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How to Get Beyond Talk of “Culture Change” and Make It Happen

Experts outline their roadmap for intentionally changing the culture of businesses, social networks, and beyond.

February 20, 2024

cultural transformation essay

Calls for cultural transformation have become ubiquitous in the past few years, encompassing everything from advancing racial justice and questioning gender roles to rethinking the American workplace. Hazel Rose Markus recalls the summer of 2020 as a watershed for those conversations. “Everybody was saying, ‘Oh, the culture has to change,’” says Markus, a professor of psychology at Stanford. “It was just rolling off everybody’s lips in every domain.” Yet no one seemed to know what exactly that might entail or how to get started.

As they followed these discussions, Markus and her colleagues Jennifer Eberhardt and MarYam Hamedani wondered what they could contribute at this moment as experts with years of experience studying how communities and organizations can turn the desire for change into something real. “Culture is all around us, but at the same time, it feels out of reach for a lot of people,” says Eberhardt, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and of psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Markus and Eberhardt are the faculty co-directors of Stanford SPARQ , a “do tank” that brings researchers and practitioners together to apply the lessons of behavioral science to combating bias and disparities; Hamedani is its executive director and senior research scientist. Recently, along with associate director of criminal justice partnerships Rebecca Hetey , they published an evidence-based roadmap to intentional cultural change in American Psychologist . They hope, Hamedani says, to illustrate “a path forward and to make the claim that culture change is possible.”

Stanford Business spoke with Eberhardt, Hamedani, and Markus to discuss the complexities of changing a culture and how leaders and readers who are committed to doing things differently can get started.

You start the paper with the “four I’s,” categories you believe can help people map their cultures and see where there might be tensions or mismatches. Using organizational cultures as an example, can you take us through those?

Hazel Rose Markus: There are the ideas , the big ideologies that are foundational for any organization: This is how we do things, what’s good, and what we value. Then the institutional parts, which are the everyday policies and practices that people use to do their work. Often, those have been in place for a long time and people tend to follow them as if they were the natural order of things. Another I is the interactions, which have to do with what’s going on in the office every day, in your relationships with your colleagues, with the people you supervise, with those you answer to. And finally, the fourth part is your own individual attitudes, feelings, and actions.

cultural transformation essay

Is there a way to sum up your roadmap for changing culture?

MarYam Hamedani: The first key idea is because we built it, we can change it. There are many forces out there that are out of our control, but the societies we build and pass on — the organizations, the institutions, the way we live our lives — those are things that are human-made. And so we should feel empowered by that inheritance because that’s the thing that gives us the ability to make change.

The second part is that culture change usually involves a series of power struggles and clashes and divides. You have different groups that feel like they’re winning and losing. There’s a lot at stake for people. It’s important to try to have strategies to deal with that.

Finally, culture change can be unpredictable and have unintended consequences. Yet the dynamics can also follow patterns — for example, backlash happens. Timing matters. So you have to be nimble; you have to realize that cultural change never ends. It’s a sustainable process that you have to stay on top of, and that’s OK.

Markus: Yes, changemakers can’t be discouraged when they see backlash. Also, we want to help people remember that yes, they are individuals, but they are also making culture through their actions. How our everyday actions can contribute to a larger culture and to its change is something I think we are less likely to think about in our individualistic system.

Hamedani: Right. We are individuals and in charge of our own behavior, but then we are powerful as a group.

Markus: With each other, what are we modeling? What are we putting our efforts behind? What’s the impact on the workplace?

Your paper was written with the problem of social inequality in mind. What message does it have for business leaders?

Jennifer Eberhardt: As business leaders, you have both a lot of power and, I think, a lot of obligation to understand the workings of culture. You have the power to pull the levers of change. You dictate what the social environment is like for everyone else. So you have a heavy hand in creating and sustaining the culture that is there — but you can also have a heavy hand in changing that culture for the better.

Markus: When culture change is on the agenda, you often hear leaders — like those in the tech industry — and the first thing they often say is, “OK, I’m going on a listening tour.” But you rarely hear about what they’re going to listen for or what they heard from those who report to them or how they’re going to put that into action.

Listening is valuable because it conveys empathy, but it is useful to listen specifically for what people understand as the important values of our organization, the undergirding ideas. What are we about? What are we trying to be as an organization? And, very importantly, do our policies and practices reflect these ideas and values and our mission? We can say we’re about one thing or another, but how is it materialized? How does it show up in our everyday work? Is there a general alignment across the four I’s of the culture?

You worked with Nextdoor on a project to change its culture. How did that go?

Eberhardt: They reached out to me and other researchers trying to figure out how to curb racial profiling on their platform. In the tech industry, people are focused on building products that are easy to use, products that are intuitive, so that users don’t really have to think too hard. But those are also conditions under which racial bias might thrive. So we encouraged them to slow users down, to increase friction rather than trying to take friction away.

Quote As business leaders, you have both a lot of power and, I think, a lot of obligation to understand the workings of culture. You have the power to pull the levers of change. Attribution Jennifer Eberhardt

They accomplished this by creating a checklist for users to review before posting on a Nextdoor forum. The first thing they ask people to consider is that a person’s race is not an indication of their criminal activity. And also when they describe a person, you don’t just describe their race, you describe their behavior. What are they doing that seems suspicious? Nextdoor found that just simply slowing people down in this way, based on these social psychological principles, they were able to reduce profiling by over 75%.

They were trying to solve for something at the interaction level. What they could change was what the experience was like for users at the institutional level. Just by making these simple tweaks to the platform itself and how they presented information, they changed these negative interactions that were taking place that then could also shape people’s ideas about race.

You also talk in the paper about the example of investment firms struggling to become more diverse.

Markus: Typically this has been the territory of white men with economics degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton. It was a closed and locked world. In studies we did in the investing domain, we found that race can influence professional investors’ financial judgments. Many people in the industry would like to create a culture that is more open and inclusive, but there is a powerful default assumption at work that acts as a barrier. In a lot of these firms, the default is still, “I know in my gut what a successful idea is and who is likely to build a company that can grow. I can see it and feel it, and either you match or you don’t match.”

It seems like a point of tension where the institutional level says it wants change, but at the interaction level, this is still a relationship-driven industry. So what do you do about that?

Hamedani: It depends where in the culture map you want to start. Let’s say you diversify the students coming in and getting MBAs. Then you have to look at how are they’re being mentored and supported through their schooling experience, through the internships and job opportunities that they have. Are you simply assuming that they should assimilate to the default? Are you training a new, exciting, and diverse group of people to act like those that have been there all along? Or are you incorporating their ideas and diverse ways of being that might look or sound different and affording them the same respect and status? Are you teaching them how to do a pitch a certain way because there’s only one right way to do a pitch? Or might they have other styles of communication or ways of selling an idea?

At the GSB, Jennifer has a class, Racial Bias and Structural Inequality , where she brings in all these amazing CEOs who are women and people of color. Most of the students, they’ve never seen it before. And that’s what happens to people in these investment firms: They haven’t seen it before. Even that intervention of seeing, week after week, these leaders coming in and the students get to ask them questions and have a conversation with them — that’s an interaction .

Eberhardt: I had Sarah Friar , MBA ’00, the CEO of Nextdoor, come in. I had the president of Black Entertainment Television, Scott Mills , come in; I had the police chief of San Francisco, William Scott , come in — they are both African American.

And the hope is that these students who will go on to work in the business world will have a broader definition of what is a “culture fit”?

Hamedani: Exactly right. And more specifically, a “leader fit.” And for women and students of color, that they can also see themselves as leaders. But it takes things happening at all levels in the culture map to make that happen. You’re seeding this change and then the levels are reinforcing each other to help it grow.

What would you recommend as a starting place for readers who are thinking that they want to spark intentional cultural change wherever they are?

Markus: It would begin with mapping the culture: What matters to us, what do we value? And then, to the extent that there’s some consensus about our culture, reflecting on whether our ways of doing things reflect this. In so many organizations we’re working with now, there’s really a gap between what leaders feel their values are, what they care about, and what the employees are experiencing. What we see is that it’s important to give the employees chances to get together to talk about this and have some company time, some paid time, to discuss these issues —

Hamedani: — to vision the future. Because there’s that virtue signaling, “OK, we care about that, but really we’re so busy and we have all these things to do. We have to hit our targets for the quarter or for the year.” Of course, those things are important, but are people — employees and leaders alike — participating in visioning that future and laying out the goals and objectives together? Can you make some small or even larger changes such that people feel empowered that they’re part of building that culture together?

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom .

Explore More

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cultural transformation essay

We Built This Culture (so We Can Change It): Seven Principles for Intentional Culture Change MarYam G. Hamedani Hazel Rose Markus Rebecca C. Hetey Jennifer Eberhardt

May 30, 2023 Will a Police Stop End in Arrest? Listen to Its First 27 Seconds. Researchers have identified a linguistic signature that can predict whether encounters with cops will escalate. Black drivers hear this pattern as well.

August 01, 2023 Follow the Leader: How a CEO’s Personality Is Reflected in Their Company’s Culture There’s no ideal personality type for executives — but businesses need the right one for success.

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India’s Largest Career Transformation Portal

Essay on Cultural Transformation in 21st Century

June 4, 2019 by Sandeep

We are living in a highly privileged society where families have transformed from joint set-up to single, individual or nuclear families. Cultural know-hows of one generation usually gets passed on to the next generation through word-of-mouth and continuous practice.

Institutionalisation of science in society

The term ‘institutionalisation’ refers to the standardisation or making/building a standardised pattern over the years. People living in a society begin to accept these norms or set patterns as part of their living and think that they have to live by these norms each and everyday of their lives.

This is where the concept of ‘institutionalisation’ sets in. Our society relies on education for their fundamental living, for finding jobs and getting better plans in society. It is education that culturally guides them to extend cordial behaviour and live in co-operation and harmony with others.

From our forefathers, we have inherited the spirit of scientific thinking. Science is the abstract knowledge or the core institution that we fundamentally received from our ancestors. The turning point or the application of this knowledge in user specific ways has created more modern society for us.

But the scientific institution from where we received and are passing on the basic fundamentals remain unchallenged. People have moved beyond this institution and not challenged scientific ethics after a certain point. The challengers lie in effective utilization of resources for meaningful and purposeful services to mankind.

Adaptive changes in religious values and beliefs

With time and technological advancement, reasoning and scientific temper replace age-old traditions, customs, religious beliefs and orthodox values. The aspect of ‘questioning’ our customs is not a very healthy motion though. Many traditional practices that were followed still have a connection with the world of science, only if we dug deeper into the subject matter.

The relation or inter-connection would be lost or forgotten in the course of time leading to selective changes and adaptive transformations in the way we see and understand religion and traditions as a whole. Religion should be a part of cultural upliftment and not a barrier in itself.

Indian society at crossroads

The older generations are now opening up to accept good and collective points of other cross cultures as well. We can broadly say that Indian culture to some extent has had a shadow of British influence in the past. Nevertheless our ancestors made sure to pull it back and behold the cultural enigma in a nutshell and preserved if for years. The grandeur of this lost tradition was somehow protected and put in its place.

With time, our people have got falsely attracted to pseudo western values and cultures making them think twice about embracing their own culture. For example, yoga practices are part and parcel of our own Indian culture, slowly making big business in the west. The Indian community embraced yoga to greater levels after the western community gave it recognition. Definitely, Indian society is at crossroads.

Process of social restructuration

They say, father is the head of the family and it’s good to have the whole family for dinner. This was a thing of the past. Now, our lives are ruled by gadgets, people work in flexible hours and the cultural togetherness has become more of a matter of social re-union.

Earlier, joint families played a very vital role in our society. The older and younger generations interacted with each other and perceived, understood and imbibed our cultural values. When this set-up got slowly replaced by a nuclear family setup, cultural value transfer took a backseat. Time for daily chores, the need for one’s independence, career boost and gained more and more importance leading to severe social restructuration.

Paradigm shift in Indian philanthropy

India is a country with a lot of social issues. Some have been addressed, others are yet to gain a platform. ‘Giving’ has been a part of our greater culture since years. Apart from the common man who ‘gave’ to society-in-need in the form of charity, rulers, beings and their counterparts donated for the welfare of society and people.

In today’s world ‘giving’ is no more a fancy word found in cultural textbooks, it is part of a greater form of ‘contribution’. NGOs make name and fame by being part of this ‘philanthropy’! People do not necessarily refer to their culture to be part of philanthropy.

They seek relief from their taxable income, so as a means to their financial upliftment too, things have taken a dramatic change. For good reasons and on value based moral grounds, philanthropy has more outreach with advanced technology, people contribute in modern ways and has become a synonymous task with politicians too.

Emergence of new classes

When India was created an economic grounds, the backward classes or peeres classes took the lowest stream in society, followed by the middle class and then the upper class. The cultural values travelled in the other way, the upper class believed to be culturally more significant too.

The situation today is different. We have the modern class which is believed to be flying high with modern waves, yet has a touch of cultural roots attached to it. The ultra-modern classes that are believed to be taken off the cultural radar and living in a liberal society.

The gates-buffet model

People of the younger generation discard their cultural connection, way ahead to see a path of money making. Today, their role models are based on the likes of Gates and Waren Buffet. What makes this model interesting is the five fold theory it is composed of. The first working principle is the glory built with the vision they sought in their minds. People get attracted to the beauty of this glory.

The second principle is ruling out distractions on the way and focusing on the path to success. The third principle exemplifies efficiency, perseverance in our tasks. The fourth principal talks about is social status and well being arising out of his work. The fifth principle exudes inspiration to others on account of our well being.

These words are seen in role models like Gates and Buffet as per the choices of the present generations. In reality, these words can be found way back in our Bhagavad Gitta and has been treasured for long in our cultural values.

Decline of traditional cultural institutions

Religion is different from culture. Religion lays down certain principles that have to be followed in order to practice and preach specific belief. Culture on the other hand teaches a humane way of leading life. No religious text book will go far without the periphery of culture. Religion is the inner stuff and culture is like the extend contact periphery that helps follow religion in the righteous way.

For long, India has been a place of cultural extravaganza and is rich in its value-system. But slowly, due to the mindset prevailing and a bid to take people off their cultural roots, things like corruption and other social evils are thriving.

Traditional cultural institutions in the form of Gurukuls imparted knowledge and education to children in earlier days. The British invasion in India brought along formal education system and also imposed syllabi and rote learning methods.

So, to a great extent, christian missionaries had a very huge impact on our education system. To a certain known perimeter, our culture and values still found a place in these textbooks but with modernity, that started deciling.

India still has its huge share of institutions concerned with the likes of cultural roots of India. Things look bleak when we see the number of patrons and the general public associated with these institutions. Though they impart cultural knowledge in their medium, the number of takers are scanty. There is demand for knowledge in the cultural sphere, but people prefer going the western way.

Social Mobility

Travelling to foreign shores in olden days was considered a taboo. Such practices had no base and were precariously removed. Many such upliftment were a welcome move. Along with this, population shift towards the European and American countries began with a steady rise.

So, we could see cross culture exchanges happening at a fast rate. This mixed with other cultures and gave rise to a new concepts of multi-lingual, multi-ethical culture. These days our cultural system is more accessible, acceptable and mobile too.

Composite culture of India

India is not just about Indians. We have people across nations, finding homes here. That is an external bird view. Internally within our own country, we have people from diverse cultures, of various beliefs and values coming together, tying themselves up on the common ground of being an Indian.

The composite cultural makeup of India has led to the concept of unity in diversity. We are one nation but we follow different religions, speak different languages, have cultural difference, yet accept each other on the sole grounds of being on Indian first.

With cross cultural interactions and multi ethnic cultures making in roads and affecting our values in small and big ways, there sure is a long way ahead to be travelled.

Cultural migration in India

Be it festivals, food practices, important days, ceremonies or events, there is a natural cultural affiliation attached to each one of them. Overtime, things change, get more updated with the time and that is when we see apart of our practices seeking a migration.

We can definitely see our cultural systems seeking more modern ways and approaches that suits different mindsets. It is about opening up to allow fresh cease of air. While letting out those threads that seems outdated and irrelevant at present times.

Modernism & traditional socio-ethical values

When we see modernisation of our culture, it does not mean leaving behind what was there and bringing in something that was non-existent. The concept of modernism in cultural contexts simply mean that we move ahead with our times. In a traditional social set-up, the families refrained from staying differently in individual houses. A joint set up with a primary head of the family was the norm.

Today we have small units living happily in cities. It is a necessity today. We no longer see large, joint family systems everywhere. It has become a rarity now. This concept does not mean that people have forgotten their ethics or customs or traditions. They still follow them. Festivals are still celebrated at homes. Only the way in which it is celebrated must have changed, owing to changing times and traditions.

Occupational diversification

Earlier a son used to carry on his father’s business and this continued for many more generations in the future. Today, if the father is in a particular city, his son may be working on an offshore unit. Times have changed occupations and opportunities have diversified mindsets have also changed accordingly. The bonding and cultural roots remain the same. But that does not inhibit a person to explore out of his boundary.

Cultural values impart good ethics in humans. Indians have always been enriched culturally. Indians are known for their good culture and mannerisms. No matter where we are employed or where we study, we should leave behind our negative traits. We should not forget our cultural setups and values that we are made of.

Transformations happen in the world at every sphere and every aspect of life. With improved science and technology, lives are more modernised. Thinking and reasoning has changed. People go back to their cultures as a reference point.

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Digital health is a cultural transformation of traditional healthcare

Bertalan meskó.

1 The Medical Futurist Institute, Budapest, Hungary;

2 Department of Behavioral Sciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary;

Zsófia Drobni

3 MTA-SE Cardiovascular Imaging Research Group, Heart and Vascular Center, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary;

Éva Bényei

4 Faculty of Medicine, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary;

Bence Gergely

5 Department of Finance, Corvinus University Budapest, Budapest, Hungary

Zsuzsanna Győrffy

Under the term “digital health”, advanced medical technologies, disruptive innovations and digital communication have gradually become inseparable from providing best practice healthcare. While the cost of treating chronic conditions is increasing and doctor shortages are imminent worldwide, the needed transformation in the structure of healthcare and medicine fails to catch up with the rapid progress of the medical technology industry. This transition is slowed down by strict regulations; the reluctance of stakeholders in healthcare to change; and ignoring the importance of cultural changes and the human factor in an increasingly technological world. With access and adoption of technology getting higher, the risk of patients primarily turning to an accessible, but unregulated technological solution for their health problem is likely to increase. In this paper, we discuss how the old paradigm of the paternalistic model of medicine is transforming into an equal level partnership between patients and professionals and how it is aided and augmented by disruptive technologies. We attempt to define what digital health means and how it affects the status quo of care and also the study design in implementing technological innovations into the practice of medicine.


A new phenomenon we call “digital health”, and define as “ the cultural transformation of how disruptive technologies that provide digital and objective data accessible to both caregivers and patients leads to an equal level doctor - patient relationship with shared decision - making and the democratization of care ”, initiated changes in providing care and practicing medicine. As technological innovations become inseparable from healthcare and as healthcare systems worldwide are becoming financially unsustainable, a paradigm shift is imminent.

Since the dawn of medicine, physicians have tried to make informed decisions with a very limited set of tools and a growing amount of experience that could be transmitted to the next generation. Even in the case of the first stethoscope, a hollow wooden tube introduced by Dr. Laennec in France in the early 19th century ( 1 ), it took decades to spread the idea of improving care with an innovation. Since then, healthcare has become dependent on technologies but neither the medical curriculum nor the policies and guidelines behind care reflected upon this development ( 2 ).

By the 2010s, the digitalization of healthcare became inevitable, the amount of medical knowledge continued to grow rapidly ( 3 ); and patients started to become empowered while stakeholders were not prepared ( 4 ). Physicians burn out easily under the burden of bearing with all the responsibility ( 5 ); patients become frustrated by looking for solutions in a mess of information and decision makers hesitate to change the system.

Digital health has made a range of technologies from genome sequencing to smartphone connected ECG readily available ( Table 1 ), although it also carries the risk of dehumanizing care. The authors of this paper argue that the use of technology only leads to better health outcomes if the related cultural challenges are acknowledged and the new needs of patients are met. This way, disruptive innovations such as deep learning algorithms, virtual reality (VR), or health sensors could contribute to value-based healthcare, and help make human skills from clinical judgement and experience to creative problem-solving determine the success of intervention and the doctor-patient relationship. As digital health makes patients the point-of-care, a new status quo and new roles for both patients and caregivers are approaching.

*, indicates if the device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Behind the transformation

In the 19th century, practicing medicine became a profession based on natural sciences that required specific knowledge and experience, which only a handful of experts possessed. An implicit contract between the medical profession and society included provision of the financial background from the state and respect of the profession’s autonomy; while professionals guarded people’s health ( 6 - 8 ). Partially because of financial reasons and because of the rise of technologies giving power to patients, a new contract is timely. In that, the roles of stakeholders, their individual responsibility, their rights and transparency should be defined and clearly described.

In the 21st century, the number of patients with chronic conditions and the costs of providing modern treatments are rising, life expectancy is getting higher and the World Health Organization estimates that there is a worldwide shortage of around 4.3 million health workers in the world ( 9 ). At the same time, technology advances with an unprecedented pace. A hardware and software revolution is taking place in healthcare.

Regarding hardware, internet access, mobile phone and smartphone penetration has been increasing. Medical technologies such as artificial narrow intelligence, robotics, genomics, telemedicine, virtual and augmented reality are becoming disruptive. Regarding the software/information component, an enormous amount of medical information, peer support and open access clinical studies and guidelines are becoming widely available. It does not only lead to potentially better quality and a larger quantity of information being obtained in healthcare but also to the opportunity for self-care ( 10 ).

Another changing aspect is the shift of the human side of medicine. In the traditional settings of healthcare, patients were not involved in decision making about their own health and disease management. Medical professionals had to take the burden and all the responsibility concerning medical decisions and consequences. Patients have been completely dependent on the processes, infrastructure, information and decisions of healthcare providers and systems. This insecurity and exposure to decisions out of their control served as the primary motivation behind patient empowerment that included the use of disruptive technologies, which were also becoming available.

Dr. Tom Ferguson coined the term e-patient ( 11 ) and its awareness started to rise around 2009 ( 12 ). Empowered patients see themselves as equal, engaged and they want to take active part in making decisions about their care. They ask for second opinion and involve other caregivers and fellow patients in gathering information, making decisions and determining the impact of treatment on their lives ( 13 ).

The patriarchal hierarchy of traditional medicine has been disrupted by empowered patients who have previously unmet needs. They expect their caregivers to answer their medical and technology-related questions. The importance of patients’ right and willingness to self-determination, getting more access to information and technologies, the choice or even the rejection of treatment have been increasing. E-patients do not want to completely depend on others’ decisions. In such a world, the so-called ivory tower of medicine becomes unsustainable.

The new status quo

The evolution of medicine in recent decades, where patients are treated like products and fragmented specialists are providing care, might be best described as “clinical factories”. The paternalistic model of the doctor-patient relationship has begun to be replaced by shared decision making in the second half of the 20th century ( Figure 1 , Table 2 ).

