Foster (1962) defines acculturation as the process of bringing previously separated and disconnected cultures into contact with one another. This contact must be substantial enough such that ‘‘cultural transmission’’ takes place (Herskovits 1950). Cultural transmission is a key concept that distinguishes acculturation from other terms that are used interchangeably, including assimilation, enculturation, and diffusion. Both Foster and Herskovits highlight the theme of cultural borrowing. The process through which cultural borrowing occurs is of central concern to sociologists and involves between group power differentials, cultural artifacts, and group norms and values.

Acculturation is not the absorption of different cultures as a result of a mere physical contact or superficial exposure. The processes of cultural transmission and cultural borrowing are the result of conscious decision making on the part of an individual or a group that is approaching a culturally distinct group. If no force or coercion is involved, the individual or group must decide whether and to what extent the new culture will be accepted or rejected. There are instances where the new culture will be imposed upon an individual or a group through force or coercion. In such forced circumstances, the individual or group retains the ability to consciously accept or reject certain aspects of the new culture. An example of conscious decision making under forced circumstances is the refusal of blacks to accept their ‘‘inherent inferiority’’ during Jim Crow. This refusal to accept this aspect of the Jim Crow subculture translated to the struggles of blacks for economic and political inclusion in American society. This selective acceptance and rejection of the Jim Crow subculture, within the American culture, illustrates the distinction E. Franklin Frazier (1957) made between ‘‘material acculturation’’ and ‘‘ideational acculturation.’’ Material acculturation involves the conveying of language and other cultural tools whereas ideational acculturation involves the conveying of morals and norms. Individuals and groups can consciously decide to accept the language and cultural tools of a new culture without accepting and internalizing the morals and norms of the new culture.

The process of acculturation is complex and is not a simple matter of the cultural majority forcing its culture upon the cultural minority. The experiences of racial and ethnic minorities and immigrant populations in the United States highlight this complex process of inclusion or exclusion (Myrdal 1944). The ‘‘melting pot’’ is inclusion as a result of a merging of cultures and assimilation. The ‘‘salad bowl,’’ also known as cultural plural ism, is another metaphor to denote inclusion. The cultures within the ‘‘salad bowl’’ do not assimilate but instead maintain their cultural traits and group identities. Both ‘‘melting pot’’ and ‘‘salad bowl’’ are in contrast to cultural exclusion, which fosters segregation by race, ethnicity, and religion. Segregation under cultural exclusion has been rationalized by redefining cultural pluralism. Attempting to include racial, ethnic, and religious segregation under the umbrella of cultural pluralism ignores the antagonism of black–white and native born–immigrant relations. While cultural transmission is reciprocal, it is most salient from white to black and from native born to immigrant. There has been a degree of acculturation in which white Americans have borrowed aspects of the cultural expression of blacks and immigrant populations. These cultural aspects include music, dance, art, dialect, sports, clothing, foods, and religion.

George Spindler (1963) created a typology of individual and group responses to the process of acculturation. This typology is Passive Withdrawal, Reactive, Compensatory, Adaptive, and Culture Revisionist and was designed to assess college student responses to change. Spindler’s (1963) typology can be generalized to individuals and groups beyond the original research design because there are patterns of responses to change and the process of acculturation across contexts. These response pat terns are illustrated in various historical accounts, including Frederick Douglass’s (1845) acculturation experience as a former slave and other blacks’ experiences with acculturation (Andrew 1988; David 1992), as chronicled by Du Bois (1903), Ralph Ellison (1964), and Booker T. Washington (1901). Thomas and Znaniecki’s (1956) study of Polish peasants and studies of ‘‘new ethnics’’ by Santoli (1988), Dublin (1996), and Myers (2005) also highlight individual and group responses to acculturation.

Some individuals and groups respond favor ably and with relative ease to the possibility of acculturation whereas others respond unfavorably and with unease. In the former, the incoming group views its acculturation in a positive light and in the latter the incoming group views its acculturation in a negative light. Therefore, how the individual or group perceives the process of acculturation and how the larger society perceives this process are both significant. If the larger society views the possibility of an incoming group’s acculturation as favorable and with ease, there will be less hostility and discomfort throughout the process. If the acculturation of an incoming group is viewed unfavorably and with unease by the larger society, there will be greater hostility, discomfort, and the process will require more effort on the part of this incoming group. Examples of favorable responses to acculturation include European immigrants such as Poles, Italians, and Germans. The process of acculturation was performed with relative ease and it transitioned into a process of assimilation. In contrast, the process of acculturation for Jewish Americans and blacks has been met with greater hostility and discomfort such that there is a difficult yet enduring process of acculturation and assimilation. Both blacks and Jewish Americans’ efforts to acculturate were resisted by whites. However, this hostility and discomfort is not only on the part of the larger society. Jewish Americans, for example, consciously accepted and rejected aspects of the dominant culture in order to maintain a Jewish identity and distinct religious and cultural practices. Therefore, the processes of acculturation and assimilation are gradual and continual for blacks, Jewish Americans, and other old and new racial and ethnic groups.

Because there are patterns of individual and group responses to acculturation which have unique geographical nation state differences, the political and economic climate of Europe and the European Union is a final illustration of the acculturation process. The acculturation of immigrant populations has particularly been an issue with the Muslim population in France, the Turkish population in Germany, and Caribbean and Asian populations in Eng land. These societies are religiously and ethnically different from the Muslim, Turkish, Caribbean, and Asian populations being introduced into those countries.


  1. Andrew, W. (1988) To Tell a Free Story. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
  2. David, J. (1992) Growing Up Black. Avon Books, New York.
  3. Douglass, F. (1845) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. American Anti-Slavery Society, Boston.
  4. Dublin, T. (Ed.) (1996) Becoming American, Becoming Ethnic. Temple University Press, Philadelphia.
  5. Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903) The Souls of Black Folk. A. C. McClurg, New York.
  6. Ellison, R. (1964) Shadow and Act. Vintage Books, New York.
  7. Foster, G. (1962) Traditional Cultures and the Impact of Technological Change. Harper & Row, New York.
  8. Frazier, E. F. (1957) Race and Cultural Contact in the Modern World. Beacon Press, Boston.
  9. Herskovits, M. (1950) Man and His Works. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  10. Myers, J. (2005) Minority Voices. Allyn & Bacon, Boston.
  11. Myrdal, G. (1944) An American Dilemma. Harper & Row, New York.
  12. Santoli, A. (1988) New Americans. Ballantine Books, New York.
  13. Spindler, G. D. (1963) Education and Culture: Anthropological Approaches. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, New York.
  14. Thomas, W. I. & Znaniecki, F. (1956) The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Dover, New York.
  15. Washington, B. T. (1901) Up From Slavery. Doubleday, Page, & Co., New York.

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