional lifestyles. I know my own family stems from a long line of devout catholics, and it can sometimes be difficult to balance aspects of those traditions (while I’m no longer a member of the church, the community has left an impact on my life) with my own, so-called “modern” ideals. This article made me think, so thanks so much for sharing!

  20. Andrew Bailey

    Eleni, what a fascinating evaluation of the influence of Western culture on foreign nations. Two words that I would use to describe your evaluation would be exclusive knowledge and propaganda. We truly live in a world where individuals believe that their ideas are superior, and that they are doing others a favor by spreading their ways. This can sometimes be good, but at the same time it can be detrimental to a culture or civilization. Interesting that you also talked about borders. In Professor Liang’s political science class (fall semester 2016) we talked about how borders are invented by humans and because they are conceptual (but drawn out on maps), ideas, goods, religions, and people can move across them. In a sense, Western Culture has moved across borders, but still it has not entered some nations (such as North Korea as you mentioned).

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