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Comparison of traditional and digital health based medical practices.

One of the core reasons behind this change was the increasing dominancy of chronic diseases: successfully curing and managing them depend on a cooperation between physicians and patients, which can span decades. Parallel to this, informed consent became the most important bioethical principle ( 14 ), which stresses the therapeutic decision making, assuming an equal, partner-like relationship and genuine communication. Another reason might be due to the technological possibilities: besides shared decision making, the active participation in treatment and the monitoring of their own physical state with sensors at home, are undeniable.

Physicians are transforming into guides for their patients in the jungle of healthcare information and technologies from being an authority, from being the one who makes all the decisions ( 15 ). As they still have the expertise and a lot of experience, they remain crucial elements in the status quo. However, instead of being the gate keepers to the ivory tower, they become collaborators in the patient’s journey in healthcare.

Such technological transitions have taken place in healthcare before but could never lead to a meaningful and cultural transformation of the status quo. When personal computers became widely available in the 1990s, e-health emerged ( 16 ). When such computers could be connected into networks, telemedical services appeared ( 17 ). The rise of social media networks gave space to medicine 2.0 and health 2.0 ( 18 ); while penetration of mobile phones and later smartphones summoned mobile health ( 19 ). But from the 2010s, the rate at which disruptive technologies appear is becoming overwhelming for both the patients and their caregivers.

Policy makers globally face the challenge of keeping up with the fast pace of innovations; innovators find it hard to integrate their solutions into the over-regulated healthcare systems. This process is disturbed by patients’ and caregivers’ reluctance to change ( 20 ). To make digital health fill the gaps and function properly, we need to build knowledge and attitude. Thus, one of the crucial tasks of the stakeholders of healthcare is to assist both patients and caregivers in implementing digital health into everyday medicine. This will only succeed if we lay down the basics of using digital health in care, which requires a fundamental change in study design too.

Digital health is a paradigm shift

In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn described how paradigm shifts occur in science. Although healthcare and medicine are fundamentally different from physical sciences, the principle of how the sociological transition takes place is universal. He mentioned that “perhaps science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions”, but that discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly, i.e., with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science” ( 21 ).

Giving a certain disruptive technology alone to a patient has not improved health outcomes. We argue that digital health represents this transformation but most medical studies dedicated to the issue have focused on the technological instead of the human component. For instance, studies that aimed at incorporating health sensors to drive behavior change for patients, did not take into consideration the importance of providing coaching with the technology.

There have been studies focusing on whether a web-based intervention or monitoring service could help manage medical conditions better, like the measuring of quantified parameters such as hemoglobin A1c levels or blood pressure. There were no significant improvements in those parameters when patients received access to a web portal without prior training ( 22 - 24 ); or when participants had trouble with the registration process and using tools designed to allow them to track their health and self-report health information indicating that complex portal interfaces may present a barrier to use ( 25 ).

However, where coaching was an equal element to the use of technologies in the study design, the use of disruptive technologies such as VR devices led to quantifiable, significant changes. Patients who could experience VR worlds for up to 20 minutes through wearing a headset and chose to travel to Iceland, participated in the work of an art studio or swam with whales in the ocean described the experience as pleasant and capable of reducing pain and anxiety ( 26 ).

Another study included patients suffering from gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological, and post-surgical pain. Half of them watched a 15-minute nature video accompanied by calming music; while the other group wore VR goggles to watch a 15-minute animated game called Pain RelieVR, which was specifically designed to treat patients who have to stay in bed or have limited mobility. Use of VR in hospitalized patients significantly reduced pain versus a controlled distraction condition. These results indicate that VR is an effective and safe adjunctive therapy for pain management in the acute inpatient setting ( 27 ).

Research has shown that consistent use of continuous positive airway pressure therapy for patients with sleep apnea is associated with improved health outcomes. Importantly, giving feedback to patients improved their utilization of the treatment. Patients who had access to their data and sleep quality results on a smartphone app (myAir), used the device on average 46 minutes longer every night compared to other patients; and had higher adherence than other patients, 81% compared to 68% at week 8 ( 28 ). This illustrates that it’s ineffective to simply say “Patients should just follow doctors’ orders”. It’s more effective to give them feedback on how well their efforts are working.

The challenging questions digital health raises

With the advantages and the changing status quo, digital health leads to some ethical considerations and challenges policy makers in an unprecedented way. With the disappearance of the ivory tower, misinterpreted information obtained from digital health devices and unreliable online resources can lead to medical decisions that do not involve medical professionals and endanger the lives of patients ( 29 ).

In addition, with devices that make data accessible to both stakeholders and patients, unauthorized third parties might acquire sensitive information about patients’ health. Medical devices were shown to be hacked from a distance ( 30 ). Laws, such as the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act in the United States, are expected to defend patients from their employers and/or insurers gathering data from their direct-to-consumer genetic testing results, and might lead to disadvantages.

The lack of access to care and diminishing trust towards the healthcare system can make patients turning to inefficient therapies and online medical quackery ( 31 ). The same can happen with digital health tools, if physicians are not involved as expert partners in the process.

Also, more emphasis is needed on the validation of health sensors ( 32 ), other digital health devices and smartphone applications ( 33 ) to provide quality, reliable information to users. Comparing their accuracy to well-documented technologies is a good starting point, but double-blind studies involving large patient cohorts are also needed.

The reluctance and the lack of incentives from physicians to go through this cultural transformation make patients the leading driving force in initiating these changes. As they are not encouraged to ask their caregivers for guidance in technological questions, they increasingly turn to technological solutions as their only option. Patients with diabetes started a movement called #WeAreNotWaiting that led to a DIY artificial pancreas systems developed at home without regulatory oversight ( 34 ). This shows the lack of capability and capacity of regulatory agencies in integrating innovations into care fast enough. It also shows how in some cases patients might not need medical expertise: they may be able to self-manage, entirely on their own.

As a long-term effect of digital health, individual entrepreneurship skills should not define a patient’s health outcomes. There are examples for patients with oncological diagnoses to use crowdfunding websites for covering their healthcare costs ( 35 ). There is also an example of a patient with a deformed limb to offer advertising space on his prosthetic device ( 36 ). Digital health technologies, without the proper implementation, give rise to such efforts too.

Despite the use of digital technologies, the development of health status is also dependent on health literacy. Those with lower health literacy levels are generally in a worse state of health, visit the doctor more often, use fewer prevention techniques and on the whole, are more costly for the healthcare system ( 37 ). A 2013 WHO report revealed that health literacy is a stronger predictor of the formation of the state of health than income, education or belonging to various ethnic groups ( 38 ).

The European health literacy survey (HLS-EU) found that every second person possesses limited health literacy ( 39 ). Also, patients with lower health literacy rates are more unlikely to use the possibilities of eHealth ( 40 ). The technological boom makes it unambiguous that digital health literacy has a wider aspect than the notion of classic health literacy. Digital health adds the requirement to be technically literate about computers and media. We are standing before an enormous challenge: will technological transformation improve health literacy levels, or the contrary: will digital health deepen the already existing digital divide?

The answer might lie in design thinking to improve health literacy. A company, Mucca Design re-invented blood test results in a way that they changed the basic list of results to a colorful and easily digestible infographic ( 41 ). Text4Wellness and Mobilize4Fitness are mobile services that provide texts with health and wellness tips, reminders to exercise, inspirational quotes and information about health and wellness activities geared toward African-American women in the United States. It uses a convenient communication method and familiar language ( 42 ). The Maxillofacial Department at Radboud University in the Netherlands invited patients to help design new care facilities for them in order to improve patient satisfaction ( 43 ).

The future of digital health

Medical professionals and policy makers have a huge responsibility in involving patients as partners in designing care and decision making; and guiding them in using the myriad of digital health technologies. Otherwise, patients may either turn to non-proven services or technological solutions they might not be able to interpret alone.

By sharing responsibility, physicians could also share the burden of choosing the right therapy and bearing the consequences. Disruptive innovations also have the potentials of taking away the repetitive parts of their job, letting them spend more time with and dedicate their focus to the patient. Those skills that are hard to replace such as empathy, social care and the human touch could be the essence of providing care.

Using digital health is a teamwork, thus the era of lonely doctor heroes will end. The success of providing care depends on collaboration, empathy and shared decision making. What is needed for this is a newly defined co-operation between patients and their caregivers. The well-functioning patient-physician relationship is still an essential part of healing: a decisive study revealed that the empathy skills of physicians can influence diabetic patients’ objective laboratory parameters, development of complications and subjective well-being ( 44 ).

New approaches must be applied in modern medical education including post-graduate education to teach students skills that facilitate their job and prepare caregivers for working with technologies. We have already shown that a well-designed course, improved by constant evaluation-based feedback, can be suitable for preparing students for the massive use of the Internet, social media platforms, and digital technologies ( 45 ).

This implies a regulatory framework that understands how technological innovations work and what their weaknesses are to prevent sensitive information from leaking to unauthorized third parties and protect the patient’s privacy. Promising examples include the Patient Engagement Advisory Board, which the FDA launched and the 3D printing workshops, which the FDA organized ( 46 ).

The role of patients also needs to shift from being a passive stakeholder of care to becoming proactive with tools and information at their disposal to perform health and disease management. E-patient movements and advocacy have been assisting this transition ( 47 , 48 ).

Today’s generation grows up on using technologies, some of them becoming so-called “digital natives” ( 49 ). For them, it is inevitable that they turn to digital solutions when facing medical issues. If we are not able to properly and safely integrate digital health into healthcare today, we will soon pose a threat to their health.

Based on Kuhn’s theory, science progresses through a series of paradigm shifts where a new paradigm contradicts the old one, creates tensions between the stakeholders and gradually becomes the dominant model. We aimed at raising awareness about the importance of the current shift known as digital health that changes the status quo, the delivery of care and the practice of medicine. We attempted to demonstrate that digital health is not only a technological but a cultural transformation in which, besides many others, definition of the new roles is taking place today.


We are grateful to Dave deBronkart for his suggestions, comments and guidance.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Yezidi Kurdish man playing tambur instrument, with his father on his side in Shengal, Iraq.

Kasim and Nadim Mohama faced a harrowing reality when they escaped an attack by Daesh on August 3, 2014, leaving their home and farm behind. Forced to flee to the mountains, they endured eight days of scarcity before a corridor to Syria provided their escape route. The attack devastated their once-thriving agricultural life, resulting in the loss of crops and most of their livestock. Despite returning to find their homes looted and their possessions gone, they resiliently reclaimed their land. Amidst this turmoil, music emerged as a powerful symbol of cultural resistance, uniting the returning families and signalling a hopeful revival of their disrupted lives and agricultural community.

Cultural Resistance As Transformation

Text by lauren walsh, photo selection by maryam ashrafi.

February 7, 2024

What is cultural resistance ? I have been thinking about that since I was asked to write this essay on that topic. My words accompany the many profound photographs compiled here by image-makers from around the world, including documentation in Malaysia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Mauritania, France, United States, Japan and beyond.

In looking at the breadth of these photographs, I grasp that cultural resistance is standing up for, protecting, or taking back that which governing forces have attempted to steal or destroy. Such resistance is enacted by cultural means, whether that entails action via lifestyle, customs or the arts. In many senses, these photographs also speak of cultural resilience and the ability to withstand or recover.

What I noticed as I absorbed this array of global work is that a theme of transformation stands out. Accordingly, this essay on cultural resistance is an essay on the ability of humanity to transform, especially when conditions are dire or unjust. In the end, such determination to transform speaks eloquently to the possibility of resistance and the strength of resilience.

In this first issue of Turning Point , the reader will encounter a variety of transformations, a few of which I highlight here.

A transformation in mindset.  This is beautifully encapsulated in Gaelle Girbes’s 2018 photograph of a man whose face is painted white with a single tear drawn down his cheek. He is an actor performing in a version of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s screenplay  Numbers , a drama about a confined society attempting to gain its freedom. Sentsov himself was imprisoned at IK-8, a penal colony in Russia, when this image was made, and as he worked from afar to direct the theatrical production. (He also directed the screenplay’s adaptation to film from prison. The cinematic version was released in 2020.) From that place of detention, Sentsov used creative practice to transcend the confines of his actual, physical space. As Girbes’s caption explains, this was an act of resistance and an “escape” through artistry.

Backstage at the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre, actors Dmytro Olyinkyk and Khrysina Synelnik are preparing for the premiere of 'Numbers,' directed remotely by imprisoned filmmaker Oleh Sentsov.

Backstage at the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre, actors Dmytro Olyinkyk and Khrysina Synelnik are preparing for the premiere of ‘Numbers.’ The play directed remotely by imprisoned filmmaker Oleg Sentsov with the help of producer Anna Palenchuk, who assisted him in conveying his directorial guidance from prison. Despite his 20-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony, Oleg’s work echoed loudly, denouncing oppression. Through the creation of ‘Numbers,’ Oleg Sentsov’s friends aimed to fortify his spirit during his imprisonment, providing an escape through artistic expression. The play symbolized resistance, depicting a society trapped under dictatorship, mirroring the dehumanization of prisoners.

A transformation of the body. This recurs across images, for instance, in Andrea DiCenzo’s photo of “Oct 25” tattooed on a woman’s rear end and representing, as the photographer explains, the Iraqi October Revolution, known as the Tishreen Movement, which “resonated with young people throughout federal Iraq who were fed up with widespread corruption, unemployment, and political sectarianism.” The human body itself becomes the site of resistance, bearing words of activism. Likewise, Noriko Hayashi documents a tattoo, this time in Japan, where a woman’s arm bears the message “#TransRightsAreHumanRights,” a powerful transformation of self in a country that, Hayashi notes, “remains a hostile place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.” Meanwhile, there is Hamid Azmoun’s 2022 portrait, made in Paris, of a woman whose entire face is painted like Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People . As Azmoun observes, this transformation of a French woman’s face displays a “solidarity with Iranian women battling against obscurantism.”

A woman shows off her “Oct25” tattoo on her bum cheek.

A woman shows off her “Oct25” tattoo on her bum cheek. Starting on 25 October 2019, the Iraqi October Revolution, known as the Tishreen Movement, resonated with young people throughout federal Iraq who were fed up with widespread corruption, unemployment, and political sectarianism.

A woman whose entire face is painted like Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.

Demonstrators in the streets of Paris to support the Iranian people and to condemn the repression in Iran. France, Paris, October 2, 2022.

Woman’s arm with a tattoo #TransRightsAreHumanRights.

Like many socially conservative Asian nations, Japan remains a hostile place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Social taboos have kept many in Japan’s LGBTQ community largely invisible, fearful to come out to their loved ones or employers. The majority of Japanese do not believe the rights of LGBTQ people are protected in their country. Kei Okuda’s tattoo advocates for her community. She transitioned to life as a woman four years ago, after spending 31 years as a married father of 4 children. Okuda opened a local safe space, Chosen Family Shobara, in a small mountainous area in Hiroshima for anyone seeking support or who wants to learn about the LGBTQ community. It was a courageous challenge for her to start an advocate for the LGBTQ rights movement alone, not in the city, but in a more conservative rural area. “Rather than feeling like I was becoming a woman, I felt like I returned to who I really was.”

A transformation through education. Adolescent women sit facing a blackboard in Gaia Squarci’s sensitively documented image, which simultaneously brings the viewer inside the classroom while protecting the individuals’ identities, as we—just like the women, with their backs to us—gaze toward the writing on the chalkboard. All of the adolescents, Squarci’s caption explains, are survivors of gender-based violence in Mauritania. Meanwhile, in Maryam Ashrafi’s black-and-white photograph, we again gaze at a chalkboard, this time in Northern Syria. As Ashrafi poignantly observes, the “reconstructed classroom and blackboard symbolize the prioritization of education after conflict.”

Adolescent girls learn to read and write in Arabic at El Wava, a center in Nouakchott, Mauritania, some holding their children conceived in rape.

Adolescent girls learn to read and write in Arabic at El Wava, a center in Nouakchott, Mauritania, some holding their children conceived in rape. The center offers legal assistance, psychological support and alphabetization to girls survivors of gender-based violence. Most of them are referred to the center after they press charges at the local police department. Some are as young as 11 or 12. El Wava is supported by UNFPA.

School room in Kobane, Rojava. The reconstruction is visible as there is big hole in the middle of the calkboard left by the war, now closed with bricks.

One year after Kobani’s liberation, reconstruction continues. This school, once a battleground with a strategic hole for fighters, now embodies resilience. Its reconstructed classroom and blackboard symbolize the prioritization of education after conflict. Despite the remnants, efforts to mend the hole signify the community’s commitment to restoring not just buildings but hope and learning in a new educational system in Northern Syria.

A transformation of history. A simple portrait — a man by a plaque, surrounded by lush greenery, made in Bosnia in 2022 — becomes much more with its explanation. As photographer Fabrice Dekoninck states, “Šerif Velić is a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp.” This camp, run by the Army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War, held Bosniak and Bosnian Croat prisoners during the ethnic cleansing of nearby Prijedor in northern Bosnia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague determined that crimes against humanity were perpetrated at Omarska. Upon Velić’s eventual return to his home, he discovered that everything had been destroyed by Serbs. Before rebuilding his house, “he collected and buried the [old] debris before covering it all with a mound of earth, thus erecting a mausoleum in memory of his own past.”

A survivor of the Omarska concentration camp stands in front of  commemorative plaque with inscription: "Built by love, destroyed by hate."

Šerif Velić is a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp. Back from exile in Kevljani in 2001, he found that his house had been completely destroyed, as for all non-Serb inhabitants in the municipality of Prijedor. Before rebuilding it, he collected and buried the debris before covering it all with a mound of earth, thus erecting a mausoleum in memory of his own past. The commemorative plaque bears the inscription: “Built by love, destroyed by hate.” This image and the two other Dekoninck’s portraits below are from his recent photo book Between Fears and Hope (Hemeria, 2024).

A transformation of space . Andrea DiCenzo provides a visual example of this, portraying an antigovernment supporter painting a mural in the underpass underneath Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. What was once a blank wall of city infrastructure is repurposed into a canvas of art and activism.

An antigovernment supporter and artist paints a new mural in the underpass underneath Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

An antigovernment supporter and artist paints a new mural in the underpass underneath Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. The underpass has been filled with art, murals, and slogans in support of the antigovernment protest movement. The protests, ignited in Tahrir Square and spread spontaneously throughout the city and southern Iraq, began as demonstrations against poverty, corruption, and lack of public services but quickly swelled to demands of a complete overhaul of the Iraqi government. Iraqi citizens, particularly young people, feel like their government hasn’t done enough for them to lead fruitful, dignified lives.

A transformation in sports . Even with a requirement to wear a hejab, Iranian women play competitive sports. Maryam Majd’s photograph underscores the differing standards for men and women, as a female athlete, wearing a head covering, looks at a sports advertisement of male competitors in, as Majd puts it, “comfortable, standard competition clothes.” Nevertheless, these women transcend imposed restrictions and become champions in their fields.

Picture shows a female athlete preparing to compete in the starting line with the mandatory hijab cover. She looks at pictures of male athletes in comfortable, standard competition clothes.

‘Women Under the Shadow of Men’ Aftabe Enghelab Sport Complex. Women’s Track and Field Championship League. This time it is about ability. Over time, Iranian girls have acquired the ability to adapt to this cover (Hejab ) and today they have acquired the ability to compete and become champions in these conditions. In all women’s sports events, images of male champions are always used for sports advertisements. A problem that Iranian female athletes are deprived of. This picture shows a female athlete preparing to compete in the starting line with the mandatory hijab cover. She looks at pictures of male athletes in comfortable, standard competition clothes.

The photos in this magazine go well beyond what I have described here. Some highlight legal action, or attempts to raise visibility and awareness or emphasis on psychological counselling. In short, resistance and resilience—by transforming situations, in hopes of experiencing something better—run throughout this compilation.

These photographs remind us of the myriad conflicts that exist: social, political, economic, cultural, gender-based, and, of course, traditional combatant conflict. But they also stand as a testament to the human will to persevere.

An Ukrainian soldier plays piano in a school destroyed by Russian bombing on the front line in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Oleh, call sign Psycho, Military Medic of ukrainian army, play piano in a school destroyed by Russian bombing on the front line in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Target of Russian bombings since the beginning of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, 2022, the key city of southern Ukraine, Mykolaiv, resists. Despite the lack of drinking water, and frequent rocket fire, the population is trying to cope, while a few dozen kilometers away, Ukrainian soldiers are protecting the city and trying to advance to retake the occupied city of Kherson from Russian forces.

People have taken refuge and are living in a former nuclear bunker in a factory north of Kharkiv.

People have taken refuge and are living in a former nuclear bunker in a factory north of Kharkiv. This morning a rocket fell in the courtyard of the building, in front of the entrance of the bunker.

Ajna Jusić, 29, an activist and feminist based in Sarajevo, sits on a roof of house.

Ajna Jusić, 29, is an activist and feminist based in Sarajevo. She is the founder and President of the organisation Forgotten Children of War, dedicated to championing the rights of children born of wartime rape. Ajna herself was born as a result of war rape, which has fueled her determination to bring about legal and societal changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The primary objective of the NGO is to bring visibility to children born out of rape within Bosnia’s legal system, and in Bosnian society as a whole. To achieve this, her team and her use various creative mediums, such as art exhibitions, music, and theater performances to raise awareness about the existence of children born from such tragic circumstances. The NGO also engages in peacebuilding initiatives and works towards promoting respect and understanding among people with diverse traditions and religions in Bosnia.

Darko Cvijetić, a Bosnian-Serb writer, filmmaker, and poet, renowned for his novel Schindler Lift, sits on staircase.

Darko Cvijetić is a Bosnian-Serb writer, filmmaker, and poet, renowned for his novel Schindler Lift. In this book, he depicts the gradual disappearance of a once peaceful and tolerant way of life through the daily lives of residents in a multi-ethnic residential building in Prijedor. The story unfolds in the context of ethnical cleansing and is inspired by a real event: the accidental decapitation of a young Serb girl by the elevator door in the building. The novel portrays the violence and hatred that engulfed the residents of Prijedor at the onset of the war.

Peng Megut, a Penan leader of the Long Tevenga village, is posing in front of a house build as a blockade at a junction toward his village.

Peng Megut, a Penan leader of the Long Tevenga village, is posing in front of a house build as a blockade at a junction toward his village. This blockade is a result of years of battle against logging and palm oil companies willing to cut trees of what’s left of the primary forest in Sarawak (Borneo). This forest is also the habitat and the source of food of the Penan people. By building this house and with the help of the Bruno Manser Fonds and its lawyers, Peng and the other Penan from his village have successfully blocked a lumberjack road. Still, we don’t know how long it’s going to last.

Ma is trying to catch a bird in a tree. The Penans traditional way to hunt is while using blowpipes and poisoned darts.

