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18.1.4: Responses to Culture

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    Another interesting point to consider is how individuals and families respond when they are confronted with a new culture. Acculturation is the term sociologists use to describe the process of adopting or taking on the culture of a new group. Most often, this involves immigrants adopting the dominant culture as their own. This can include speaking the new language, adopting a new set of core values, changing dress and foods, and so forth. The immigrant family or individual usually decide the degree to which acculturation will take place.

    There are multiple models that address acculturation outcomes, but only two will be highlighted here.

    One approach to understanding acculturation is the model proposed by Rambaut & Portes (2001). They identified the following acculturation patterns:

    • Consonant acculturation – Parents and children learn the language and culture of the community in which they live at approximately the same time.
    • Dissonant acculturation – Children learn the new language and the new culture, while parents retain the native language and culture, leading to conflict and decreased parental authority.
    • Selective acculturation – Children learn the dominant culture and language but retain significant elements of the native culture.

    However, these outcomes can certainly be considered too limiting, namely because they only address acculturation outcomes in family settings. Not all immigrants who come to the United States come as families, and many of your students may even be studying here alone or through exchange programs. Therefore, the Berry (1980) model is more widely used in research and practice to think about the different ways immigrants adapt to a new country and culture.

    Diagram showing combinations of Relationship to dominant society and cultural identity
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Relationship to Dominant Society.

    Rejection/encapsulation refers to an individual decision to withdraw from norms of larger society; a cultural identity from the home country is retained, but within terms of a negative relationship to dominant society. For example, a Chinese immigrant that moves into a Chinese neighborhood and continues only speaking Chinese and interacting only with other immigrants in the immediate vicinity could be viewed as assuming the rejection variety of assimilation.

    Deculturation/marginalization is fixed upon individual confusion and anxiety about personal cultural identity and relationships to larger society. This is the most negative outcome possible, where there is not retention of cultural identity and there is not a positive relationship with dominant society.

    Assimilation on its own is similar to the old melting pot idea that new immigrants should give up their personal cultural identities in favor of greater, more dominant societal norms. Immigrants who changed their names upon arriving in America, such as changing the German-sounding “Von Meincke” to the more Anglo “Miller”, would be acting within the assimilation outcome of acculturation. Thus, individual cultural identity is lost, but a positive relationship to the dominant society is established.

    Integration/biculturalism is the most positive outcome, and this type of acculturation results in the retention of cultural identity and a positive relationship to dominant society. Using this model, integration/biculturalism is the best acculturation outcome for immigrants’ psychological wellbeing because of the balance struck between the culture of the home country and that of the new one.

    Keep in mind that each of these outcomes exists within a spectrum; individuals may fall closer to one side or the other within these possibilities. Assimilation is a strong example of this, as Native American schools represent some of the worst examples of assimilation in United States history, and their outcome would certainly be closer to the marginalization side. However, other immigrant groups came to the United States and willingly assimilated, such as changing their name, in order to be perceived as “more American”. Thus, while the Berry model offers a great guide to consider the experiences of adapting to a new culture, remember individuals can and do exist in a variety of places within the model. The This I Believe essays that are in the readings section of this module provide a strong example of two different acculturation experiences. We encourage you to read both of these and consider where they would fall according to this model.