Ma is trying to catch a bird in a tree. The Penans traditional way to hunt is while using blowpipes and poisoned darts, but they do now use firearms too for the big animal like wild boars. Originally, the Penan were nomads who subsisted by hunting, fishing and gathering in the rainforest. Ma and his brothers-in-law next to him, are the members of one of the last Penan family that still living their traditional way of life despite the pressure of palm oil and timber companies that keep taking more lands in the Sarawak forest where they live.

Penan children in a school room, lining up in front of their teacher.

A school has been established in the village for the children of the communities living in the Mulu area. For the children living too far away, there are dormitories until the weekend when they can go home. As the Penan that have been settled down in the Mulu region, the next generation follow the usual education path and go less and less in the rainforest.

Sousan, a 26-year-old woman, is teaching her native language, Kurdish, to the inhabitants of remote and deprived villages in the Kurdish regions of Bukan.

Sousan, a 26-year-old woman, has dedicated the past 9 years to teaching her native language, Kurdish, to the inhabitants of remote and deprived villages in the Kurdish regions of Bukan. Despite the hardships she faced as a Kurdish woman on this path, she continues to persist in providing this education. Her classes take place in mosques or the elders’ houses within the villages, where women, men, and children all learn to read and write Kurdish together in one classroom. To date, Sousan has taught Kurdish in over 43 villages and remains determined to continue her journey.

Afghan artists perform a show as members of civil society organizations participate in an anti-Taliban demonstration to rally against "civilians killing" during the holy month of Ramadan.

Afghan artists perform a show as members of civil society organizations participate in an anti-Taliban demonstration to rally against “civilians killing” during the holy month of Ramadan.

Two Hazara ethnic girls practice Afghanistan's traditional musical instruments at their home in central Bamiyan city.

Two Hazara ethnic girls practice Afghanistan’s traditional musical instruments at their home in central Bamiyan city, Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters pose to the camera beside a “There can be no peace without women” graffiti written on the wall of Norwegian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters pose to the camera beside a “There can be no peace without women” graffiti written on the wall of Norwegian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The band Cross plays as people attend a hard core punk concert in support of Palestine at the Herbert Von King Park in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough in New York City.

The band Cross plays as people attend a hard core punk concert in support of Palestine at the Herbert Von King Park in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough in New York City.

Kateryna Tarnovska, a kickboxing world champion and a founder of Asgarda, a Ukrainian female martial arts group, in a portrait.

Kateryna Tarnovska is a kickboxing world champion and a founder of Asgarda, a Ukrainian female martial arts group, whose philosophy is based on Vedic culture, and celebrates the image of a woman strong both psychologically and physically. When the war broke up in Ukraine, Kateryna did not stay aside and joined the infantry to defend her country from Russia’s invasion.

An artistic installation representing daily life and oppressive atmosphere in Tehran, Iran.

The documentary photographer Mo Zaboli, who fled from Iran, shows the oppressive atmosphere of confinement against the backdrop of an illusory, apparently functioning world in Tehran. These are the last images of the photographer before he had to leave Iran after a prison sentence. Together with a taxi driver, who at the same time is seen in the pictures as the person sealed in a plastic bag, Mo Zaboli relays his own experience with the view about in-between, where people who are in the state of being trapped and captured need to arrange their lives. One solution is to break out of the situation, the escape from the unbearable. But here too, there is also the decision about how the escape should be risked or whether it would just be better to go back. It is the beginning of the journey to in-between.

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Rome in the Middle Ages and Cultural Transformation Expository Essay

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The fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century marked the collapse of one of largest civilizations, as well as the beginning of radical cultural and social transformations. Hence, the Empire initiated the significant changes in all spheres of life including culture, art, politics, and philosophy.

The newly emerged civilizations, therefore, applied to the cultural ancestry left by the rich of the Greco-Roman culture. As a result of the transformation, the new world adopted Christianity and rejected the traditions of the Classical Antiquity as well as deviated from the famous Greco-Hellenistic models. Hence, the remnants of the great Roman Empire had been preserved in the philosophical, scientific, and artistic achievements representing the major cultural sources influencing the reformation of the European society in the Middle Ages.

Before the decline of the Roman Empire, Rome had considered the largest center of culture. Along with the Greek rich ancestry, including its philosophy, architecture, and culture, the Rome worshipped Greek-Hellenic models. However, their styles and models differed significantly from those represented in methodological themes.

Hence, they were more concerned with depicting real heroes and current events, including portrayal of military exploits and leaders. In addition, the Romans “…celebrated the achievements of a state that was their chief patron so that all the world might stand in awe of the state’s accomplishments” (Sayre 176). In addition, the Roman identity was also expressed in its marvelous architecture.

At this point, its architecture is especially known for the expansive interior spaces combined with the structural strength and unique form of the arch. Being great engineers, the Romans attained much importance to the public work so as to enhance the sense of identity and Roman power.

The adoption of the Christianity was among the most important events marking the development of the medieval society. New civilizations were developing their distinctive styles and visions that significantly deviated from the previously existing norms.

As a result, the Roman world experienced serious decline in cultural terms because the German invaders were not reader to undertake the role of cultural restorers (Perry 132). Nevertheless, the Greco-Roman world left rich ancestry due to high literary, scientific, philosophical, and artistic achievements.

Hence, because the invaders could not meet the high cultural and social structure of the previous civilizations, they heavily relied on religion and church being the only institution ready to reconstruct the civilized life (Perry 132). While denying humanities and prioritizing the role of the church and God in shaping the society, the medieval society centered on Christianity as a new philosophy of salvation.

Despite the new religious ideology, Roman rule both triggered and hampered Christianity. The centralized government guaranteed protection and peace because Rome stood against violence because of the fear of political revolt. At the same time, the Roman government was the major antagonist of the Christianity because it advocated the classical pantheon of Gods.

Roman cultural influence on the development of the European society was also expressed through use of folklore in the Christian literature. Because the religious teaching of the Middle Ages had not been singled out as a single ideological and philosophical teaching, introducing classical traditions complemented its philosophical basis.

In particular, St. Augustine, the pioneer in the Western Christianity often referred to the philosophical teachings of Cicero represented in Hortensius , introduction to philosophy (Highet 10). With the help of these works, the classical philosophy became a part of the Christian tradition and managed to preserve its basis to the present times.

Despite the rejection of previous cultural achievements, Roman cultural influence on the church and religion were still tangible. In particular, the Roman-Christian art focused primarily on spiritual rather than physical representation of the subject. The portrait of Constantine is one of the brightest examples of this artistic tendency (Sayre 258). Apart from sculpture and architecture, Roman culture had a potent impact on Christian music (Porter 202). Many Christian liturgies were largely influenced by the Roman classical traditions.

Despite the ignorance and rejection of the classical tradition at the beginning of the medieval period, the Middle Ages were still marked by the revival of the antique classical traditions, which justified the richness and depth of the Greco-Roman culture. Specifically, the European community in the twelfth century resorted to the scientific teachings of Hippocrates and Galen on medicine, Euclid on mathematics, and Ptolemy on astronomy and geography (Spielvogel 263).

Aristotle’s scientific works were also highly popular and they were translated in Latin, an international language in the West (Spielvogel 263). In this respect, the European community managed to intellectually recover from the Dark Ages by referring to immortal philosophical and scientific works of the Great Roman and Greek philosophy.

In conclusion, despite the significant influence of the German invasion and the adoption of the Christianity, the threads of classical tradition run through the period and managed to recover and reform the European community at the threshold of the era of enlightenment. Due to the artistic, philosophical, and scientific heritage left after the collapse of the Western Empire, the newly emerged civilization managed to advance their intellectual knowledge and develop different academic disciplines.

Works Cited

Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition, Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature . UK: Oxford University Press, 1985. Print.

Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization: A Brief History . US: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Porter, Stanley. Christian-Jewish Relations through the Centuries . US: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Print.

Sayre, Henry M. The Humanities: Culture, Continuity and Change US: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.

Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization: To 1500 . US: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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The Singapore way

  • June 7, 2024

James Vitali

  • Themes: Singapore

If Britain is to reckon with its present economic sickness, it will require a cultural transformation of an epic scale. The triumph of Singapore in the 20th century may offer a guide.

Singapore harbour with the city in the background.

Necessity, it is often said, is the mother of invention. And so it is true of economic growth . Nations tend to do the things required to increase output, productivity and competitiveness only when the consequences of not doing so seem even more dire. Throughout history, it has often taken some moment of crisis, often existential, for policymakers to deliver the root and branch reforms required to fundamentally change the fortunes of an economy.

Why is that crises can catalyse such change and dynamism in an economic system ? Why is that some crises simply reinforce trends already in train within a given country, when others precipitate profound transformation? These questions are important, because if one consults the historical record, particularly post-1945, most programmes of serious economic rejuvenation have been borne out of a period of tumult.

Several weeks ago, I visited Singapore, which provides the most instructive example of an existential crisis fomenting sweeping economic change. In Singapore’s case, the transformation was utterly comprehensive. In the 1960s, Singapore was ejected from its membership of Malaysia and found itself alone, relatively poor, and surrounded by larger (and at the time, bellicose) neighbours. But between 1960 and 2022, its GDP per capita grew by 1,800 per cent, and is now the fourth highest in the world. It enjoys a remarkable current account surplus, low taxes, high homeownership rates, some of the best health outcomes in the world, and levels of social cohesion and trust in government that western democracies can only dream of at present.

Singapore is not a democracy , and the context in which its transformation took place is radically different to that which developed economies must confront today, but anyone genuinely interested in how to turn around an ostensibly disastrous economic situation has to look at Singapore’s example for inspiration. Indeed, individuals on both the left and right of British politics speak of emulating the ‘Singaporean Model’. Dominic Cummings has even registered a new political organisation with Company House called ‘People’s Action Limited’, named after the party which has governed Singapore for its entire history as an independent country. So why did crisis in Singapore unleash such an incredible improvement in the country’s fortunes, rather than dragging it deeper into the mire?

I discovered the answer to this latter question in, of all places, a church. On the Sunday of my trip to Singapore, I attended St Andrew’s Cathedral, the main Anglican church on the island. For the first three quarters of the service, nothing seemed particularly out of place, save for the Chinese hymn books and slightly peculiar music. Then something quite extraordinary happened. From the pulpit, the deacon leading the prayers implored God to ensure that ‘Singapore remained an attractive place for foreign direct investment’. I looked up, and around me, churchgoers muttered, ‘father – hear our prayer’.

I thought I had perhaps misheard, until the deacon continued, praying that ‘the Singaporean workforce remained flexible and able to access the jobs of the future’; ‘father’, the congregation responded without pause for thought, ‘hear our prayer’.

It might seem impious that as profane a subject as economic growth was considered a legitimate topic for prayer, but that service tells you all you need to know about why Singaporean society has been able to transform its fortunes so comprehensively.

What those prayers revealed first and foremost was how culturally imbedded the Singaporean commitment to economic prosperity is. Productivity and growth are considered matters of existential importance in Singapore. Such a disposition stems from her earliest experiences as an independent country, and the strong belief that being internationally competitive and an attractive place for investment was not merely a matter of national pride but of survival , given the much larger Malaysian and Indonesian nations in its immediate environs.

These cultural attitudes are not ancient, though. They were melded and formed in the context of Singapore’s abrupt, and undesired, independence from Malaysia, which effectively expelled the island from their political union. Take something like Singapore’s high investment rate, which is financed by high savings. Was there something deep in the psyche that predisposed the Singaporean mind to thrift and long-term investment? No. Many of Singapore’s pro-growth cultural values – the values of hard-work and of self-sufficiency, and the sense that economic prosperity constituted a shared social mission – emerged in this period and were injected quite deliberately into the body politic by the People’s Action Party (PAP). Led by Lee Kuan Yew – one of the greatest statesmen in modern history and a political communicator of singular genius – and stocked by a cadre of talented and motivated individuals, the PAP had ideological cohesiveness, a clear plan for transforming Singaporean society, and a consistent and coherent communication strategy for persuading Singaporeans what was necessary to lift themselves out of their troubled state. And crucially, they intentionally set out to change Singaporean culture.

Indeed, that is possibly the greatest legacy that Lee left Singapore. Unlike other South-east or East Asian countries, Singapore is not littered with flags and posters and statues of their greatest leader (as per Lee’s request). Nor does his face adorn its banknotes. No, Lee envisaged a far more immanent and weighty presence in contemporary Singapore: the country’s mores, its values, its very language are suffused with his influence.

Singaporean thriftiness is almost entirely the product of government action – in this case high state-mandated contribution rates to the Central Provident Fund, a savings and pension scheme which all citizens are part of. The Singaporean savings and investment culture, like many other pro-growth temperaments in the country, was born out of a moment of trauma, but has stuck.

Or take Singaporean healthcare. In the UK, the government piles ever-increasing sums of cash into a health service that is delivering worsening outcomes, which means a higher, growth-sapping tax burden for British workers combined with a less healthy and thus less productive workforce. Singapore enjoys some of the best health outcomes in the world for a fraction of the cost as a proportion of the economy. The UK spends around 12 per cent of GDP on health care, for example, compared to six per cent in Singapore. Critical in these divergent experiences is a greater emphasis on personal responsibility in Singapore, which means strong incentives for people to take care of their own health, and consequently a lower taxation burden to fund public healthcare.

Similarly, Singapore has avoided a burgeoning welfare state because of its emphasis on personal responsibility and the value of work. While many OECD countries spend upwards of 40 per cent of GDP on social support, Singapore has managed to keep that figure down to around 15 per cent. Its central welfare programme – ‘Workfare’ – focuses support on funding training to get people into work, and then to top up their earnings once they are in work. Such an approach to payments depends on a deep cultural aversion to dependency and a societal consensus on the beneficial effects of employment for an individual’s character – outlooks fashioned in the aftermath of Singaporean independence.

In the Singaporean case, economic growth has proved to be an upshot of cultural values; it requires a critical mass of the population to hold a certain moral and political psychology, and a particular set of dispositions about enterprise and industry, risk, and change. Cultural values are sticky, and to change them, some moment of acute crisis, when it appears that the costs of continuing down a certain path are greater than shifting course, is required. Yet while crises are necessary for cultural change, they are not sufficient: they represent moments of maximal opportunity, though they must be exploited. And for this, skilled politicians with judgement and a strategy are required.

What are we to make of all this in the context of Britain’s present economic malaise? The UK has possessed the necessary conditions for economic transformation in the last two decades. There has been a pandemic, a financial crash, which at points threatened state collapse, and a constitutional revolution in the form of its departure from the European Union .

Each of these crises has simply ushered Britain along the path of stagnation and sluggishness. And the reason why this has been the case is that no fundamental change to the UK public’s cultural attitudes has taken place. Quite the opposite: the country has doubled down on a culture of risk aversion, on a politics of envy rather than abundance, and on a predilection for consumption over investment.

What Britain has lacked, above all, is political leaders with convictions, with judgement, and with a plan for reshaping the basic sentiments of the British people. There was no appetite after the Financial Crisis in 2008 for a basic rethink about what the state was actually for – austerity was simply an economic policy for doing less of the same thing. There was no attempt to imbed a new attitude of self-sufficiency post-Brexit, or to make Britain more competitive. There was no plan to capitalise on the pandemic to reconfigure the social contract between young taxpayers who pay for health and social care services, and older citizens who are their main users. Each time, it appears that key decision-makers reacted to events, rather than seizing them to achieve political ends.

Dominic Cummings is not alone in his admiration of Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party; more and more people are trying to distill what precisely it was that enabled them to succeed. The danger is that would-be reformers in Britain identify a package of specific policies that worked in Singapore and then try to apply them in the UK. Singapore’s social, political and economic situation was, however, different to Britain’s today. Not least the fact that Singapore has been governed by a single party for its entire history, and is far more sanguine about sacrificing personal freedoms in the pursuit of order than any western liberal democracy could plausibly be.

Instead, those looking for insights into how to instigate economic transformation should draw a different set of lessons: that to really change a country, you have to change its culture, and that there are particular moments when achieving that becomes possible. In an interview in 1994, Lee Kuan Yew argued that the scale of Singapore’s economic success depended on a culture that placed value on ‘learning and scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain’. And though he frequently attempted to connect these values with a far deeper East Asian intellectual inheritance, the truth is that it was Lee who articulated them to a population willing to listen.

Such cultural change has been achieved in Britain’s past, too. Thatcher’s economic programme – her monetary policy, privatisation, tax simplification, the big bang reforms – represented a profound reconfiguration of British society. Plenty of people looking for policy inspiration look back to her administration for a blueprint to follow (and many others look back to her time in office for errors to cautiously avoid).

Fewer people appreciate that Thatcher’s real mission was to fundamentally reshape British culture – to make it more enterprising, more responsible, more self-sufficient. ‘Economics are the method’, she said in 1981 – ‘the object is to change the soul.’ And she leveraged a palpable longing for the restoration of national pride and self-confidence, so bruised by Britain’s experience in the 1970s , to achieve this. Nigel Lawson, her longest-serving Chancellor, wrote similarly of the Thatcherite project – that it was an attempt to recapture the ‘moral initiative’ in Britain.

If Britain is to reckon with its present economic sickness, it will require a cultural transformation of a similar scale to that achieved by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. Without such a transformation, any efforts to secure a more prosperous country will be built on sand.

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Cultural Transformation, Essay Example

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As the current culture of society continues to transform, there are important consequences and implications that teachers should be aware of when attempting to overcome certain challenges. In particular, there are three major points that teachers should consider when interacting with students: the pressures of education, religious barriers, and also globalization. These topics will be discussed herein.

Teachers have the important responsibility and privilege of shaping a child’s learning. Many of the concepts and information that children study in school will remain with them for the rest of their lives. However, it often becomes difficult for teachers to influence children when they are distracted by other negative influences.

For example, a study estimates that children are exposed to an increasing amount of violence through television, and by the age of 16, the average child spends as much time watching television as in school (Wink, 1992). These violent forms of media are also changing the way children act and behave in school, as well as at home. Although this seems to place an enormous pressure on teachers to mould children’s behaviour to accept non-violence, this domestication is not entirely necessary. Rather, teachers need to be aware of these facts and should utilize children’s creative abilities in order to keep them engaged to more positive forms of learning and education.

Turning to the Catholic Church, there are certain issues to be addressed in relation to prophecy and the overriding obsession of consumerism. Although seemingly different topics, they do have a relation in regards to certain practices within Catholicism. Firstly, many Catholics hold to the traditions of the Church more than Bible teachings. This can be seen in the behaviour and lifestyle of many Catholics today; most seem to be comparable to modern-day Pharisees. As such, many Catholics have embraced liturgy as opposed to prophecy, as seen in the Catholic Church today.

Although prophecy in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, is clearly shown and valued by many Christians today, Catholics seem to separate themselves from the rest by classing it as ancient history. Indeed, much of the prophetic books and passages of Scripture have become overlooked in preference to the Pope. This has been spurred on by what is now known as consumerism. Though embraced by some more than others, consumerism in the tradition of Christian social thought is Catholic in nature, and betrays a deep confusion about the human person (Beabout and Echeverria, 2002). Many Catholics have become entangled in consumerism, and so have lost sight of, and indeed suppressed, the voice of prophecy. The world, it seems, has become more appealing than the Word.

Lastly, globalisation has provided both advantages and disadvantages for teachers to take prophetic stances in the classroom. With the importance now placed on the end times and evangelism, prophecy is becoming a more valued gift in Churches, at least evangelically. Furthermore, more relevant courses and discussion on this topic has provided a platform for teachers to share their views on the subject more openly than before. However, in some cases, globalisation has changed long-standing views to prefer the current trend of political correctness.

Though it is true that in a Christian environment, prophecy is often valued, in other circumstances, this is rarely the case. Teachers are sometimes forced to teach what is contrary to their beliefs, in order to conform to the teachings of the school or board. It is important that teachers take a stand in their classrooms, despite the fact that such action could be judged as right or wrong by different people.

In summary, cultural transformation has its positives and negatives, with an emphasis on what action teachers take to make their views known. It is important to note that the pressures of education should not give way to excessive behavioural changes, but rather to positive promptings. In addition, the Church has the responsibility to give prophecy its respective place, and not allow consumerism to permeate the Christian lifestyle. Finally, globalisation provides a platform for prophecy to be shared and valued, but teachers should be aware of its disadvantages and take a stand for what is known as the truth.

Beabout, G. and Echeverria, E. (2002). The Culture of Consumerism: A Catholic and Personalist Critique. Journal of Markets and Morality, 5 (2), 339-383.

Wink, W. (1992). Babylon Revisited: How Violent Myths Resurface Today . MediaLit. Retrieved from http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/babylon-revisited-how-violent-myths-resurface-today#top

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Cultural Diversity Essay & Community Essay Examples

If you’ve started to research college application requirements for the schools on your list, you might have come across the “cultural diversity essay.” In this guide, we’ll explore the cultural diversity essay in depth. We will compare the cultural diversity essay to the community essay and discuss how to approach these kinds of supplements. We’ll also provide examples of diversity essays and community essay examples. But first, let’s discuss exactly what a cultural diversity essay is. 

The purpose of the cultural diversity essay in college applications is to show the admissions committee what makes you unique. The cultural diversity essay also lets you describe what type of “ diversity ” you would bring to campus.

We’ll also highlight a diversity essay sample for three college applications. These include the Georgetown application essay , Rice application essay , and Williams application essay . We’ll provide examples of diversity essays for each college. Then, for each of these college essays that worked, we will analyze their strengths to help you craft your own essays. 

Finally, we’ll give you some tips on how to write a cultural diversity essay that will make your applications shine. 

But first, let’s explore the types of college essays you might encounter on your college applications. 

Types of College Essays

College application requirements will differ among schools. However, you’ll submit one piece of writing to nearly every school on your list—the personal statement . A strong personal statement can help you stand out in the admissions process. 

So, how do you know what to write about? That depends on the type of college essay included in your college application requirements. 

There are a few main types of college essays that you might encounter in the college admissions process. Theese include the “Why School ” essay, the “Why Major ” essay, and the extracurricular activity essay. This also includes the type of essay we will focus on in this guide—the cultural diversity essay. 

“Why School” essay

The “Why School ” essay is exactly what it sounds like. For this type of college essay, you’ll need to underscore why you want to go to this particular school. 

However, don’t make the mistake of just listing off what you like about the school. Additionally, don’t just reiterate information you can find on their admissions website. Instead, you’ll want to make connections between what the school offers and how you are a great fit for that college community. 

“Why Major” essay

The idea behind the “Why Major ” essay is similar to that of the “Why School ” essay above. However, instead of writing about the school at large, this essay should highlight why you plan to study your chosen major.

There are plenty of directions you could take with this type of essay. For instance, you might describe how you chose this major, what career you plan to pursue upon graduation, or other details.

Extracurricular Activity essay

The extracurricular activity essay asks you to elaborate on one of the activities that you participated in outside of the classroom. 

For this type of college essay, you’ll need to select an extracurricular activity that you pursued while you were in high school. Bonus points if you can tie your extracurricular activity into your future major, career goals, or other extracurricular activities for college. Overall, your extracurricular activity essay should go beyond your activities list. In doing so, it should highlight why your chosen activity matters to you.

Cultural Diversity essay

The cultural diversity essay is your chance to expound upon diversity in all its forms. Before you write your cultural diversity essay, you should ask yourself some key questions. These questions can include: How will you bring diversity to your future college campus? What unique perspective do you bring to the table? 

Another sub-category of the cultural diversity essay is the gender diversity essay. As its name suggests, this essay would center around the author’s gender. This essay would highlight how gender shapes the way the writer understands the world around them. 

Later, we’ll look at examples of diversity essays and other college essays that worked. But before we do, let’s figure out how to identify a cultural diversity essay in the first place. 

How to identify a ‘cultural diversity’ essay

So, you’re wondering how you’ll be able to identify a cultural diversity essay as you review your college application requirements. 

Aside from the major giveaway of having the word “diversity” in the prompt, a cultural diversity essay will ask you to describe what makes you different from other applicants. In other words, what aspects of your unique culture(s) have influenced your perspective and shaped you into who you are today?

Diversity can refer to race, ethnicity, first-generation status, gender, or anything in between. You can write about a myriad of things in a cultural diversity essay. For instance, you might discuss your personal background, identity, values, experiences, or how you’ve overcome challenges in your life. 

However, don’t feel limited in what you can address in a cultural diversity essay. The words “culture” and “diversity” mean different things to different people. Above all, you’ll want your diversity essays for college to be personal and sincere. 

How is a ‘community’ essay different? 

A community essay can also be considered a cultural diversity essay. In fact, you can think of the community essay as a subcategory of the cultural diversity essay. However, there is a key difference between a community essay and a cultural diversity essay, which we will illustrate below. 

You might have already seen some community essay examples while you were researching college application requirements. But how exactly is a community essay different from a cultural diversity essay?

One way to tell the difference between community essay examples and cultural diversity essay examples is by the prompt. A community essay will highlight, well, community . This means it will focus on how your identity will shape your interactions on campus—not just how it informs your own experiences.

Two common forms to look out for

Community essay examples can take two forms. First, you’ll find community essay examples about your past experiences. These let you show the admissions team how you have positively influenced your own community. 

Other community essay examples, however, will focus on the future. These community essay examples will ask you to detail how you will contribute to your future college community. We refer to these as college community essay examples.

In college community essay examples, you’ll see applicants detail how they might interact with their fellow students. These essays may also discuss how students plan to positively contribute to the campus community. 

As we mentioned above, the community essay, along with community essay examples and college community essay examples, fit into the larger category of the cultural diversity essay. Although we do not have specific community essay examples or college community essay examples in this guide, we will continue to highlight the subtle differences between the two. 

Before we continue the discussion of community essay examples and college community essay examples, let’s start with some examples of cultural diversity essay prompts. For each of the cultural diversity essay prompts, we’ll name the institutions that include these diversity essays for college as part of their college application requirements. 

What are some examples of ‘cultural diversity’ essays? 

Now, you have a better understanding of the similarities and differences between the cultural diversity essay and the community essay. So, next, let’s look at some examples of cultural diversity essay prompts.

The prompts below are from the Georgetown application, Rice application, and Williams application, respectively. As we discuss the similarities and differences between prompts, remember the framework we provided above for what constitutes a cultural diversity essay and a community essay. 

Later in this guide, we’ll provide real examples of diversity essays, including Georgetown essay examples, Rice University essay examples, and Williams supplemental essays examples. These are all considered college essays that worked—meaning that the author was accepted into that particular institution. 

Georgetown Supplementals Essays

Later, we’ll look at Georgetown supplemental essay examples. Diversity essays for Georgetown are a product of this prompt: 

As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you. 

You might have noticed two keywords in this prompt right away: “diverse” and “community.” These buzzwords indicate that this prompt is a cultural diversity essay. You could even argue that responses to this prompt would result in college community essay examples. After all, the prompt refers to the Georgetown community. 

For this prompt, you’ll want to produce a diversity essay sample that highlights who you are. In order to do that successfully, you’ll need to self-reflect before putting pen to paper. What aspects of your background, personality, or values best describe who you are? How might your presence at Georgetown influence or contribute to their diverse community? 

Additionally, this cultural diversity essay can be personal or creative. So, you have more flexibility with the Georgetown supplemental essays than with other similar diversity essay prompts. Depending on the direction you go, your response to this prompt could be considered a cultural diversity essay, gender diversity essay, or a college community essay. 

Rice University Essays

The current Rice acceptance rate is just 9% , making it a highly selective school. Because the Rice acceptance rate is so low, your personal statement and supplemental essays can make a huge difference. 

The Rice University essay examples we’ll provide below are based on this prompt: 

The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective would you contribute to life at Rice? 

Breaking down the prompt.

Like the prompt above, this cultural diversity essay asks about your “life experiences,” “cultural traditions,” and personal “perspectives.” These phrases indicate a cultural diversity essay. Keep in mind this may not be the exact prompt you’ll have to answer in your own Rice application. However, future Rice prompts will likely follow a similar framework as this diversity essay sample.

Although this prompt is not as flexible as the Georgetown prompt, it does let you discuss aspects of Rice’s academic life and Residential College System that appeal to you. You can also highlight how your experiences have influenced your personal perspective. 

The prompt also asks about how you would contribute to life at Rice. So, your response could also fall in line with college community essay examples. Remember, college community essay examples are another sub-category of community essay examples. Successful college community essay examples will illustrate the ways in which students would contribute to their future campus community. 

Williams Supplemental Essays

Like the Rice acceptance rate, the Williams acceptance rate is also 9% . Because the Williams acceptance rate is so low, you’ll want to pay close attention to the Williams supplemental essays examples as you begin the writing process. 

The Williams supplemental essays examples below are based on this prompt: 

Every first-year student at Williams lives in an Entry – a thoughtfully constructed microcosm of the student community that’s a defining part of the Williams experience. From the moment they arrive, students find themselves in what’s likely the most diverse collection of backgrounds, perspectives, and interests they’ve ever encountered. What might differentiate you from the 19 other first-year students in an Entry? What perspective would you add to the conversation with your peer(s)?

Reflecting on the prompt.

Immediately, words like “diverse,” “backgrounds,” “perspectives,” “interests,” and “differentiate” should stand out to you. These keywords highlight the fact that this is a cultural diversity essay. Similar to the Rice essay, this may not be the exact prompt you’ll face on your Williams application. However, we can still learn from it.

Like the Georgetown essay, this prompt requires you to put in some self-reflection before you start writing. What aspects of your background differentiate you from other people? How would these differences impact your interactions with peers? 

This prompt also touches on the “student community” and how you would “add to the conversation with your peer(s).” By extension, any strong responses to this prompt could also be considered as college community essay examples. 

Community Essays

All of the prompts above mention campus community. So, you could argue that they are also examples of community essays. 

Like we mentioned above, you can think of community essays as a subcategory of the cultural diversity essay. If the prompt alludes to the campus community, or if your response is centered on how you would interact within that community, your essay likely falls into the world of college community essay examples. 

Regardless of what you would classify the essay as, all successful essays will be thoughtful, personal, and rich with details. We’ll show you examples of this in our “college essays that worked” section below. 

Which schools require a cultural diversity or community essay? 

Besides Georgetown, Rice, and Williams, many other college applications require a cultural diversity essay or community essay. In fact, from the Ivy League to HBCUs and state schools, the cultural diversity essay is a staple across college applications. 

Although we will not provide a diversity essay sample for each of the colleges below, it is helpful to read the prompts. This will build your familiarity with other college applications that require a cultural diversity essay or community essay. Some schools that require a cultural diversity essay or community essay include New York University , Duke University , Harvard University , Johns Hopkins University , and University of Michigan . 

New York University

NYU listed a cultural diversity essay as part of its 2022-2023 college application requirements. Here is the prompt:

NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education. That sense of opportunity for all students, of all backgrounds, remains a part of who we are today and a critical part of what makes us a world class university. Our community embraces diversity, in all its forms, as a cornerstone of the NYU experience. We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community.

Duke university.

Duke is well-known for its community essay: 

What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there’s something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well.

A top-ranked Ivy League institution, Harvard University also has a cultural diversity essay as part of its college application requirements: 

Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development, or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

Johns hopkins university.

The Johns Hopkins supplement is another example of a cultural diversity essay: 

Founded in the spirit of exploration and discovery, Johns Hopkins University encourages students to share their perspectives, develop their interests, and pursue new experiences. Use this space to share something you’d like the admissions committee to know about you (your interests, your background, your identity, or your community), and how it has shaped what you want to get out of your college experience at Hopkins. 

University of michigan.

The University of Michigan requires a community essay for its application: 

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong and describe that community and your place within it. 

Community essay examples.

The Duke and Michigan prompts are perfect illustrations of community essay examples. However, they have some critical differences. So, if you apply to both of these schools, you’ll have to change the way you approach either of these community essays. 

The Duke prompt asks you to highlight why you are a good match for the Duke community. You’ll also see this prompt in other community essay examples. To write a successful response to this prompt, you’ll need to reference offerings specific to Duke (or whichever college requires this essay). In order to know what to reference, you’ll need to do your research before you start writing. 

Consider the following questions as you write your diversity essay sample if the prompt is similar to Duke University’s

  • What values does this college community have? 
  • How do these tie in with what you value? 
  • Is there something that this college offers that matches your interests, personality, or background?  

On the other hand, the Michigan essay prompt asks you to describe a community that you belong to as well as your place within that community. This is another variation of the prompt for community essay examples. 

To write a successful response to this prompt, you’ll need to identify a community that you belong to. Then, you’ll need to think critically about how you interact with that community. 

Below are some questions to consider as you write your diversity essay sample for colleges like Michigan: 

  • Out of all the communities you belong to, which can you highlight in your response? 
  • How have you impacted this community? 
  • How has this community impacted you?

Now, in the next few sections, we’ll dive into the Georgetown supplemental essay examples, the Rice university essay examples, and the Williams supplemental essays examples. After each diversity essay sample, we’ll include a breakdown of why these are considered college essays that worked. 

Georgetown Essay Examples

As a reminder, the Georgetown essay examples respond to this prompt: 

As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.

Here is the excerpt of the diversity essay sample from our Georgetown essay examples: 

Georgetown University Essay Example

The best thing I ever did was skip eight days of school in a row. Despite the protests of teachers over missed class time, I told them that the world is my classroom. The lessons I remember most are those that took place during my annual family vacation to coastal Maine. That rural world is the most authentic and incredible classroom where learning simply happens and becomes exponential. 

Years ago, as I hunted through the rocks and seaweed for seaglass and mussels, I befriended a Maine local hauling her battered kayak on the shore. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I had found a kindred spirit in Jeanne. Jeanne is a year-round resident who is more than the hard working, rugged Mainer that meets the eye; reserved and humble in nature, she is a wealth of knowledge and is self-taught through necessity. With thoughtful attention to detail, I engineered a primitive ramp made of driftwood and a pulley system to haul her kayak up the cliff. We diligently figured out complex problems and developed solutions through trial and error.

After running out of conventional materials, I recycled and reimagined items that had washed ashore. We expected to succeed, but were not afraid to fail. Working with Jeanne has been the best classroom in the world; without textbooks or technology, she has made a difference in my life. Whether building a basic irrigation system for her organic garden or installing solar panels to harness the sun’s energy, every project has shown me the value of taking action and making an impact. Each year brings a different project with new excitement and unique challenges. My resourcefulness, problem solving ability, and innovative thinking have advanced under her tutelage. 

While exploring the rocky coast of Maine, I embrace every experience as an unparalleled educational opportunity that transcends any classroom environment. I discovered that firsthand experience and real-world application of science are my best teachers. In school, applications of complex calculations and abstract theories are sometimes obscured by grades and structure. In Maine, I expand my love of science and renourish my curious spirit. I am a highly independent, frugal, resilient Mainer living as a southern girl in NC. 

Why this essay worked

This is one of the Georgetown supplemental essay examples that works, and here’s why. The author starts the essay with an interesting hook, which makes the reader want to learn more about this person and their perspective. 

Throughout the essay, the author illustrates their intellectual curiosity. From befriending Jeanne and creating a pulley system to engineering other projects on the rocky coast of Maine, the author demonstrates how they welcome challenges and work to solve problems. 

Further, the author mentions values that matter to them—taking action and making an impact. Both facets are also part of Georgetown’s core values . By making these connections in their essay, the author shows the admissions committee exactly how they would be a great fit for the Georgetown community. 

Finally, the author uses their experience in Maine to showcase their love of science, which is likely the field they will study at Georgetown. Like this writer, you should try to include most important parts of your identity into your essay. This includes things like life experiences, passions, majors, extracurricular activities for college, and more. 

Rice University Essay Examples

The Rice University essay examples are from this prompt: 

The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What personal perspective would you contribute to life at Rice? (500-word limit)

Rice university essay example.

Like every applicant, I also have a story to share. A story that makes me who I am and consists of chapters about my life experiences and adventures. Having been born in a different country, my journey to America was one of the most difficult things I had ever experienced. Everything felt different. The atmosphere, the places, the food, and especially the people. Everywhere I looked, I saw something new. Although it was a bit overwhelming, one thing had not changed.

The caring nature of the people was still prevalent in everyday interactions. I was overwhelmed by how supportive and understanding people were of one another. Whether it is race, religion, or culture, everyone was accepted and appreciated. I knew that I could be whoever I wanted to be and that the only limitation was my imagination. Through hard work and persistence I put my all in everything that I did. I get this work ethic from my father since he is living proof that anything can be accomplished with continued determination. Listening to the childhood stories he told me, my dad would reminisce about how he was born in an impoverished area in a third world country during a turbulent and unpredictable time.

Even with a passion for learning, he had to work a laborious job in an attempt to help his parents make ends meet. He talked about how he would study under the street lights when the power went out at home. His parents wanted something better for him, as did he. Not living in America changed nothing about their work ethic. His parents continued to work hard daily, in an attempt to provide for their son. My dad worked and studied countless hours, paying his way through school with jobs and scholarships. His efforts paid off when he finally moved to America and opened his own business. None of it would have been possible without tremendous effort and dedication needed for a better life, values that are instilled within me as well, and this is the perspective that I wish to bring to Rice. 

This diversity essay sample references the author’s unique life experiences and personal perspective, which makes it one example of college essays that worked. The author begins the essay by alluding to their unique story—they were born in a different country and then came to America. Instead of facing this change as a challenge, the author shows how this new experience helped them to feel comfortable with all kinds of people. They also highlight how their diversity was accepted and appreciated. 

Additionally, the author incorporates information about their father’s story, which helps to frame their own values and where those values came from. The values that they chose to highlight also fall in line with the values of the Rice community. 

Williams Supplemental Essay Examples

Let’s read the prompt that inspired so many strong Williams supplemental essays examples again: 

Every first-year student at Williams lives in an Entry—a thoughtfully constructed microcosm of the student community that’s a defining part of the Williams experience. From the moment they arrive, students find themselves in what’s likely the most diverse collection of backgrounds, perspectives and interests they’ve ever encountered. What might differentiate you from the 19 other first-year students in an entry? What perspective(s) would you add to the conversation with your peers?

Williams college essay example.

Through the flow in my head

See you clad in red

But not just the clothes

It’s your whole being

Covering in this sickening blanket

Of heat and pain

Are you in agony, I wonder?

Is this the hell they told me about?

Have we been condemned?

Reduced to nothing but pain

At least we have each other

In our envelopes of crimson

I try in vain

“Take my hands” I shriek

“Let’s protect each other, 

You and me, through this hell”

My body contorts

And deforms into nothingness

You remain the same

Clad in red

With faraway eyes

You, like a statue

Your eyes fixed somewhere else

You never see me

Just the red briefcase in your heart

We aren’t together

It’s always been me alone

While you stand there, aloof, with the briefcase in your heart.

I wrote this poem the day my prayer request for the Uighur Muslims got denied at school. At the time, I was stunned. I was taught to have empathy for those around me. Yet, that empathy disappears when told to extend it to someone different. I can’t comprehend this contradiction and I refuse to. 

At Williams, I hope to become a Community Engagement Fellow at the Davis Center. I hope to use Williams’ support for social justice and advocacy to educate my fellow classmates on social issues around the world. Williams students are not just scholars but also leaders and changemakers. Together, we can strive to better the world through advocacy.

Human’s capability for love is endless. We just need to open our hearts to everyone. 

It’s time to let the briefcase go and look at those around us with our real human eyes.

We see you now. Please forgive us.

As we mentioned above, the Williams acceptance rate is incredibly low. This makes the supplemental essay that much more important. 

This diversity essay sample works because it is personal and memorable. The author chooses to start the essay off with a poem. Which, if done right, will immediately grab the reader’s attention. 

Further, the author contextualizes the poem by explaining the circumstances surrounding it—they wrote it in response to a prayer request that was denied at school. In doing so, they also highlight their own values of empathy and embracing diversity. 

Finally, the author ends their cultural diversity essay by describing what excites them about Williams. They also discuss how they see themselves interacting within the Williams community. This is a key piece of the essay, as it helps the reader understand how the author would be a good fit for Williams. 

The examples provided within this essay also touch on issues that are important to the author, which provides a glimpse into the type of student the author would be on campus. Additionally, this response shows what potential extracurricular activities for college the author might be interested in pursuing while at Williams. 

How to Write a Cultural Diversity Essay

You want your diversity essay to stand out from any other diversity essay sample. But how do you write a successful cultural diversity essay? 

First, consider what pieces of your identity you want to highlight in your essay. Of course, race and ethnicity are important facets of diversity. However, there are plenty of other factors to consider. 

As you brainstorm, think outside the box to figure out what aspects of your identity help make up who you are. Because identity and diversity fall on a spectrum, there is no right or wrong answer here. 

Fit your ideas to the specific school

Once you’ve decided on what you want to represent in your cultural diversity essay, think about how that fits into the college of your choice. Use your cultural diversity essay to make connections to the school. If your college has specific values or programs that align with your identity, then include them in your cultural diversity essay! 

Above all, you should write about something that is important to you. Your cultural diversity essay, gender diversity essay, or community essay will succeed if you are passionate about your topic and willing to get personal. 

Additional Tips for Community & Cultural Diversity Essays

1. start early.

In order to create the strongest diversity essay possible, you’ll want to start early. Filling out college applications is already a time-consuming process. So, you can cut back on additional stress and anxiety by writing your cultural diversity essay as early as possible. 

2. Brainstorm

Writing a cultural diversity essay or community essay is a personal process. To set yourself up for success, take time to brainstorm and reflect on your topic. Overall, you want your cultural diversity essay to be a good indication of who you are and what makes you a unique applicant. 

3. Proofread

We can’t stress this final tip enough. Be sure to proofread your cultural diversity essay before you hit the submit button. Additionally, you can read your essay aloud to hear how it flows. You can also can ask someone you trust, like your college advisor or a teacher, to help proofread your essay as well.

Other CollegeAdvisor Essay Resources to Explore

Looking for additional resources on supplemental essays for the colleges we mentioned above? Do you need help with incorporating extracurricular activities for college into your essays or crafting a strong diversity essay sample? We’ve got you covered. 

Our how to get into Georgetown guide covers additional tips on how to approach the supplemental diversity essay. If you’re wondering how to write about community in your essay, check out our campus community article for an insider’s perspective on Williams College.

Want to learn strategies for writing compelling cultural diversity essays? Check out this Q&A webinar, featuring a former Georgetown admissions officer. And, if you’re still unsure of what to highlight in your community essay, try getting inspiration from a virtual college tour . 

Cultural Diversity Essay & Community Essay Examples – Final Thoughts

Your supplemental essays are an important piece of the college application puzzle. With colleges becoming more competitive than ever, you’ll want to do everything you can to create a strong candidate profile. This includes writing well-crafted responses for a cultural diversity essay, gender diversity essay, or community essay. 

We hope our cultural diversity essay guide helped you learn more about this common type of supplemental essay. As you are writing your own cultural diversity essay or community essay, use the essay examples from Georgetown, Rice, and Williams above as your guide. 

Getting into top schools takes a lot more than a strong resume. Writing specific, thoughtful, and personal responses for a cultural diversity essay, gender diversity essay, or community essay will put you one step closer to maximizing your chances of admission. Good luck!

CollegeAdvisor.com is here to help you with every aspect of the college admissions process. From taking a gap year to completing enrollment , we’re here to help. Register today to receive one-on-one support from an admissions expert as you begin your college application journey.

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cultural transformation essay

Digital transformation: a review, synthesis and opportunities for future research

  • Open access
  • Published: 18 April 2020
  • Volume 71 , pages 233–341, ( 2021 )

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cultural transformation essay

  • Swen Nadkarni 1 &
  • Reinhard Prügl 1  

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In the last years, scholarly attention was on a steady rise leading to a significant increase in the number of papers addressing different technological and organizational aspects of digital transformation. In this paper, we consolidate existing findings which mainly stem from the literature of information systems, map the territory by sharing important macro- and micro-level observations, and propose future research opportunities for this pervasive field. The paper systematically reviews 58 peer-reviewed studies published between 2001 and 2019, dealing with different aspects of digital transformation. Emerging from our review, we develop inductive thematic maps which identify technology and actor as the two aggregate dimensions of digital transformation. For each dimension, we derive further units of analysis (nine core themes in total) which help to disentangle the particularities of digital transformation processes and thereby emphasize the most influential and unique antecedents and consequences. In a second step, in order to assist in breaking down disciplinary silos and strengthen the management perspective, we supplement the resulting state-of-the-art of digital transformation by integrating cross-disciplinary contributions from reviewing 28 papers on technological disruption and 32 papers on corporate entrepreneurship. The review reveals that certain aspects, such as the pace of transformation, the culture and work environment, or the middle management perspective are significantly underdeveloped.

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1 Introduction

Digital transformation, defined as transformation ‘concerned with the changes digital technologies can bring about in a company’s business model, … products or organizational structures’ (Hess et al. 2016 , p. 124), is perhaps the most pervasive managerial challenge for incumbent firms of the last and coming decades. However, digital possibilities need to come together with skilled employees and executives in order to reveal its transformative power. Thus, digital transformation needs both technology and people. In the last years, scholarly attention, particularly in the information systems (IS) literature, was on a steady rise leading to a significant increase in the number of papers addressing different technological and organizational aspects of digital transformation. In the light of this development, we are convinced it is the right time to map the territory and reflect on the current state of knowledge. Therefore, in this paper we aim at providing a descriptive, thematic analysis of the field by critically assessing where, how and by whom research on digital transformation is conducted. Based on this analysis, we identify future research opportunities.

We approach this objective in two steps. First, we adopt an inductive approach and conduct a systematic literature review (following Tranfield et al. 2003 ; Webster and Watson 2002 ) of 58 peer-reviewed papers dealing with digital transformation. By applying elements of grounded theory and content analysis (Corley and Gioia 2004 ; Gioia et al. 1994 ) we identify important core themes in the literature that are particularly pronounced and/or unique in transformations enabled by digital technologies. In a second step, in order to assist in breaking down disciplinary silos (Jones and Gatrell 2014 ) and avoiding the building of an ivory tower (Bartunek et al. 2006 ; Fuetsch and Suess-Reyes 2017 ), we supplement the pre-dominantly IS-based digital transformation literature with a broader management perspective. Accordingly, we integrate cross-disciplinary contributions from reviewing 28 papers on technological disruption and 32 papers on corporate entrepreneurship.

We find these research fields particularly suitable for informing digital transformation research for two reasons. First, by reviewing the literature on technological disruption we hope to derive implications regarding technology adoption and integration. Burdened with the legacy of old technology, bureaucratic structures and core rigidities (Leonard-Barton 1992 ), incumbents may face major challenges in this respect during their digital transformation journey. Second, we expect corporate entrepreneurship to add a more holistic perspective on firm-internal aspects during the process of transformation, such as management influence or the impact of knowledge and organizational learning.

Our findings and related contributions are threefold: First, based on a systematic and structured analysis we develop digital transformation maps which inductively categorize and describe the existing body of research. These thematic maps identify technology and actor as the two aggregate dimensions of digital transformation. Within these dimensions, we reveal nine core themes which help to disentangle the particularities of digital transformation processes and thereby emphasize the most influential and unique antecedents and consequences of this specific type of transformation. Thus, it becomes possible to identify the predominant contextual factors for which research would create the strongest leverage for a better understanding of the challenges inherent in digital transformation. Second, we contribute to the advancement of this field by elaborating opportunities for future research on digital transformation which integrate the three perspectives mentioned above. In particular, informed by corporate entrepreneurship, we find that the important middle management perspective on digital transformation has thus far been largely neglected by researchers. Also, emerging from our review we call for more studies on the various options for integrating digital transformation within organizational architectures and existing processes. Third, in reviewing the adjacent literature on technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship, we strengthen the valuable management perspective within the primarily IS-based discussion on digital transformation. This way we avoid the reinvention of the wheel while at the same time enable the identification of cross-disciplinary research opportunities. We hope to stimulate discussion between these different but strongly related disciplines and enable mutual learning and a fruitful exchange of ideas.

2 Conceptual foundations

Technology as a major determinant of organizational form and structure has been well acknowledged by academics for a long time (Thompson and Bates 1957 ; Woodward 1965 ; Scott 1992 ). Following a significant decline of interest in this relationship until the mid-1990s (Zammuto et al. 2007 ), innovations in information technologies (IT) and the rise of pre-internet technologies have revitalized its relevance in the context of organizational transformation. Thus, the literature on IT-enabled organizational transformation, a concept which originates from the field of information systems (IS) that has caught considerable academic attention starting back in the early 1990s (Ranganathan et al. 2004 ; Besson and Rowe 2012 ), may be seen as one of the scholarly roots of digital transformation research. In his seminal book, Morton ( 1991 ) argued that companies must experience fundamental transformations for effective IT implementation. In the course of the years a shift of attention occurred from technological to managerial and organizational issues (Markus and Benjamin 1997 ; Doherty and King 2005 ). Non-technological aspects such as leadership, culture, and employee training were found to be equally important for successful IT-enabled transformation (Markus 2004 ). This is supported by Orlikowski ( 1996 ) who found empirical evidence from a 2-year case study that organizational transformation was in fact enabled by technology, but not caused by it.

Today, information technologies have become ‘one of the threads from which the fabric of organization is now woven’ (Zammuto et al. 2007 , p. 750). Digital technologies are considered a major asset for leveraging organizational transformation, given their disruptive nature and cross-organizational and systemic effects (Besson and Rowe 2012 ). In order to achieve successful digital transformation, changes must occur at various levels within the organization, including an adaptation of the core business (Karimi and Walter 2015 ), the exchange of resources and capabilities (Cha et al. 2015 ; Yeow et al. 2018 ), the reconfiguration of processes and structures (Resca et al. 2013 ), adjustments in leadership (Hansen and Sia 2015 ; Singh and Hess 2017 ), and the implementation of a vivid digital culture (Llopis et al. 2004 ). Therefore, the scope of our review revolves around digital transformation at the organizational level only (in contrast to implications at the individual level).

In this study, we conceptualize digital transformation at the intercept of the adoption of disruptive digital technologies on the one side and actor-guided organizational transformation of capabilities, structures, processes and business model components on the other side. In other words, and in line with Hess et al. ( 2016 ), we define digital transformation as organizational change triggered by digital technologies. Hence, we argue that two perspectives of digital transformation within organizations must be captured: a technology-centric and an actor-centric perspective. To exploit the technology-centric perspective we include the literature on technological disruption (e.g. Tushman and Anderson 1986 ; Anderson and Tushman 1990 ) and merge it with research on digital transformation. For the actor-centric perspective, we derive essential implications from the field of corporate entrepreneurship (Guth and Ginsberg 1990 ), which we believe may add valuable insights regarding actor-driven innovation and renewal processes within firms. In the following, we offer a brief introduction to both concepts and their relationship with digital transformation.

Rice et al. ( 1998 ) define disruptive innovations as ‘game changers’ which have the potential ‘(1) for a 5–10 times improvement in performance compared to existing products; (2) to create the basis for a 30–50% reduction in costs; or (3) to have new-to-the world performance features’ (p. 52). Similarly, Utterback ( 1994 ) emphasizes this disruptiveness at the firm and industry level and provides a similar ‘game changer’ definition in terms of ‘change that sweeps away much of a firm’s existing investment in technical skills and knowledge, designs, production technique, plant and equipment’ (p. 200). Tushman and Anderson ( 1986 ) distinguish between product and process disruptiveness. Product disruptiveness encompasses new product classes, product substitutions, or fundamental product improvements. Process disruptiveness may take the form of process substitutions or process innovations which radically improve industry-specific dimensions of merit. Christensen and Raynor ( 2003 ) introduce a further form of disruptive innovations, namely disruptive business model innovations, which represent the implementation of fundamentally different business models in an existing business.

We argue that digital technologies may reflect in all of these definitions of disruptive innovation. They may represent new-to-the-world product innovations, dislocate existing processes, and open up entirely new business models. As resumed in a recent study by Li et al. ( 2017 ), e-commerce for instance is defined as a disruptive technology (Johnson 2010 ) which involves significant changes to an organization’s culture, business processes, capabilities, and markets (Zeng et al. 2008 ; Cui and Pan 2015 ).

Corporate entrepreneurship (CE) on the other side is a multi-dimensional concept at the intersection of entrepreneurship and strategic management in existing organizations (Zahra 1996 ; Hitt et al. 2001 ; Dess et al. 2003 ). We adopt the conceptualization proposed by Guth and Ginsberg ( 1990 , p. 5), who argue that corporate entrepreneurship deals with two phenomena ‘(1) the birth of new businesses within existing organizations, i.e. internal innovation or venturing, and (2) the transformation of organizations through renewal of the key ideas on which they are built, i.e. strategic renewal.’ Particularly the aspect of strategic renewal in corporate entrepreneurship, also labelled as strategic change, revival, transformation (Schendel 1990 ), reorganization, redefinition (Zahra 1993 ), or organizational renewal (Stopford and Baden-Fuller 1994 ), provides a promising interface to digital transformation. As stated by Covin and Miles ( 1999 , p. 50), corporate entrepreneurship ‘revitalizes, reinvigorates and reinvents’—processes also required for digital transformation. Various authors have stated that corporate entrepreneurship is a vehicle to improve competitive positioning and transform corporations (Schollhammer 1982 ; Miller 1983 ; Khandwalla 1987 ; Guth and Ginsberg 1990 ; Naman and Slevin 1993 ; Lumpkin and Dess 1996 ). Considering the disruptive nature of many current digital technologies, we believe that organizations need to fundamentally renew and redefine the key ideas of their business in order to fully exploit the potential of digitization and eventually achieve successful transformation. The literature places particular attention on the role of middle managers as the locus of corporate entrepreneurship (Burgelman 1983 , Floyd and Wooldridge 1999 ). Concluding, we will review the research on corporate entrepreneurship and identify those contributions which we believe may offer valuable knowledge regarding actor-driven internal renewal and change processes in the light of digital transformation.

Our review of the literature on digital transformation, technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship is conducted in a two-step approach. First, we review, analyze and synthesize existing articles on digital transformation. Then, in a second step we supplement these findings be simultaneously reviewing the literature stream on technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship. We believe a separate analysis and contrasting of the research streams is appropriate for two reasons: first, it provides the reader with more clarity on the status quo of digital transformation knowledge and prevents the confusion of concepts emerging from different literature fields. Second, white spots and opportunities for future research regarding digital transformation become much more visible in such a structured approach.

3 Research methodology

A systematic review is a type of literature review that applies an explicit algorithm and a multi-stage review strategy in order to collect and critically appraise a body of research studies (Mulrow 1994 ; Pittaway et al. 2004 ; Crossan and Apaydin 2010 ). This transparent and reproducible process is ideally suited for analyzing and structuring the vast and heterogeneous literature on digital transformation. In conducting our review, we followed the guidelines of Tranfield et al. ( 2003 ) and the recommendations of Denyer and Neely ( 2004 , p. 133) Footnote 1 as well as Fisch and Block ( 2018 ) in order to ensure a high quality of the review.

The nature of our review is both scoping and descriptive (Rowe 2014 ; Paré et al. 2015 ) as we aim to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the available literature as well as to summarize and map existing findings from digital transformation research. By developing opportunities for future research, our review further contributes to the advancement of this field and stimulates theory development.

For the purpose of data collection, we exclusively limit our focus on peer-reviewed academic journals as recommended by McWilliams et al. ( 2005 ). Thus, we opted to exclude work in progress, conference papers, dissertations, or books. First, based on discussion among the authors and the reading of a few highly-cited papers, we designed our search criteria using combinations of keywords containing ‘ digital* AND transform*’ , ‘ digital* AND disrupt*’ , ‘ digitalization’ , and ‘ digitization ’. Then, we manually searched each issue of each volume of the leading journals in the management Footnote 2 and IS field (AIS Basket of eight). Footnote 3 In addition, we run our search query against five different electronic databases: Business Source Premier (EBSCO) , Scopus , Science Direct , Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) , and Google Scholar . We used all years available and only included articles referring to business, management, or economics in order to exclude irrelevant publications. We abstained from including digital innovation in our search (the only exception in our sample is a recent literature review by Kohli and Melville ( 2019 ), in order to capture consolidated insights). Although we realize that it is a hot topic in IS research at the moment (e.g. Fichman et al. 2014 ; Nambisan et al. 2017 ; Yoo et al. 2010 , 2012 ), we aim to concentrate our focus on papers dealing with digital transformation on a broader level (firm and industry), rather than with transitions within innovation management.

Our first search query was conducted mid 2017 and yielded an initial sample of 1722 publications. This very large sample was mainly due to the broad ambiguity of the terms ‘digital’ and ‘disrupt’. Given these broad search parameters, we anticipated that only a small fraction of this very large sample would prove to be of substantive relevance to us. To select these relevant articles for our final sample, we performed a predefined and structured multi-step selection process (similar to the approach of Siebels and Knyphausen-Aufseß 2012 ; Vom Brocke et al. 2015 ) and defined specific criteria for inclusion (Templier and Paré 2015 ). The filters during our selection process included (1) scanning the titles, (2) reading abstracts, (3) removing duplicates, (4) full reading and in-depth analysis of the remaining papers, and finally (5) cross-referencing and backward searching by looking through the bibliographies of the most important articles to find additional relevant work. The initial pool was split in half between two panelists who separately performed the scanning of titles, analysis of abstracts and removal of duplicates. After these early steps, the sample could be narrowed down to 155 articles. As we arrived at step 4 “full reading and in-depth analysis of the remaining papers”, both panelists read and independently classified each of the remaining 155 studies. During this process, papers qualified for the final sample if they satisfied three requirements: (1) articles were required to have their primary focus and contribution within digital transformation research or digitally-induced organizational transformation (e.g. a vast number of papers inadequately captured the topic of digital transformation as they primarily focused on business model innovation), (2) articles needed to be based on a sound theoretical foundation and therefore not primarily practitioner oriented (such as articles that offer popular recommendations to business leaders on how to survive digital transformation), (3) papers that were not addressing digital transformation at an organizational level (e.g. the rise of home-based online businesses by entrepreneurs) were dismissed. Whenever disagreements emerged regarding the inclusion or classification of an article, we engaged in discussion and tried to resolve the issue together to make our selection rules more reliable. We updated the review in the autumn of 2018 for any articles that had appeared between then. Following this approach, 58 studies passed all five selection steps and were included in our final sample.

Within this sample, conceptual articles (27) and case studies (20) are dominant. Roughly 60% of the articles stem from the IS literature, while 40% cover a broader management perspective of digital transformation. While the reviewed papers span a time frame from 2001 to 2018, approximately eighty-percent of articles were published within the past 5 years, indicating the relative novelty of digital transformation as a research discipline. The distribution of our sample according to journals is provided in Table  4 of “ Appendix ”.

Upon the recommendation of Webster and Watson ( 2002 ), our categorization and analysis of the literature was concept-centric. First, to facilitate analysis and build a basis for our initial coding, each selected paper was reviewed to determine the following database information.

(1) Article title, (2) outlet, (3) research methodology, (4) sample, (5) region, and (6) key findings (see full database in Table  5 of “ Appendix ”). Next, we started coding our sample, adopting elements of the approach introduced by Corley and Gioia ( 2004 ). We began by identifying initial concepts in the data and grouping them into provisional categories and first order concepts (open coding). Then, we engaged in axial coding (Locke 2001 ) and searched for relationships and common patterns between and among these provisional categories, which allowed us to assemble them into second order themes. Finally, we assigned these second order themes to aggregate dimensions, representing the highest level of abstraction in our coding. In sum, reviewing and analyzing the extant literature, 194 coded insights were generated within the field of digital transformation: 61 first order concepts, nine second order themes, and two aggregate dimensions. The nine second order themes represent core themes across the papers, which finally constitute two aggregate dimensions: technology and actor. In conclusion, we define digital transformation as actor-driven organizational transformation triggered by the adoption of technology-driven digital disruptions. The result of the coding process is a high-level inductive map of the core themes in digital transformation research (Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

Digital transformation high-level thematic map emerging from the analysis of the literature

The reviewed studies from our sample provide a rich body of knowledge regarding the specific contextual factors of digital transformation. This may be beneficial to both researchers and practitioners enabling a more comprehensive understanding of the peculiarities of digital transformation (in comparison to previous technology-driven transformations).

4.1 Macro-level findings

On a macro level, the central observation emerging from our review is that both technology- and actor-centric aspects take center stage within this debate. This is also reflected in various definitions of digital transformation provided in the sample. For example, Lanzolla and Anderson ( 2008 ) represent the technology-centric side and emphasize the diffusion of digital technologies as an enabler for transformation. Such digital technologies may include big data, mobile, cloud computing or search-based applications (White 2012 ). Similarly, Hess et al. ( 2016 ) note that digital transformation is ‘concerned with the changes digital technologies can bring about in a company’s business model, which result in changed products or organizational structures or in the automation of processes’ (p. 124). However, Hess et al. ( 2016 ) also highlight the role of actors (e.g. managers) in promoting transformation processes, while facing the challenge of simultaneously balancing the exploration and exploitation of resources. Leaders must have trust in the value and benefits of new IT technologies and support their implementation (Chatterjee et al. 2002 ).

In total, we find an almost even distribution of papers studying the two dimensions of technology and actor: 33% are technology-centric, 34% are actor-centric, and 33% of papers cover both technology and actor. However, within these two dimensions we observe a rather uneven distribution of articles by second order themes. On the technology-centric side, we find that understanding the implications of digital technologies on the consumer interface and market environment are highly active research streams. In comparison, understanding the pace of change in times of digital transformation and its direct impact on incumbents is so far comparably understudied. On the actor-centric side, our review reveals a very dominant focus on leadership and capabilities in a digital context, while in contrast company culture and work environment thus far received less recognition. We also find that the status-quo of digital transformation literature is rather diverse, in a sense that papers discuss topics across various categories of our thematic map and are therefore not restricted nor focused to a specific unit of analysis. The vast majority of articles is related to adjacent topics of digital transformation underpinning its nature as a diverse and broad field of research while again indicating its emerging nature.

In addition, we observe some degree of diversity in the theoretical foundations drawn upon. Different theories are applied by several authors to capture the context of digital transformation, e.g. alignment view, configuration theory, resource-based view, dynamic capabilities, organizational learning theory, network view or business process reengineering. It would be interesting to use other theoretical angles, for example from the literature on corporate entrepreneurship and technological disruption, in order to increase theoretical diversity. Such an exchange with different fields of research would broaden the scope of the field and help bridging an ivory divide . Finally, from a methodological perspective, we observe that actor-centric papers primarily use case studies while technology-centric studies at this point are pre-eminently conceptual. In general, the literature is scarce regarding quantitative empirical evidence. We see this as a strong indicator for the early stage of digital transformation research.

4.2 Micro-level findings: the technology-centric side of the equation

In the following, we present and discuss the most important findings of the second order themes within the technology-centric dimension. In Fig.  2 we provide a thematic map for this dimension and in Table  1 a brief summary including illustrative quotes.

figure 2

Thematic map for technology-driven themes in digital transformation literature

4.2.1 Pace of change and time to market

In times of digital transformation, the speed of technological change is disproportionally accelerating with new digital capabilities being rolled out every year. The technological capability of applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing, and mobile technologies significantly increases the overall pace of change. For example, entire industries, like the newspaper business, have been transformed and digitized within a very short period of time (Karimi and Walter 2015 ). Further, the cloud and online platforms have revolutionized the process and pace of turning an innovative idea into a business (Vey et al. 2017 ). Today, innovative ideas can be realized within days and companies set-up literally ‘overnight’. In this sense, in the digital world striving for a ‘first-mover advantage’ due to a ‘winner takes it all’ environment has become more important for incumbent firms (Grover and Kohli 2013 ) as they have much less time to respond to such threats and should not give away first-mover advantages too easily.

Moreover, pure digital companies like Facebook, Google or Amazon have substantially raised the overall time to market and speed of product launches (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ). With continuous improvements in hardware, software and connectivity, these companies set the pace for a tightly timed series of product launches. Thus, firms in the hybrid world (digital and physical) are being put under enormous pressure to also accelerate their product introductions. In a digitally transformed market, the control of speed of product development and launches is increasingly transferred to an ‘ecosystem of innovation’ in the sense of a network of actors with complementary products and services (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ).

4.2.2 Technology capability and integration

The technological capability and power of digital transformation applications, such as for example the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing, and mobile technologies, is in terms of computing power, data storage and information distribution in many cases significantly higher than in previous technology-driven transformations. Earlier business transformations were mostly concerned about introducing internal management information systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM). These transformations were usually limited to improvements to business processes within firm boundaries (see Ash and Burn 2003 ; Kauffman and Walden 2001 in: Li et al. 2017 ). But today, cross-boundary digital technologies such as IoT devices (Ng and Wakenshaw 2017 ), 3D printing (Rayna and Striukova 2016 ), and big data analytics (Dremel et al. 2017 ), drive transformations that go far beyond internal process optimizations as they potentially induce drastic changes to business models (Rayna and Striukova 2016 ), organizational strategy (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ), corporate culture (El Sawy et al. 2016 ; Dremel et al. 2017 ; Sia et al. 2016 ), and entire industry structures (Kohli and Johnson 2011 ).

Further, the review confirms that the role and significance of data itself is changing profoundly and that personal data has become one of the most powerful assets in the digital era (Ng and Wakenshaw 2017 ). In fact, we believe the impact of the massive increase in quantity and quality of data generated every day (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ) and the game changing power of big data analytics (Günther et al. 2017 ) are yet to be fully experienced and understood by society, economy and academics.

With regards to the process of dematerialization of tangible products and objects (e.g. CDs, books, machinery etc.), triggered by the transformative capabilities of digital technologies, the most notable insight is that intriguingly, in many cases the digital substitutes, for example e-books, offer superior performance and higher customer benefits than their physical counterparts (Loebbecke and Picot 2015 ). This, for example, is in contrast to the assumptions provided by Christensen ( 1997 ) more than 20 years ago, arguing that new disruptive technologies usually provide different values from mainstream technologies and are often initially inferior to mainstream technologies, therefore only serving niche markets in the beginning.

Finally, regarding technology integration, the current state of research emphasizes the importance of flexible IT (Cha et al. 2015 ), new enterprise platforms (El Sawy et al. 2016 ), and a strong and scalable operational backbone (Sebastian et al. 2017 ) as part of an agile digital infrastructure. The old paradigms of technology integration are not effective any more. However, in a second step we need to reach a more comprehensive understanding of ‘how’ and ‘where’ the integration of technology and transformation activities should be embedded within the organizational architectures of incumbent firms.

4.2.3 Consumer and other stakeholder interface

With regards to the customer interface, which is currently receiving the highest levels of attention by scholars, we conclude that there is some solid research particularly on changes in consumer behavior (Berman 2012 ; El Sawy et al. 2016 ; Ives et al. 2016 ; Lanzolla and Anderson 2008 ), consumer preferences (Vey et al. 2017 ) and consumer knowledge (Berman 2012 ; Granados and Gupta 2013 ). Firstly, our review confirms that in the new digital marketplace, consumers behave differently than before, and traditional marketing techniques may not apply anymore. Today there are myriad choices to easily gather information about products and services far before the actual purchase. For instance, customer buying decisions are increasingly influenced by online customer-to-customer interaction via platforms and social media, where users share products feedbacks, upload home video clips, or publish blog entries (Berman 2012 ). In this sense, digital technologies are also transforming firms’ customer-side operations (Setia et al. 2013 ) and customer engagement strategies (Sebastian et al. 2017 ). For example, reaching out to customers in a digital environment requires digital omnichannel marketing, including e.g. social media, mobile apps, and augmented reality (El Sawy et al. 2016 ). Secondly, we may note that digital technologies increasingly reduce the information asymmetries between sellers and buyers (Granados and Gupta 2013 ). In this sense, information ubiquity (Vey et al. 2017 ) and instant access to data via mobile technologies (Berman 2012 ) profoundly change the long-established seller–customer relationship. And thirdly, the current literature raises awareness for the emergence of multi-sided business models. While in the ‘old’ world, intermediaries were matching sellers and buyers, in the digital market place, intermediation increasingly takes place through the establishment of multi-sided digital platforms and networks (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ; Evens 2010 ; Pagani 2013 ).

4.2.4 Distributed value creation and value capture

The review of the literature reveals that the value chain has become far more distributed in times of digital transformation—particularly value creation and value capture. Two major changes can be observed here: (1) digital technologies offer opportunities to customers to co-create products with the manufacturer, e.g. via digital platforms (El Sawy et al. 2016 ; Ng and Wakenshaw 2017 ), and (2) on an inter-firm level value is increasingly co-created and captured in a series of partnerships in a value network (Evens 2010 ). As Bharadwaj et al. ( 2013 ) argue, network effects are the key differentiator and driver of value creation and capture in a digital world. The focus of value creation is therefore shifting from value chain to value networks. For this purpose, companies like Google are experimenting with multi-sided business models. In such a multilayered business model, a company gives away certain products or services in one layer to capture value at a different layer (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ). Google is giving away its Android operating system for free and captures value via the ability to control advertising on every phone that uses Android.

In more general terms, we may conclude that control of value in the digital world is less and less determined by R&D capabilities, competitors, or industry boundaries. Instead the buyer, not the seller, determines the dimensions of value that matter (Keen and Williams 2013 ). Therefore, businesses need to engage with their customers at every point in the process of value creation (Berman 2012 ). Also, the strong impact of digital technologies on incumbent’s value chains imply some degree of deviation from the classical and often analog core business. For example, new product-related competencies, platform capabilities or value architectures will be required. And, incumbents must prepare for new forms of monetization in the digitized marketplace.

4.2.5 Market environment and rules of competition

This is a rather broad and diverse categorization in our review, as it comprises technology-driven changes in the market environment. After consumer-centric aspects this research stream received the most attention by scholars in the review (on the technology-centric side). In sum, the current state of literature recognizes three major developments. First, digital transformation redefines, blurs and even dissolves existing industry boundaries which may lead to cross-industry competition (Sia et al. 2016 ; Weill and Woerner 2015 ). Dominant industry logics (Sabatier et al. 2012 ) apparently do not work anymore in times of digital transformation. The ‘new kid on the block can come out of the blue’ (Vey et al. 2017 , p. 23) and even individuals can become competitors as 3D Printing is expected to lead to a sharp increase in competition from SMEs and individual entrepreneurs (Rayna and Striukova 2016 ). And with the emergence of multi-sided business models also incumbents are starting to disrupt new markets (Weill and Woerner 2015 ). For instance, Google is disrupting the mobility sector with its self-driving car subsidiary Waymo, while Amazon has introduced AmazonFresh as a grocery delivery service which is seen as a potentially tough competitor to supermarkets. Second, with the emergence of digital platforms, networks, and ecosystems the market infrastructure becomes increasingly interconnected (Grover and Kohli 2013 ; Majchrzak et al. 2016 ; Markus and Loebbecke 2013 ). In a broader sense, we see a shift from controlling or participating in a linear value chain to operating in an ecosystem or network (Weill and Woerner 2015 ). As different types of innovation networks with different cognitive and social translations regarding knowledge emerge, novel properties of digital infrastructure in support of each network are required. Digital technologies therefore increase innovation network knowledge heterogeneity (Lyytinen et al. 2016 ). Third, the free flow of digital goods precipitates an erosion of property rights and higher risks of imitation (Loebbecke and Picot 2015 ).

4.3 Micro-level findings: the actor-centric side of the equation

In the following, we present and discuss the most important findings of the second order themes within the actor-centric dimension. In Fig.  3 we provide a thematic map for this dimension and in Table  2 a brief summary including illustrative quotes.

figure 3

Thematic map for actor-driven themes in digital transformation literature

4.3.1 Transformative leadership

Understanding the impact of digital transformation on leadership and management behavior is a very active and prioritized research focus. In total, 23 papers in our review explore this aspect. First and foremost, research calls for a shift in the traditional view of IT strategy as being subordinate to business strategy (El Sawy et al. 2016 ). In the course of the past two decades information technologies have surpassed their subordinate role as administrative ‘back office’ assets and evolved into an essential element of corporate strategy building. Thus, incumbents should align IT and business strategies on equal terms and fuse them into ‘digital business strategy’ (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ).

Also, emphasis is placed on the changing nature of leadership itself, caused by digital transformation. Such changes may include rapid optimization of top management decision-making processes enabled by instant access to information and expansive data sets (Mazzei and Noble 2017 ), new communication principles (Bennis 2013 ; Granados and Gupta 2013 ), or changes in leadership education (Sia et al. 2016 ). Further, there is consensus that senior management requires a new digital mindset in order to captain their company’s digital transformation journey. Therefore, incumbents should also rethink their leadership education practices. In the past, leadership programs have been primarily about leadership and communication skills. But in times of digital transformation, executives must become ‘tech visionaries’ and develop their transformative powers. For example, Sia et al. ( 2016 ) have conducted a case study on an Asian bank that uses hackathons to educate their senior managers. Media transparency and exposure are further key challenges of digitization where top managers may require some additional education. Given the ubiquity of information and the speed of online data dissemination (via mobile phones, viral effects of social media etc.), leaders today are significantly more exposed publicly than their analog predecessors. Therefore, according to Bennis ( 2013 ) leadership in the digital era needs to be learned through embracing transparency and adaptive capacity (specifically resilience as the ability to rebound from problems and crisis).

Finally, the vast extent and complexity of digital transformation leads to the emergence of an additional position at the top management level—the Chief Digital Officer (Dremel et al. 2017 ; Tumbas et al. 2017 ). Given the immense challenges of digital transformation and the claim for a new mindset and different skills, CEOs or even CIOs are conceivably not the best match (Singh and Hess 2017 ). Particularly not if they are expected to drive digital transformation in addition to their original tasks.

4.3.2 Managerial and organizational capabilities

Our analysis suggests that in order to effectively drive digital transformation additional and refined capabilities are required—both managerial and organizational (Li et al. 2017 )—in comparison to the analogue world.

At the managerial level, for one thing, a much faster strategy and implementation cycle is needed to cope with the pace of digital transformation (Daniel and Wilson 2003 ). The turbulent and ever-changing digital environment is forcing managers to make decisions and implement strategies significantly faster than they had been previously required to. In order to study managerial capabilities in the context of digital transformation, some studies have adopted the theory of dynamic capabilities (Daniel and Wilson 2003 ; Li et al. 2017 ; Yeow et al. 2018 ) as introduced by Teece et al. ( 1997 ), Teece ( 2007 , 2014 ). In particular, results indicate that dynamic capabilities may support the refinement of digital strategy and are therefore not separate from alignment, but on the contrary have the potential to enact and guide the process of aligning.

At the organizational level, one of the most intriguing challenges for incumbents will be to manage the ambidexterity of capabilities in terms of analog and digital capabilities. Firms need to incorporate ‘old’ and ‘new’ capabilities into their organizational structure in a complementary and not impeding way. In addition, capabilities in two further areas are of particular importance to many firms. First, capabilities to implement and operate in networks (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ), platforms (Li et al. 2017 ; Sebastian et al. 2017 ), and ecosystems (El Sawy et al. 2016 ; Weill and Woerner 2015 ). Depending on contextual factors like for example their industry or business model, companies must learn to take advantage of network effects in terms of complementary capabilities while also learn how to become more of an ecosystem rather than continue managing value chains. Second, in the digital era it is essential to develop sensing capabilities, such as entrepreneurial alertness and environmental scanning (Kohli and Melville 2019 ), in order to identify new ideas and critically evaluate, design, modify and eventually deliver new business models (Berman 2012 ; Daniel and Wilson 2003 ).

4.3.3 Company culture

Digital transformation is not exclusively a technology-driven challenge but requires deep cultural change. Everyone within the organization must be prepared with an adaptive skill set and digital know-how. Two major insights can be identified within the existing literature. First, digital transformation demands a data-sharing and data-driven corporate culture (Dremel et al. 2017 ). Data as such must be recognized much more as a valuable resource and an enabler to become a digital enterprise. This will require higher operational transparency in daily-business and work-routines and a data-sharing mindset among employees. In this sense, incumbents need to develop their informatic culture to an informational culture (Llopis et al. 2004 ). In comparison to an informatic culture, an informational culture values IT as a core element of strategic and tactical decisions and clearly understands the financial and transformative potential of digital technologies. Second, digital transformation may trigger cultural conflict between younger and comparably inexperienced digital employees and older but more experienced pre-digitization employees (Kohli and Johnson 2011 ). Management is well advised to prevent that two different cultures arise within the same organization—a group of employees who understand digital technologies and those who have a long-standing track record in the traditional business but are technologically lagging behind. Facilitating a learning friendly culture (Kohli and Melville 2019 ) and publicly affirming support and trust by the executive level may effectively mitigate such a potential cultural divide.

4.3.4 Work environment

Our review reveals that digital transformation is changing the daily work environment in incumbent firms in terms of work structures (Hansen and Sia 2015 ; Loebbecke and Picot 2015 ), job roles, and workplace requirements (White 2012 ). For example, digital interconnectivity enables the emergence of flexible and networked cross-location teams across the entire geographical company map. In this context, traditional hierarchical work structures dissolve and new opportunities emerge beyond company boundaries, such as the integration of external freelancers (Loebbecke and Picot 2015 ). Also, the implementation of a digital workplace becomes inevitable. Particularly for ‘born digital’ younger employees a digitally well-equipped workplace may represent a major criterion for their choice of employer (El Sawy et al. 2016 ). According to White ( 2012 ), a digital workplace must be adaptive, compliant, imaginative, predictive, and location-independent.

However, the most notable insight in this perspective is that—in addition to a potential cultural divide—digitization may effectively lead to a growing skills gap between pre-digitization workers and recently hired digitally savvy employees (Kohli and Johnson 2011 ). In fact, while digital technologies significantly help to optimize and accelerate many work processes and thereby increase productivity, incumbents must be aware that many employees might not keep pace with this digital high-speed train and feel left behind. It is unclear how such a tradeoff is considered and how firms could handle related conflicts.

5 Avoiding an ivory tower: drawing on existing knowledge from adjacent research fields

We assume that pre-existing knowledge on corporate transformation processes in general is partly already available and may provide implications for digital transformation. Therefore, at this point in our review, we aim to stimulate a theoretical discussion by identifying potential white spots abstracted from adjacent research fields. For this purpose, we additionally reviewed 28 studies from the literature on technological disruption (to gain technology-centric input) and 32 papers from corporate entrepreneurship (to expand the actor-centric view). By this, we supplement the pre-dominantly IS-based digital transformation literature with a broader management perspective. First, by reviewing the literature on disruptive innovations we hope to derive implications regarding technology adoption and integration. Burdened with the legacy of old technology, bureaucratic structures and core rigidities (Leonard-Barton 1992 ), incumbents may face major challenges in this respect during their digital transformation journey. Second, we expect corporate entrepreneurship to add a more holistic perspective on firm-internal aspects during the process of transformation, such as management contribution or the impact of knowledge and learning.

We rigorously conducted the same review and analysis process as for our digital transformation sample. A database and concept matrix (Webster and Watson 2002 ) for the sample on technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship are provided in Tables  6 and 7 of “ Appendix ”. The data structures, which summarize the second order themes for both the actor-centric and technology-centric dimension of these additional research fields are illustrated in Figs.  5 and 6 of “ Appendix ”. Within the main body of this article, we only draw attention toward three key implications (Fig.  4 ). In the following, we provide a brief synthesis of these implications and their grounding in the respective literature. In a second step, we transfer and apply these implications to the context of digital transformation and integrate them into an agenda for future research opportunities.

figure 4

Expanding the digital transformation high-level thematic map with insights from technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship

5.1 Insights from technological disruption

Existing knowledge from the adoption of disruptive technologies suggests that in order to successfully integrate, commercialize or develop disruptive technologies incumbents need to create organizations that are independent from but interconnected in one way or another with the mainstream business (Bower and Christensen 1995 ). The reasons for this are manifold. For example, managers are encouraged to protect disruptive technologies from the processes and incentives that are targeted to serve established customers. Rather, disruptive innovations should be placed in separate new organizations that work with future customers for this technology (Bower and Christensen 1995 ; Gans 2016 ). Further, separation potentially helps to unravel the discord between viewing disruptive innovations as a threat or an opportunity. Exempted from obligations to a parent company, separate ventures are more likely to perceive a novel technology as an opportunity (Gilbert and Bower 2002 ). And lastly, a freestanding business also enables local adaptation and increased sensitivity to changes in the environment (Hill and Rothaermel 2003 ).

5.2 Insights from corporate entrepreneurship

Our review of the corporate entrepreneurship literature identifies two major implications that have not been (adequately) considered in digital transformation research yet.

First, the literature indicates that middle management plays a crucial role in redefining a firm’s strategic context and by this driving organizational transformation. A middle management perspective has thus far been completely neglected in digital transformation research. We see this as a major gap, since the middle layers of management are ‘where the action is’ (Floyd and Wooldridge 1999 , p. 124). Top management should control the level and the rate of change and ensure that entrepreneurial activities correspond to their strategic vision (Burgelman 1983 ), but middle managers at the implementation level are the driving force and key determinant behind organizational transformation. However, on the downside, middle managers may also represent a major barrier to organizational change (Thornberry 2001 ). Typically, managers have the task to minimize risks, make sure everything is compliant to the rules and perform their functional roles. Thus, middle managers usually have the most to lose from radical changes and are therefore often the least likely to be entrepreneurial or to support transformations (Thornberry 2001 ). In order to solve middle and operational manager’s risk-awareness and unleash their entrepreneurial spirit, research suggests encouraging autonomous behavior (Shimizu 2012 ). In sum, reviewing the literature on corporate entrepreneurship raises our awareness for the impact of hierarchy and management levels on organizational transformation (Hornsby et al. 2009 ).

Second, a closer cooperation and regular exchange between incumbents and start-ups in order to accelerate entrepreneurial transformation is proposed (Engel 2011 ; Kohler 2016 ). Incumbents should recognize start-up companies as a source of external innovation and develop suitable models for collaboration (e.g. corporate accelerators). In particular, incumbents are advised to implement three common best practices from successful start-ups in order to facilitate transformation: (1) working in small omni-functional teams, (2) goal-driven rapid development instead of bureaucratic processes, and (3) field-level exploration of market potential instead of complex and tedious quantitative models (Engel 2011 ). In addition, corporate entrepreneurship underlines the importance of organizational learning as a vehicle to drive and shape cultural transformation (Dess et al. 2003 ; Floyd and Wooldridge 1999 ; Zahra 2015 ). We come to understand that learning, and in fact also knowledge management, are intimately tied to the concept of organizational transformation. A culture of learning and knowledge drives experimentation, encourages the development of an adaptive skill set, reshapes competitive positioning, and opens the minds of employees to new realities (Zahra et al. 1999 ).

6 Opportunities for future research

Based on the cross-disciplinary perspectives from reviewing the literature on digital transformation, technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship, we propose opportunities for future research on digital transformation. Using our thematic map as a lens to view future research opportunities, we focus on the two dimensions of technology and actor. For the technology-centric dimension we expand on the structural and operational integration of digital technologies and organizational transformation initiatives as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the pace of technological transformation. For the actor-centric dimension we address three topics: we start at the leadership level by emphasizing the relevance of middle management in digital transformation, after that we refer to the potential skills gap and threat of an employee divide in incumbent organizations induced by digital technologies, and finally we move beyond organizational boundaries to turn toward the potential benefits and drawbacks of cooperating with start-ups and pure digital companies to boost transformation. For each area, we propose a set of research questions. Altogether, the agenda is organized around five guiding topics (Table  3 ).

6.1 Integration of digital transformation within organizational structures and activities in incumbent firms

Our review of the literature on digital transformation reveals a knowledge gap regarding this topic. However, we do gain some interesting cross-disciplinary insights from technological disruption at this point. In fact, as already discussed, studies on technological disruption indicate that in order to successfully integrate, commercialize or develop disruptive technologies incumbents need to create organizations that are completely independent from but interconnected in one way or another with the mainstream business (Bower and Christensen 1995 ; Gans 2016 ; Gilbert and Bower 2002 ; Hill and Rothaermel 2003 ).

Thus, the question arises as to how incumbents should incorporate their digital transformation activities. Several options and interesting questions arise in this matter that future research may investigate on:

Which forms of organizational architecture are most suitable for digital transformation? Seamless integration of digital technologies requires building an agile and scalable digital infrastructure that enables continuous scalability of new initiatives (Sia et al. 2016 ). For example, Resca et al. ( 2013 ) suggest a platform-based organization. In addition, digital transformation demands a new kind of enterprise platform integration (El Sawy et al. 2016 ). Given the high intensity of interactive digital connectivity between the outside and inside of a company, traditional enterprise platforms (like ERP) and the ‘old’ supply chain management integration paradigm are in many cases not the most suitable solution anymore. Therefore, flexible IT is a key transformation resource in the digital world (Cha et al. 2015 ). Pursuing an open innovation approach might be another alternative for incumbents.

When and why is it an advantage/disadvantage to start digital transformation in a new organization which is completely independent from traditional business, as suggested by technological disruption research? Under what circumstances and why do spill - over - effects to the parent organization happen/not happen? ? For example, Ravensburger AG , a German toy and jigsaw puzzle company, founded Ravensburger Digital GmbH as a subsidiary in 2009. The purpose of the subsidiary was to become the firm’s digital competence center. In 2017, the digital subsidiary was reincorporated in the parent organization as a digital unit with the goal to apply their digital knowledge to transform the traditional business segments. We call for more qualitative case study research devoted to this question to develop our understanding in this topic.

How, when, and why do incumbents benefit from adopting a ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ philosophy versus taking a ‘launch, learn, pivot’ approach? In the first scenario, a company would start its digital initiatives across all divisions simultaneously and locally to encourage broad experimentation. Such an approach was adopted by AmerisourceBergen Corp. , an American drug wholesale company. The company is convinced that digital transformation is a matter of culture that needs to be established across the entire organization. For this purpose, it implemented agile project teams throughout the entire enterprise, of which each focused on different aspects. On the downside, companies following such a broad approach may risk losing focus and at some point, the various initiatives may start competing against each other. Hence, we believe it is crucial to have a big picture in mind and accordingly allocate resources and attention very thoughtfully. Alternatively, incumbents may start with a pilot transformation project in a smaller market or subsidiary. Arguably, a major advantage is the opportunity to assure that customers are happy with the transformation results and everything is working out well before starting the large roll out in other markets. And it provides incumbents time to fine-tune their initiatives. For example, American medical company Alcon premiered their initial transformation efforts in Brazil before ramping up their rollout in 27 further countries.

6.2 Pace of digital transformation

The rapid pace of technological change is perhaps the most defining characteristic of digital transformation in distinction to previous IT-enabled transformations. Yet, as this topic is only addressed by four papers in our sample it is still to be studied in more depth. For example, there is consensus among the studies that the pace of change has accelerated significantly, however the parameters that define the pace of change remain yet to be defined. Further, we are informed that some industries like the newspaper business have been digitally transformed within a very short period of time (Karimi and Walter 2015 ), while other branches are still under transformation or are yet to be converted. We posit two exemplary research questions regarding the pace of digital transformation:

What are the parameters that define the pace of change? Our review reveals that the speed of product launches (Bharadwaj et al. 2013 ) and the time it takes to turn an idea into a business (Vey et al. 2017 ) are two potential indicators, but we certainly need to obtain a more comprehensive conceptualization at this point.

Why do industries adopt to digital transformation at a different speed? For example, consider front-runner industries like the media or publishing versus late-comers such as oil and gas. In this specific case, the easiness to dematerialize and digitize the product portfolio is certainly a main reason. However, other industries are less obvious, and we would like to invite future research to investigate upon these conditions. What are the parameters that define whether an industry is more or less transformative?

6.3 The role of middle management in digital transformation

We have learned from our review of the corporate entrepreneurship literature that middle managers are the locus of organizational transformation in incumbent firms (Floyd and Wooldridge 1999 ; Hornsby et al. 2002 , 2009 ; Shimizu 2012 ). While top management controls the level and rate of change, middle managers are in charge of execution (Burgelman 1983 ). Hence, one may conclude that middle managers are the kingpin of digital transformation. Yet, there is not a single paper in our sample that covers a middle management perspective in digital transformation. We believe that this subject has been highly neglected in research to this point and deserves far more attention in future. Several topics are particularly interesting:

How and why is digital transformation affecting the role, tasks and identity of middle managers? How and why do middle managers react to these changes? Based on our review, we expect a deep change in the nature of middle management’s role and influence in a ‘digitally transformed’ company ranging from administration to leadership aspects. Middle managers require a new attitude as they move from directing and controlling stable processes and people at the middle of hierarchy to managing resources and connecting people in the middle of networks. In addition, middle managers in the digital era must step up to their role of supporting, enabling, and coaching people to use the available digital tools. They are expected to facilitate the organization.

What kind of new responsibilities and functions in middle management hierarchy are required to accelerate digital transformation? The odds are that change fatigue might grow on employees and digital transformation may start faltering. For this purpose, horizontal functions such as business-process management layers or central administration platforms may be implemented (McKinsey & Company 2017 ). They could be shared across multiple initiatives within the organization and help to accelerate transformation.

Which mindset and digital literacy do middle managers need to be the driving force behind digital transformation? How, when, and why are middle managers motivated/not motivated to drive transformation? Research on corporate entrepreneurship emphasizes that middle managers are often the least likely to support change as they are inherently risk-averse, hardly entrepreneurial and very attached to their functional routines (Thornberry 2001 ). In addition, middle managers may easily get stressed about their ‘sandwich’ position in-between senior management and the operational level. So how can we expect middle managers to be the speedboat of digital transformation? Also, incumbents need to carefully evaluate the existing digital skills and literacy of their middle managers. How comfortable do they feel with digital tools, social media, the cloud and similar trends? They may not fulfill their coaching and leadership role if they heavily struggle with technology in the first place.

How and why is digital transformation affecting the interface of the top management team (TMT) and middle managers? The relationship between the TMT and middle managers is a very special and important relationship which significantly affects both strategy formulation and the quality of implementation. Middle managers are the organizational ‘linking pins’ between top and operational level and thus heavily rely on a good exchange with their superiors. To what extent and in which ways does digital transformation affect this special leader–follower relationship? How are digital technologies changing the speed and quality of information exchange? What is the impact on the inter-personal level?

What is the impact of digital transformation on the overall importance of the middle management layer? Since the 1950s, research indicates the decline of middle managers in terms of both numbers and influence (Dopson and Stewart 1993 ; Leavitt and Whisler 1958 ; Pinsonneault and Kraemer 1997 ). The shift in emphasis from planning and controlling to speed and flexibility is severely affecting the assumedly ‘slow’ middle. Are middle managers afraid that digital technologies will replace most of their traditional tasks and functions, e.g. communicating and monitoring strategy? Will digitalization naturally empower lower level operational managers at the bottom and consequently eliminate the middle layer?

6.4 A growing skills gap and threat of an employee divide

Given the complexity and explosive pace of digital technologies, there is a threat of a growing skills gap between pre-digitization workers and recently hired digitally savvy employees (Kohli and Johnsons 2011 ). A couple of topics are particularly interesting for future research:

How, when and why are incumbents able/unable to mitigate a growing skills gap and employee divide in the face of digital transformation? Given the increased complexity of digital technologies, traditional IT trainings may not be effective anymore. In a similar vein, how could different levels of knowledge and experience residing within different employees be integrated in the context of digital transformation? Future research might examine the mechanisms required for facilitating or hindering such an integration.

How and when are incumbents able/unable to incorporate ‘old’ and ‘new’ capabilities within their organization? On the one hand firms need to develop new capabilities to continuously transform their business, while on the other hand they must leverage their existing knowledge and skills in order to maintain their existing operations. Thus, for the time of transformation incumbents need to develop multiple, often inconsistent competencies simultaneously. In this context, how do firms ensure not to lose focus while mastering the challenge of ambidexterity in times of digital transformation?

Who in the company is managing the development and transformation of skills (e.g. HR, senior leadership, IT division, functional teams, employees etc .), and how and why does that impact outcomes of digital transformation ? This question is not addressed by current research at all. However, according to a survey (Capgemini Consulting 2013) this lack of alignment with digital strategy is rather worrisome. Responsibilities for skills transformation and development in times of digitization need to be clearly defined and allocated. Empirical academic research in this direction might be helpful to understand the status-quo in incumbent firms regarding this issue.

6.5 Cooperation with startups and pure tech companies to accelerate digital transformation

Corporate entrepreneurship proposes a closer cooperation and regular exchange between incumbents and start-ups in order to accelerate entrepreneurial transformation (Engel 2011 ; Kohler 2016 ). In fact, start-ups are often perceived as the forerunners of digital transformation. They are praised for faster innovation capabilities, higher levels of agility, a culture of risk-taking, and supremely digitized processes and workflows. In contrast, incumbents have more experience, access to capital, established brand trust and a huge customer base. Hence, a cooperation between start-ups and incumbents may be beneficial for both parties. In addition, non-tech incumbents may also consider cooperating with pure digital players which are beyond their start-up phase but are important knowledge carriers in digital matters. Two topics are particularly interesting:

Assuming that successful start - ups have a good digital culture — what are the constituent pillars of such a digital culture? And how could incumbents incorporate these “best practices” and “lessons learned”?

What are the benefits of employee exchange programs with technology companies or start - ups to scale - up digital skills? For example, in early 2008 consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble and Google have been swapping two dozen employees in an effort to foster creativity, exchange thoughts on online advertisement and strengthen their mutual relationship. This program worked very well for both sides.

7 Limitations and conclusion

Our review is not without limitations. First, the specific objectives and nature of our filtering process applied during the review naturally come with a certain selection bias. For example, data collection, analysis and interpretation remain influenced by the subjective assessments of the researchers. Also, despite being the common rule within systematic literature reviews, searching exclusively in peer-reviewed academic journals might have omitted some relevant research contained in books or dissertations. However, by means of a rigorous and transparent search process, an as complete as possible review sample was collected and analyzed subsequently. Second, using a high-level thematic map for such a complex multi-dimensional phenomenon like digital transformation highlights particular connections while it potentially fails to capture others. Specifically, critics may point to the lack of analytical depth within each second order theme. However, we believe that within the limited scope of a review our broad thematic description nevertheless adds value to the advancement of this field and should rather be seen as a holistic starting point for future research to dive deeper into the characteristics of sub-themes of digital transformation. Finally, we are aware that our focus on the organizational level of digital transformation within the private sector does not fully capture the implications of digital transformation for our society, as it also occurs at various other levels, such as the individual level or public sector. As such, future researchers may apply alternative approaches to review and synthesize the existing literature on digital transformation. For example, in contrast to our inductive method to code and analyze our sample, it may also be interesting to apply a more deductive and pre-structured method, in particular when focusing on a deeper understanding of the sub-themes emerging from our analysis. Accordingly, future research could benefit from adopting a phenomenon-based research strategy as proposed by von Krogh et al. ( 2012 ).

Concluding, our paper contributes to the extant discussion by consolidating, mapping and analyze the existing research on digital transformation, sharing important macro- and microlevel observations in the literature and proposing corresponding future research directions. Emerging from our review of 58 studies, we develop a thematic map which identifies technology and actor as the two aggregate dimensions of digital transformation and that elaborates on the predominant contextual concepts (second order themes) within these dimensions. From a macrolevel perspective, we observe that the status-quo of digital transformation literature is rather diverse, in a sense that papers discuss topics across various clusters and concepts. Further, we find some degree of diversity in the theoretical foundations drawn upon as well as confirm that the existing literature in general is scarce regarding quantitative empirical evidence. Another important contribution of our paper is bringing different lenses together by integrating knowledge from related disciplinary areas outside IS management, such as technological disruption and corporate entrepreneurship. With our review, we hope to provide a comprehensive and solid foundation for the on-going discussions on digital transformation and to stimulate future research on this exciting topic.

The development of clear and precise aims and objectives; pre-planned methods; a comprehensive search of all potentially relevant articles; the use of explicit, reproducible criteria in the selection of articles; an appraisal of the quality of the research and the strength of the findings; a synthesis of individual studies using an explicit analytic framework; and a balanced, impartial and comprehensible presentation of the results.

The search included Academy of Management Journal , Administrative Science Quarterly , Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice , Journal of Management Studies , Strategic Management Journal .

The search included European Journal of Information Systems , Information Systems Journal , Information Systems Research , Journal of the Association for Information Systems , Journal of Information Technology , Journal of Management Information Systems , Journal of Strategic Information Systems , MIS Quarterly , MISQ Executive .

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See Tables  4 , 5 , 6 and 7 and Figs.  5 and 6 .

figure 5

Data structure for the technology-centric dimension of technological disruption

figure 6

Data structure for the technology-centric dimension of corporate entrepreneurship

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Nadkarni, S., Prügl, R. Digital transformation: a review, synthesis and opportunities for future research. Manag Rev Q 71 , 233–341 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11301-020-00185-7

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A* Tudor History Essay -Cultural Transformation 1509-88

A* Tudor History Essay -Cultural Transformation 1509-88

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cultural transformation essay

A* essay produced by a Tudor History A-level student, addressing the question ‘How accurate is it to say that, in the years 1509-88, a cultural transformation took place?’.

This was written as revision for Edexcel Tudor History A-level, Option 1B: England 1509– 1603: authority, nation and religion and covers the Reformation, patronage, and the growth of grammar schools among many other factors.

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cultural transformation essay

Do your writers need some inspiration? If you’re teaching students to write a compare and contrast essay, a strong example is an invaluable tool. This round-up of our favorite compare and contrast essays covers a range of topics and grade levels, so no matter your students’ interests or ages, you’ll always have a helpful example to share. You’ll find links to full essays about education, technology, pop culture, sports, animals, and more. (Need compare-and-contrast essay topic ideas? Check out our big list of compare and contrast essay topics! )

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Read the full essay: Private School vs. Public School at U.S. News and World Report

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Homeschool vs. Public School: How Home Schooling Will Change Public Education

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Read the full essay: Homeschool vs. Public School: How Home Schooling Will Change Public Education at Brookings

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Read the full essay: What Is Authoritative Parenting? at Healthline

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Sample lines: “Face masks can prevent the spread of the virus SARS-CoV-2. … However, covering the lower half of the face reduces the ability to communicate. Positive emotions become less recognizable, and negative emotions are amplified. Emotional mimicry, contagion, and emotionality in general are reduced and (thereby) bonding between teachers and learners, group cohesion, and learning—of which emotions are a major driver. The benefits and burdens of face masks in schools should be seriously considered and made obvious and clear to teachers and students.”

Read the full essay: Masked Education? The Benefits and Burdens of Wearing Face Masks in Schools During the Pandemic at National Library of Medicine

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Sample lines: “In recent years, book bans have soared in schools, reaching an all-time high in fall 2022. … The challenge of balancing parent concerns about ‘age appropriateness’ against the imperative of preparing students to be informed citizens is still on the minds of many educators today. … Such curricular decision-making  should  be left to the professionals, argues English/language arts instructional specialist Miriam Plotinsky. ‘Examining texts for their appropriateness is not a job that noneducators are trained to do,’ she wrote last year, as the national debate over censorship resurged with the news that a Tennessee district banned the graphic novel  Maus  just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

Read the full essay: To Ban or Not: What Should We Really Make of Book Bans? at Education Week

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Netflix vs. hulu 2023: which is the best streaming service.

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Read the full essay: Netflix vs. Hulu 2023: Which is the best streaming service? at TV Guide

Kindle vs. Hardcover: Which is easier on the eyes?

Kindle vs. Hardcover: Which is easier on the eyes?

Sample lines: “In the past, we would have to drag around heavy books if we were really into reading. Now, we can have all of those books, and many more, stored in one handy little device that can easily be stuffed into a backpack, purse, etc. … Many of us still prefer to hold an actual book in our hands. … But, whether you use a Kindle or prefer hardcover books or paperbacks, the main thing is that you enjoy reading. A story in a book or on a Kindle device can open up new worlds, take you to fantasy worlds, educate you, entertain you, and so much more.”

Read the full essay: Kindle vs. Hardcover: Which is easier on the eyes? at Books in a Flash

iPhone vs. Android: Which is better for you?

Sample lines: “The iPhone vs. Android comparison is a never-ending debate on which one is best. It will likely never have a real winner, but we’re going to try and help you to find your personal pick all the same. iOS 17 and Android 14—the latest versions of the two operating systems—both offer smooth and user-friendly experiences, and several similar or identical features. But there are still important differences to be aware of. … Owning an iPhone is a simpler, more convenient experience. There’s less to think about. … Android-device ownership is a bit harder. … Yet it’s simultaneously more freeing, because it offers more choice.”

Read the full essay: iPhone vs. Android: Which is better for you? at Tom’s Guide

Cutting the cord: Is streaming or cable better for you?

Sample lines: “Cord-cutting has become a popular trend in recent years, thanks to the rise of streaming services. For those unfamiliar, cord cutting is the process of canceling your cable subscription and instead, relying on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu to watch your favorite shows and movies. The primary difference is that you can select your streaming services à la carte while cable locks you in on a set number of channels through bundles. So, the big question is: should you cut the cord?”

Read the full essay: Cutting the cord: Is streaming or cable better for you? at BroadbandNow

PS5 vs. Nintendo Switch

PS5 vs. Nintendo Switch

Sample lines: “The crux of the comparison comes down to portability versus power. Being able to migrate fully fledged Nintendo games from a big screen to a portable device is a huge asset—and one that consumers have taken to, especially given the Nintendo Switch’s meteoric sales figures. … It is worth noting that many of the biggest franchises like Call of Duty, Madden, modern Resident Evil titles, newer Final Fantasy games, Grand Theft Auto, and open-world Ubisoft adventures like Assassin’s Creed will usually skip Nintendo Switch due to its lack of power. The inability to play these popular games practically guarantees that a consumer will pick up a modern system, while using the Switch as a secondary device.”

Read the full essay: PS5 vs. Nintendo Switch at Digital Trends

What is the difference between Facebook and Instagram?

Sample lines: “Have you ever wondered what is the difference between Facebook and Instagram? Instagram and Facebook are by far the most popular social media channels used by digital marketers. Not to mention that they’re also the biggest platforms used by internet users worldwide. So, today we’ll look into the differences and similarities between these two platforms to help you figure out which one is the best fit for your business.”

Read the full essay: What is the difference between Facebook and Instagram? at SocialBee

Digital vs. Analog Watches—What’s the Difference?

Sample lines: “In short, digital watches use an LCD or LED screen to display the time. Whereas, an analog watch features three hands to denote the hour, minutes, and seconds. With the advancement in watch technology and research, both analog and digital watches have received significant improvements over the years. Especially in terms of design, endurance, and accompanying features. … At the end of the day, whether you go analog or digital, it’s a personal preference to make based on your style, needs, functions, and budget.”

Read the full essay: Digital vs. Analog Watches—What’s the Difference? at Watch Ranker

AI Art vs. Human Art: A Side-by-Side Analysis

Sample lines: “Art has always been a reflection of human creativity, emotion, and cultural expression. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), a new form of artistic creation has emerged, blurring the lines between what is created by human hands and what is generated by algorithms. … Despite the excitement surrounding AI Art, it also raises complex ethical, legal, and artistic questions that have sparked debates about the definition of art, the role of the artist, and the future of art production. … Regardless of whether AI Art is considered ‘true’ art, it is crucial to embrace and explore the vast possibilities and potential it brings to the table. The transformative influence of AI art on the art world is still unfolding, and only time will reveal its true extent.”

Read the full essay: AI Art vs. Human Art: A Side-by-Side Analysis at Raul Lara

Pop Culture Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Christina aguilera vs. britney spears.

Christina Aguilera vs. Britney Spears- compare and contrast essay example

Sample lines: “Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera was the Coke vs. Pepsi of 1999 — no, really, Christina repped Coke and Britney shilled for Pepsi. The two teen idols released debut albums seven months apart before the turn of the century, with Britney’s becoming a standard-bearer for bubblegum pop and Aguilera’s taking an R&B bent to show off her range. … It’s clear that Spears and Aguilera took extremely divergent paths following their simultaneous breakout successes.”

Read the full essay: Christina Aguilera vs. Britney Spears at The Ringer

Harry Styles vs. Ed Sheeran

Sample lines: “The world heard our fantasies and delivered us two titans simultaneously—we have been blessed with Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles. Our cup runneth over; our bounty is immeasurable. More remarkable still is the fact that both have released albums almost at the same time: Ed’s third, Divide , was released in March and broke the record for one-day Spotify streams, while Harry’s frenziedly anticipated debut solo, called Harry Styles , was released yesterday.”

Read the full essay: Harry Styles versus Ed Sheeran at Belfast Telegraph

The Grinch: Three Versions Compared

Sample lines: “Based on the original story of the same name, this movie takes a completely different direction by choosing to break away from the cartoony form that Seuss had established by filming the movie in a live-action form. Whoville is preparing for Christmas while the Grinch looks down upon their celebrations in disgust. Like the previous film, The Grinch hatches a plan to ruin Christmas for the Who’s. … Like in the original Grinch, he disguises himself as Santa Claus, and makes his dog, Max, into a reindeer. He then takes all of the presents from the children and households. … Cole’s favorite is the 2000 edition, while Alex has only seen the original. Tell us which one is your favorite.”

Read the full essay: The Grinch: Three Versions Compared at Wooster School

Historical and Political Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Malcolm x vs. martin luther king jr.: comparison between two great leaders’ ideologies .

Sample lines: “Although they were fighting for civil rights at the same time, their ideology and way of fighting were completely distinctive. This can be for a plethora of reasons: background, upbringing, the system of thought, and vision. But keep in mind, they devoted their whole life to the same prospect. … Through boycotts and marches, [King] hoped to end racial segregation. He felt that the abolition of segregation would improve the likelihood of integration. Malcolm X, on the other hand, spearheaded a movement for black empowerment.”

Read the full essay: Malcolm X vs. Martin Luther King Jr.: Comparison Between Two Great Leaders’ Ideologies  at Melaninful

Contrast Between Obama and Trump Has Become Clear

Contrast Between Obama and Trump Has Become Clear

Sample lines: “The contrast is even clearer when we look to the future. Trump promises more tax cuts, more military spending, more deficits and deeper cuts in programs for the vulnerable. He plans to nominate a coal lobbyist to head the Environmental Protection Agency. … Obama says America must move forward, and he praises progressive Democrats for advocating Medicare for all. … With Obama and then Trump, Americans have elected two diametrically opposed leaders leading into two very different directions.”

Read the full essay: Contrast Between Obama and Trump Has Become Clear at Chicago Sun-Times

Sports Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Lebron james vs. kobe bryant: a complete comparison.

Sample lines: “LeBron James has achieved so much in his career that he is seen by many as the greatest of all time, or at least the only player worthy of being mentioned in the GOAT conversation next to Michael Jordan. Bridging the gap between Jordan and LeBron though was Kobe Bryant, who often gets left out of comparisons and GOAT conversations. … Should his name be mentioned more though? Can he compare to LeBron or is The King too far past The Black Mamba in historical rankings already?”

Read the full essay: LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant: A Complete Comparison at Sportskeeda

NFL: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning Rivalry Comparison

NFL: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning Rivalry Comparison

Sample lines: “Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were largely considered the best quarterbacks in the NFL for the majority of the time they spent in the league together, with the icons having many head-to-head clashes in the regular season and on the AFC side of the NFL Playoffs. Manning was the leader of the Indianapolis Colts of the AFC South. … Brady spent his career as the QB of the AFC East’s New England Patriots, before taking his talents to Tampa Bay. … The reality is that winning is the most important aspect of any career, and Brady won more head-to-head matchups than Manning did.”

Read the full essay: NFL: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning Rivalry Comparison at Sportskeeda

The Greatest NBA Franchise Ever: Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers?

Sample lines: “The Celtics are universally considered as the greatest franchise in NBA history. But if you take a close look at the numbers, there isn’t really too much separation between them and their arch-rival Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, you can even make a good argument for the Lakers. … In 72 seasons played, the Boston Celtics have won a total of 3,314 games and lost 2,305 or a .590 winning mark. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers have won 3,284 of 5,507 total games played or a slightly better winning record of .596. … But while the Lakers have the better winning percentage, the Celtics have the advantage over them in head-to-head competition.”

Read the full essay: The Greatest NBA Franchise Ever: Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers? at Sport One

Is Soccer Better Than Football?

Sample lines: “Is soccer better than football? Soccer and football lovers have numerous reasons to support their sport of choice. Both keep the players physically fit and help to bring people together for an exciting cause. However, soccer has drawn more numbers globally due to its popularity in more countries.”

Read the full essay: Is Soccer Better Than Football? at Sports Brief

Lifestyle Choices Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Mobile home vs. tiny house: similarities, differences, pros & cons.

Mobile Home vs. Tiny House: Similarities, Differences, Pros & Cons

Sample lines: “Choosing the tiny home lifestyle enables you to spend more time with those you love. The small living space ensures quality bonding time rather than hiding away in a room or behind a computer screen. … You’ll be able to connect closer to nature and find yourself able to travel the country at any given moment. On the other hand, we have the mobile home. … They are built on a chassis with transportation in mind. … They are not built to be moved on a constant basis. … While moving the home again *is* possible, it may cost you several thousand dollars.”

Read the full essay: Mobile Home vs. Tiny House: Similarities, Differences, Pros & Cons at US Mobile Home Pros

Whole Foods vs. Walmart: The Story of Two Grocery Stores

Sample lines: “It is clear that both stores have very different stories and aims when it comes to their customers. Whole Foods looks to provide organic, healthy, exotic, and niche products for an audience with a very particular taste. … Walmart, on the other hand, looks to provide the best deals, every possible product, and every big brand for a broader audience. … Moreover, they look to make buying affordable and accessible, and focus on the capitalist nature of buying.”

Read the full essay: Whole Foods vs. Walmart: The Story of Two Grocery Stores at The Archaeology of Us

Artificial Grass vs. Turf: The Real Differences Revealed

Sample lines: “The key difference between artificial grass and turf is their intended use. Artificial turf is largely intended to be used for sports, so it is shorter and tougher. On the other hand, artificial grass is generally longer, softer and more suited to landscaping purposes. Most homeowners would opt for artificial grass as a replacement for a lawn, for example. Some people actually prefer playing sports on artificial grass, too … artificial grass is often softer and more bouncy, giving it a feel similar to playing on a grassy lawn. … At the end of the day, which one you will choose will depend on your specific household and needs.”

Read the full essay: Artificial Grass vs. Turf: The Real Differences Revealed at Almost Grass

Minimalism vs. Maximalism: Differences, Similarities, and Use Cases

Minimalism vs. Maximalism: Differences, Similarities, and Use Cases- compare and contrast essay example

Sample lines: “Maximalists love shopping, especially finding unique pieces. They see it as a hobby—even a skill—and a way to express their personality. Minimalists don’t like shopping and see it as a waste of time and money. They’d instead use those resources to create memorable experiences. Maximalists desire one-of-a-kind possessions. Minimalists are happy with duplicates—for example, personal uniforms. … Minimalism and maximalism are about being intentional with your life and belongings. It’s about making choices based on what’s important to you.”

Read the full essay: Minimalism vs. Maximalism: Differences, Similarities, and Use Cases at Minimalist Vegan

Vegetarian vs. Meat Eating: Is It Better To Be a Vegetarian?

Sample lines: “You’ve heard buzz over the years that following a vegetarian diet is better for your health, and you’ve probably read a few magazine articles featuring a celeb or two who swore off meat and animal products and ‘magically’ lost weight. So does ditching meat automatically equal weight loss? Will it really help you live longer and be healthier overall? … Vegetarians appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure  and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than meat eaters. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index, lower overall cancer rates and lower risk of chronic disease. But if your vegetarian co-worker is noshing greasy veggie burgers and fries every day for lunch, is he likely to be healthier than you, who always orders the grilled salmon? Definitely not!”

Read the full essay: Vegetarian vs. Meat Eating: Is It Better To Be a Vegetarian? at WebMD

Healthcare Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Similarities and differences between the health systems in australia & usa.

Sample lines: “Australia and the United States are two very different countries. They are far away from each other, have contrasting fauna and flora, differ immensely by population, and have vastly different healthcare systems. The United States has a population of 331 million people, compared to Australia’s population of 25.5 million people.”

Read the full essay: Similarities and Differences Between the Health Systems in Australia & USA at Georgia State University

Universal Healthcare in the United States of America: A Healthy Debate

Universal Healthcare in the United States of America: A Healthy Debate

Sample lines: “Disadvantages of universal healthcare include significant upfront costs and logistical challenges. On the other hand, universal healthcare may lead to a healthier populace, and thus, in the long-term, help to mitigate the economic costs of an unhealthy nation. In particular, substantial health disparities exist in the United States, with low socio-economic status segments of the population subject to decreased access to quality healthcare and increased risk of non-communicable chronic conditions such as obesity and type II diabetes, among other determinants of poor health.”

Read the full essay: Universal Healthcare in the United States of America: A Healthy Debate at National Library of Medicine

Pros and Cons of Physician Aid in Dying

Sample lines: “Physician aid in dying is a controversial subject raising issues central to the role of physicians. … The two most common arguments in favor of legalizing AID are respect for patient autonomy and relief of suffering. A third, related, argument is that AID is a safe medical practice, requiring a health care professional. … Although opponents of AID offer many arguments ranging from pragmatic to philosophical, we focus here on concerns that the expansion of AID might cause additional, unintended harm through suicide contagion, slippery slope, and the deaths of patients suffering from depression.”

Read the full essay: Pros and Cons of Physician Aid in Dying at National Library of Medicine

Animals Compare and Contrast Essay Examples

Compare and contrast paragraph—dogs and cats.

Compare and Contrast Paragraph—Dogs and Cats- compare and contrast essay example

Sample lines: “Researchers have found that dogs have about twice the number of neurons in their cerebral cortexes than what cats have. Specifically, dogs had around 530 million neurons, whereas the domestic cat only had 250 million neurons. Moreover, dogs can be trained to learn and respond to our commands, but although your cat understands your name, and anticipates your every move, he/she may choose to ignore you.”

Read the full essay: Compare and Contrast Paragraph—Dogs and Cats at Proofwriting Guru via YouTube

Giddyup! The Differences Between Horses and Dogs

Sample lines: “Horses are prey animals with a deep herding instinct. They are highly sensitive to their environment, hyper aware, and ready to take flight if needed. Just like dogs, some horses are more confident than others, but just like dogs, all need a confident handler to teach them what to do. Some horses are highly reactive and can be spooked by the smallest things, as are dogs. … Another distinction between horses and dogs … was that while dogs have been domesticated , horses have been  tamed. … Both species have influenced our culture more than any other species on the planet.”

Read the full essay: Giddyup! The Differences Between Horses and Dogs at Positively Victoria Stilwell

Exotic, Domesticated, and Wild Pets

Sample lines: “Although the words ‘exotic’ and ‘wild’ are frequently used interchangeably, many people do not fully understand how these categories differ when it comes to pets. ‘A wild animal is an indigenous, non-domesticated animal, meaning that it is native to the country where you are located,’ Blue-McLendon explained. ‘For Texans, white-tailed deer, pronghorn sheep, raccoons, skunks, and bighorn sheep are wild animals … an exotic animal is one that is wild but is from a different continent than where you live.’ For example, a hedgehog in Texas would be considered an exotic animal, but in the hedgehog’s native country, it would be considered wildlife.”

Read the full essay: Exotic, Domesticated, and Wild Pets at Texas A&M University

Should Zoos Be Banned? Pros & Cons of Zoos

Should Zoos Be Banned? Pros & Cons of Zoos

Sample lines: “The pros and cons of zoos often come from two very different points of view. From a legal standard, animals are often treated as property. That means they have less rights than humans, so a zoo seems like a positive place to maintain a high quality of life. For others, the forced enclosure of any animal feels like an unethical decision. … Zoos provide a protected environment for endangered animals, and also help in raising awareness and funding for wildlife initiatives and research projects. … Zoos are key for research. Being able to observe and study animals is crucial if we want to contribute to help them and repair the ecosystems. … Zoos are a typical form of family entertainment, but associating leisure and fun with the contemplation of animals in captivity can send the wrong signals to our children.”

Read the full essay: Should Zoos Be Banned? Pros & Cons of Zoos at EcoCation

Do you have a favorite compare and contrast essay example? Come share in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, if you liked these compare and contrast essay examples check out intriguing compare and contrast essay topics for kids and teens ..

A good compare and contrast essay example, like the ones here, explores the similarities and differences between two or more subjects.

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cultural transformation essay

Inclusion is Innovation

Stories behind the innovation.

cultural transformation essay

Freedom in self-expression

Emerging from a journey of self-discovery and embracing their nonbinary identity, Caroline Scalley, senior business administrator at Microsoft, embodies resilience. Drawing from their Puerto Rican heritage and love for self-expression, Caroline blends humor with originality and compassion in their role, redefining norms through unique understanding.

cultural transformation essay

“You are enough. You wouldn’t be here if someone here didn’t think you were incredible.”

Raised with values rooted in her Japanese heritage, Megumi Voight found solace in community during deployments while in the military. Now as a managing editor of customer storytelling at Microsoft, she empowers global voices, advocating for authenticity and reminding others of their inherent worth.

cultural transformation essay

Utilizing your superpower

Armed with what he calls “super empathy,” Joao Madureira, principal customer reliability engineer at Microsoft, harnesses inclusivity as his strength. As a gay man and a Latino, he activates allyship in the workplace, ensuring all voices are heard. His actions have not only brought in new talent but also propelled inclusivity forward.

cultural transformation essay

Near and dear

Keepsakes that get passed through generations of a connected family can unlock hidden characteristics of our colleagues. Cynthia Bryant presents us with some of hers that showcase her mom’s creativity and how she encourages herself to fly.

cultural transformation essay

Dismantling the stereotype

Empowered to explore their gender expression fully while working from home, Iain Raleigh, a software engineer at Microsoft, felt supported when it was time to work in an office again. To dismantle the idea of what a software engineer should look like, they advocate for each one of us showing up as our full selves.

cultural transformation essay

“When you know what you’re worth, when you know what you stand for, it changes how you show up.”

Nurtured by the wealth of knowledge found in public libraries, Aleenah Ansari, a product marketing manager at Microsoft, noticed the lack of stories that reflected her experience as a queer Pakistani woman. Determined to bridge this gap, she strives to make technology more accessible through inclusive and authentic storytelling.

cultural transformation essay

“Your uniqueness makes you who you are.” 

Inspired by her early love for fantasy and gaming, Christina Parker champions diversity and representation in the gaming industry, explaining the accuracy of portrayals and the importance of players seeing themselves in the virtual worlds they love. 

cultural transformation essay

Tosh’s journey through time

There are artifacts in our lives that represent how we connect to the world around us. Tosh Hudson shares how journaling, music, and plants, for him, represent a willingness to release, learn, and grow.

cultural transformation essay

Art of cherishing memories

Sometimes our possessions remind us of our favorite places or home. Athena Chang shares the items that take her back to Taiwan, Prague, and New York.

cultural transformation essay

When innovation and passion collide

Jerome Collins discusses the influence of his father’s guidance, his passion for art and music, and his innovative approach to driving positive change and representation in his professional sphere.

cultural transformation essay

“At the end of the day, I think that’s what people want: to be heard.” 

Guided by a gift for listening and a commitment to motherhood, Erin Jagelski shares how she navigated post-maternity challenges and pioneered support networks for parents in the workplace by blending her passion and leadership to foster inclusive environments. 

cultural transformation essay

Melissa Curry’s treasures of heritage and achievement

Our possessions showcase the things that really matter to us. Melissa Curry unveils the artifacts that encapsulate her heritage, achievements, and bonds that shape her. Tell us about the artifacts that weave the fabric of your story. 

cultural transformation essay

I don’t have the option to be shy

Gonçalo Mendes has always yearned for independence. His journey with cerebral palsy led him from relying on others for care to taking care of others.

cultural transformation essay

Embrace your identity, embrace life

Kimberly Marreros Chuco discusses embracing one’s unique identity and learning from challenges, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and accepting mistakes as part of growth, inspired by her experiences moving from an Andean mining town. Featured Artist: Tai Silva

cultural transformation essay

Ashley Witherspoon Innovator’s Inventory and the big plans she’s made

Our personal treasures hold the stories of who we are. Ashley Witherspoon shares the tangible symbols of her values and journey. What mementos narrate your life’s chapters?

cultural transformation essay

This is my sazón

Ivelisse Capellan Heyer is a user experience designer who uses patience and her family to combat her own self-doubt. Featured Artist: Sol Cotti

cultural transformation essay

Nurturing inner peace

When Ethan Alexander started at Microsoft, he prioritized money over his wellbeing. Twelve years later, the senior customer success account manager and D&I storytelling host knows that the only way to truly take care of others is to first take care of yourself. Discover his story of gratitude and growth. Featured Artist: Camila Abdanur

cultural transformation essay

Master of messiness

As a mom and a tech leader, Elaine Chang has learned to embrace the chaos and put her “octopus mind” to work in service of innovation, at work and at home. Featured Artist: Niege Borges

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What leaders look like

Shrivaths Iyengar worried that coworkers would be reluctant to follow a leader who had disabilities. Instead, he discovered that his experiences made him a stronger, more empathetic manager. Featured Artist: Ananya Rao-Middleton

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Experiencing both sides

As a child, Ana Sofia Gonzalez crossed between Juárez, Mexico , and El Paso, Texas, every day to go to school. Learning how to live, communicate, and connect in both cultures has made her a better designer, mentor, and innovator. Featured Artist: Dai Ruiz

Real progress requires real work

Innovation demands intention., innovation thrives on insight., innovation requires introspection., innovation calls for investment..

Cynthia Bryant portrait

“If there’s a family issue … you have enough grace to be able to take care of it.”


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Hard Bodies: Aesthetic, Materiality, and Mediality of Masculinity in American and European Art and Visual Culture, c. 1900 – today

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M., Germany, 9th–11th January 2025

Deadline: 15th July, 2024


The hard body is omnipresent in contemporary culture. It evokes purity, whiteness, and resistance to cracking or contamination. It is the result of disciplined self-optimization (physical training, a strict diet, dietary supplements, and/or surgery) and part of the iconography of white supremacy. Contemporary artists only refer to the hard male body to destroy it – like Candice Lin in her installation A Hard White Body (2017). 

So, why should we revisit the hard male body, with its undeniable hegemonic bias? Why not dismiss it, and look at the fragmented, performative, vulnerable, and transformative male body instead?

This conference argues that the study of the hard male body is crucial to understand constructions of masculinities (straight and queer) in the art and visual culture that have developed in constant exchange between Europe and the US since the 19th century. Klaus Theweleit’s psychoanalytic study of masculinity, Männerphantasien (1977/2019), serves as the conference's primal inspiration: His term "body armor" delineates the function of muscles as a protective barrier against physical threats and any sexual and emotional destabilizations originating from women. 

However, art and visual culture represent the hard male body as an ambiguous figure: neither solely hegemonic or heteronormative nor solely white but part of queer desire and potentially queer itself. Taking the intertwined European and American emergence of fitness and bodybuilding culture as well as representations of muscular men in art and mass media since the late 19th century as a starting point, this conference will reconstruct the ambivalent history of an abiding fascination with the hard male body.

Three main strands include: 

1. The Muscular Male Body: Biopolitics, Cultural Practices, and Discourses

The hard body’s renaissance across Europe and the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as the biopolitics, cultural practices, and discourses that shaped it. 

2. The Medialized Male Body

The muscular male body's medializations from the early 1900s to today. The eroticism, ambivalence, and spectacle of the muscular male body in the imagery representing as well as shaping this ideal or bodies directly.

3. The (Re- or De-)Materialized Male Body

Appropriations of the hard male body in contemporary art, its re- and/or dematerializations and surface transformations.

We will seek contributions that investigate the following questions:

How was the hard male body established as the primary image of modernist masculinity?

What role did art, art education, and mass media play in this process?

How are the muscular male body's appeal and glamor enhanced (or even created) by medialized, circulating images? 

How are Black muscular men eroticized – in media directed at Black and white beholders, respectively? 

How are Asian muscular men represented throughout this period, for example in white homoerotica and pornography?

Why is the hard male body's eroticism overlooked even in queer studies? 

How is the hard male body transformed or seen from a feminist perspective?

What are the materials and techniques used to aestheticize or optimize hard bodies in contemporary art, sports, fitness culture, and homoerotica as well as pornography? 

What are the materials and surfaces that (de-)stabilize or transform muscular male bodies in contemporary art?

What are the visual and/or artistic strategies behind it?

This international in-person conference seeks to connect established scholars and young researchers from America and Europe. We therefore look for early career researchers at the final stages of their PhD or in the postdoc phase to present papers on one of the related topics outlined above. In order to establish equity, all travel and accommodation costs for inner-European travel will be covered. 

Proposals should include the paper’s title (max 15 words), an abstract (max 500 words) and a short CV. Please send your material to: [email protected]

Proposal deadline: July 15th, 2024

Notification date: July 31st, 2024

Organized by Max Böhner (Humboldt-University of Berlin/University of Potsdam), Antje Krause-Wahl (Goethe University); Clara J. Lauffer (Goethe University); Simon Wendt (Goethe University)

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Guest Essay

The Slow Death of a Fabled Media Empire

cultural transformation essay

By William D. Cohan

Mr. Cohan is a founding partner of Puck and a former Wall Street banker.

“60 Minutes.” MTV. “The Daily Show.” The future of some of America’s most recognized cultural icons is unknown as the fate of their owner, the Hollywood and media conglomerate Paramount Global, hangs in the balance.

Paramount may be on the verge of being sold, its prospects uncertain. Maybe the possibility of its demise isn’t worth lamenting. Maybe we should just crown Netflix the new king of Hollywood. Perhaps the sources of our next cultural touchstones are to be found on TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube, and not in the maze-like corridors of the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street or in Paramount Pictures’ 65-acre Melrose Avenue lot.

Because Paramount Global’s ownership structure gives all power to its largest voting shareholder, the company’s future comes down to the whims of just one person: the 70-year-old heiress Shari Redstone. She chose to put Paramount on the block, and she alone is deciding between a buyer whose strategy could very well further weaken, or kill, these cultural icons — and one that at least allows for some hope of a creative revival. She could, of course, reject both options, and try to maintain what’s left of the status quo. Is this how we want our cultural future to be decided?

One of the two suitors for Paramount is a partnership between Sony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global, the alternative asset management behemoth, which wants to break the company up into its component parts and sell many off. That would probably result in new owners for CBS, Showtime, Paramount+, MTV and Comedy Central, risking the already tenuous futures of a set of businesses that would most likely get milked for their cash flow with little capital reinvestment. (Though it’s also possible they could flourish with new ownership.)

The hope in this fragile equation is that the other potential buyer, a partnership between David Ellison and his financial backers, will find a way to revive Paramount’s cultural and financial influence with a new management team and a new strategy. The group, which includes RedBird Capital and KKR, has offered to pay Ms. Redstone a big premium to get voting control of Paramount (leaving other shareholders with only a small fraction of the compensation she’s getting). It would then have Paramount buy Skydance Media, the group’s movie production company, and combine it with the Paramount studio to reap the “synergies.”

That complex deal promises the chance — but hardly the certainty — for a creative and economic revival of Paramount. Last week, the Ellison/RedBird deal won the backing of the special committee of the company’s board, and now it’s up to Ms. Redstone, at her sole discretion, to decide whether to accept it. Then, of course, doing nothing is also an option she could choose.

The relentless deal-making, over decades, that led to the creation of Paramount Global has taken a toll. Once innovative and wildly profitable businesses, such as CBS and MTV, are struggling financially. Morale is low as the sale process drags on. “The inability to come to any decision feeds high anxiety,” one longtime Paramount producer wrote me. Ms. Redstone’s conundrum of whether to sell the company, or not, is only possible due to the decades of wheeling and dealing by her father that made the Redstones one of America’s most powerful media families.

In 1987, Sumner Redstone was a little-known but audacious movie theater operator in Boston when he bought Viacom, the owner of a group of TV and radio stations along with MTV, Nickelodeon and Showtime. Over the ensuing two decades he would go on to gobble up the revered Paramount movie studio (a deal I worked on while I was at Lazard); Blockbuster, the video store giant; and CBS, in one of the biggest media mergers of the 20th century. In 2005, he bought DreamWorks SKG, the Hollywood studio founded by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Regulators never tried to stop Mr. Redstone, presumably because there were always bigger competitors, such as Disney, or G.E., or Comcast, that also were allowed to grow without opposition from Washington.

Hollywood stars flocked to Mr. Redstone’s Beverly Park mansion in Los Angeles and to Dan Tana’s, his favorite restaurant. By granting access to CBS, or Showtime, or Paramount, or MTV or Comedy Central, Mr. Redstone had the power in Hollywood and in Manhattan to make others rich and famous. What made it all work was his attention to detail, his faith in his executives, and his willingness to wield the law (and his Harvard Law degree) as a weapon.

He loved the fight . He once got so angry at two of his direct reports that he ended up spitting out a tooth. “It’s like ‘Apocalypse Now,’” Tom Dooley, Viacom’s chief operating officer at the time, said in 2012. “He loves the smell of napalm in the morning.”

But as he aged, Mr. Redstone made mistakes. He stuck with executives for too long and paid them too generously. His two young girlfriends appeared to control too much of his life. He was late to opportunities, such as streaming, and let others slip away, like the chance to buy Marvel Entertainment. He temporarily barred Tom Cruise from the Paramount lot because he thought Cruise’s devotion to Scientology was hurting business.

As her father’s health deteriorated, Shari Redstone exerted greater and greater control — even though her dad for many years made it known that he didn’t want her involved with the business. After Mr. Redstone died, in 2020, at age 97, she took full legal control of Paramount and set about cleaning house, with new management and new boards of directors, loyal to her.

It hasn’t worked out as Ms. Redstone planned. While she was consolidating her power, Netflix and Apple were innovating and Disney, Comcast and Amazon were getting more formidable. The company she’s putting on the block seems forlorn at best. CBS and the cable channels are in a steep decline amid the rise of streaming, while its own streaming service Paramount+ lost more than $1.6 billion in 2023.

Putting the company up for sale seems only to have hastened Paramount’s decline. In late April, Ms. Redstone tossed out her longtime loyal chief executive, Bob Bakish, in the middle of the sale process, a rare event for sure, and replaced him with three co-chiefs, an even rarer phenomenon. Four board directors quit without explanation. Other potential deals, such as offers to buy Showtime and Paramount+, were passed up either because the prices was deemed too low by management or were never presented by management to the board to be considered. Through it all, Paramount’s market value has dwindled to around $9 billion — down a miserable 90 percent — and the value of the Redstone stake in the media empire has dwindled along with it.

At the annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday, Ms. Redstone praised the performance of her three co-chief executives, who proceeded to lay out their vision for how they would operate Paramount as it is, bolstering at least momentarily the idea she will decide not to sell the company.

What’s been lost in the nearly 40 years of the Redstones’ inveterate deal-making, in addition to enormous shareholder value, are any number of important cultural touchstones that CBS and Paramount once developed and nurtured, like MTV, like CBS News, like all the immense talent that once made Comedy Central iconic.

That happens, of course, as tastes and mores evolve decade after decade. But these losses seem more like self-inflicted wounds that could have been avoided under different stewardship. In sum, the family’s forays into Hollywood as well as into broadcast and cable television have proven to be pretty much an ego-driven failure.

William D. Cohan is a founding partner of Puck and a former Wall Street banker.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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My Story of Domestic Violence Got Redacted, So I Wore It Instead

After parts of comedian and screenwriter Chelsea Devantez’s memoir, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, were blacked out, making a dress out of her old journal entries allowed her to speak.

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When I fell in love for the first time, I was sure we’d be together forever, but forever turned sour in just a few short months. I’d heard that my boyfriend cheated on me, so I angrily confronted him in a park. ​​He looked off to the side and started shuffling backwards, as he weakly offered: Are you just gonna believe everything people tell you? The breakup happened fast. My heartache felt dramatically poetic, but it was actually quite cumbersome: I had to set my backpack down and wiggle my trembling arms free of his denim jacket one by one and hand it over. Then I had to reach behind my neck, pull at the leather knot of his shark tooth necklace, and struggle to loosen it until finally I could pull it over my head and toss it at him. With that, I had turned in all my girlfriend accoutrements.

A few days later he began begging for me back, doing wildly romantic gestures and apologizing in long monologues and handwritten letters. I happily fell back into his arms. Then something terrible would happen in the relationship and we’d break up again. His romantic gestures turned into menacing threats, and this break-up-and-get-back-together cycle continued until eventually he did three drive-by shootings of my house.

Anytime I used to tell someone this story, horror would flash across their face, and I would quickly follow it up with, “Don’t worry, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.”

When we picture domestic violence, we often conjure a muted color palette, shadows looming in the corners, as brutal images tumble about to a vicious soundtrack. But that’s not what it like felt to live it. Abuse occurs in the mundane: It happens as you’re grabbing Skittles from 7-Eleven, and when he’s telling you how beautiful you look that day. Abuse sometimes feels like just another moment when you can’t believe what a shithead your boyfriend is, because your brain learned to ignore the red flags way back when you were even entering into the relationship. During the worst of it, I was not a shattered woman hiding in a closet; I was still wondering if my butt looked okay in my jeans or if I had left my flat iron on.

chelsea devantez wearing the dress she made from her journal entries

I told the story of my relationship and those shootings in my upcoming memoir, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This , which is out on June 4. But when I turned in the manuscript, I was told to delete the story of domestic violence. They said something like, “It’s too dangerous to share.” I was enraged at the decision and I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I called in sick to work as I wrestled with the concept of deleting the entire story I’d worked my whole life to have the stamina to share.

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: (But I'm Going to Anyway)

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: (But I'm Going to Anyway)

I am not someone you would ever expect to have been a victim of domestic violence. I’m a comedian and TV writer for a living, I love a bold lip, and sadly, I used to quote Lean In back when I made other terrible decisions, like wearing peplum tops and Santa-sized belts out to the club. You would never expect me to have been in a violent relationship, but that’s because you never expect anyone you know to be a victim of domestic violence. But statistically, it’s one in four—it’s happening to the woman next to you at the grocery store, or it could be your best friend, your mom, your sister, your girlbossing annoying manager. No one looks or acts like your typical domestic violence victim, because our stories have lived in the shadows, so much so that most people don’t know what to look for, including the ones going through it.

.css-1aear8u:before{margin:0 auto 0.9375rem;width:34px;height:25px;content:'';display:block;background-repeat:no-repeat;}.loaded .css-1aear8u:before{background-image:url(/_assets/design-tokens/elle/static/images/quote.fddce92.svg);} .css-1bvxk2j{font-family:SaolDisplay,SaolDisplay-fallback,SaolDisplay-roboto,SaolDisplay-local,Georgia,Times,serif;font-size:1.625rem;font-weight:normal;line-height:1.2;margin:0rem;margin-bottom:0.3125rem;}@media(max-width: 48rem){.css-1bvxk2j{font-size:2.125rem;line-height:1.1;}}@media(min-width: 40.625rem){.css-1bvxk2j{font-size:2.125rem;line-height:1.2;}}@media(min-width: 64rem){.css-1bvxk2j{font-size:2.25rem;line-height:1.1;}}@media(min-width: 73.75rem){.css-1bvxk2j{font-size:2.375rem;line-height:1.2;}}.css-1bvxk2j b,.css-1bvxk2j strong{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;}.css-1bvxk2j em,.css-1bvxk2j i{font-style:italic;font-family:inherit;}.css-1bvxk2j i,.css-1bvxk2j em{font-style:italic;} They might tell me that I can’t tell my story, but it doesn’t matter, because I already did, years ago in the pages of my journals that now rest on my skirt.”

chelsea in her dress

We relegate these stories to thrillers and Lifetime movies and murder podcasts. But the more intimate partner violence stories are kept in the dark and deleted from books, the harder it is to have examples in culture of how to say something, fight back, or survive. I had wanted to tell the story of my relationship in a way that could help someone inside one recognize themselves. I even wanted to make it funny, just to be able to tell one of these stories in a genre it’s not usually allowed into. (Now, you are probably wondering how in the hell I planned to make my story funny, but what if I told you that he and his friends called themselves “The Big Dawgs” and would bark in harmony along to 2Pac songs. I mean, c’mon, that’s at least kind of funny.)

So I refused to delete it. Instead, I redacted just enough words so that technically they couldn’t tell me no. Instead of telling my story, I used the black bars in my book to tell a new one, perhaps a more important one: the story of how our systems are set up to silence victims in the name of protection. And now, my comedy gal memoir is more blacked out than a bachelor party.

a person in a garment

Before turning in my final draft, I fact checked everything in the book with the dozens of journals I had kept when I was younger. When I began to read through them, I found that a younger me had written pages and pages of details that would put Brett Kavanaugh’s so-called calendars to shame. As my fingers paged through each diary, I realized that despite thinking that “maybe it wasn’t that bad,” it was, in fact, far worse than I had ever remembered. That’s when I decided to do what any traumatized debut author slash comedian might: I scanned 900 pages of my journals via an app on my phone and sent them to the designer Diego Montoya to make into a dress for me to wear on my book tour.

They might tell me that I can’t tell my story, but it doesn’t matter, because I already did, years ago in the pages of my journals that now rest on my skirt.

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