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Difference Between Acculturation and Assimilation

Ever since the emergence of mankind, the culture of societies has been changing. Culture never remained static or continuous, but changed depending upon different factors.  The dynamics of culture change can be classified into various categories depending upon the extent or reason of its change. The dynamics of culture change include innovation, diffusion, ethnocide, deculturation, acculturation, assimilation and directed change. This article sheds some light on the differences between acculturation and assimilation.


What is Acculturation?


Acculturation is defined as, “The process of acquiring a ‘second culture’, usually as an effect of sustained and imbalanced contact between two societies” (Eller 280).

Characteristics of Acculturation:

  • There is a difference of power between two societies coming into contact and exchanging culture in case of acculturation. 
  • Acculturation can lead to both coercion and disruption of culture of people depending upon the way two societies come into contact.
  • Acculturation is a group process but is considered individual experience as well. “Acculturation is a group process through their treatment of the group as a single unit with no reference to the individual. Others, though they acknowledge the individual element, still are concerned with the group as the acculturating constituent” (Teske, Nelson 352). 

Examples of Acculturation:

The process of acculturation has been seen in many societies over the course of time as culture change is continuous. One of the examples is, “acculturation of Native American children studying in boarding schools such as Carlisle School” (Eller 282). Another example is observed as the changing of culture of South Asian community in Sub Continent after Colonialism as a result of acculturation. 


What is Assimilation?


Assimilation is defined in Introduction to the Science of Sociology by Park and Burgess as, “a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons and groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups; and, by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life” (Teske, Nelson 358). 

Characteristics of Assimilation:

Some of the characteristics of assimilation are given below:

  • “Assimilation has a dual character is more or less reciprocal in its action-a process of give and take to a greater or less degree” (Teske, Nelson 363).
  • Assimilation is considered as a unidirectional process.
  • Assimilation is not influenced by dominant power structures of the society hence it is a natural process.
  • Assimilation takes place slowly in the society, so the culture is sub consciously internalized.

Example of Assimilation:

One of the common examples of assimilation is the immigration of an individual or a group to a foreign country. 


Similarities between Acculturation and Assimilation:

There are some characteristics common to both acculturation and assimilation stated below:

  1. Both acculturation and assimilation are dynamic processes.
  2. Both can be studies as individual processes as well as group processes.
  3. Direct contact is the condition common to both these phenomena. None of them can take place without getting into direct contact of one society or community with the other one. 


Differences Between Acculturation and Assimilation:

Although both  acculturation and assimilation are the terms used to describe the dynamics of culture and both are sometimes confused to be the same process due to a few similarities. However both differ in certain respect as stated below:

  1. “The distinction is based on the difference between culture and society and, accordingly, acculturation refers mainly to the newcomers’ adoption of the culture {i.e., behavior patterns, values, rules, symbols etc.) of the host society (or rather an overly homogenized and reified conception of it). Assimilation, on the other hand, refers to the newcomers’ move out of formal and informal ethnic associations and other social institutions into the nonethnic equivalents accessible to them in that same host society” (Gans 877).
  1. “Acculturation … definitely is a bidirectional process, that is, it is a two-way, reciprocal relationship” (Teske, Nelson 358). On the other hand, “assimilation implies an essentially unilateral approximation of one culture in the direction of the other” (Teske, Nelson 363).
  1. Acceptance from the outgroup is not a requirement of acculturation while in assimilation it is necessary to be accepted by the out-group.
  1. Unlike acculturation, assimilation requires a positive orientation toward the out-group. Further- more, it requires identification with the out-group (Teske, Nelson 359). 
  1. Assimilation is dependent on acculturation. Assimilation cannot take place without acculturation being in place. But acculturation is independent of assimilation.
  1. Compared to assimilation, acculturation is fast paced process while assimilation is a gradual process.

Acculturation Vs Assimilation


Summary of Acculturation Vs Assimilation:

Both acculturation and assimilation  are the phenomena used in terms of dynamic of culture as its change is inevitable. There are a few characteristics that are in common to both acculturation and assimilation. However, both of them are different phenomena and have different implications in society. Undoubtedly, acculturation and assimilation come into play as a result of coming into contact of more than one cultures. The extent to which each group or individual is changed or has internalized the norms and culture of the other group, the speed of changing culture or internalizing it and the direction of this flow become the distinguishing features of acculturation and assimilation. One of the main features of acculturation that distinguishes it from assimilation is the role of dominant group in changing culture, reshaping the ideologies and lifestyles of individual or group coming into direct contact with it. It is also an important point to note that acculturation is independent of assimilation, but assimilation depends upon acculturation or in other words acculturation can be the pre-requisite of assimilation.


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References :

[0]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Capture_d’écran_2016-01-07_à_12.56.10.png

[1]Image credit: https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Acculturation_curve_and_culture_shock.svg

[2]Eller, Jack David, “Cultural Dynamics: Continuity and Change.” Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives, 2009, Routledge, pp. 267-288.

[3]Gans, Herbert J. “Toward a Reconciliation of ‘Assimilation’ and ‘Pluralism’: The Interplay of Acculturation and Ethnic Retention.” The International Migration Review, vol. 31, no. 4, 1997, pp. 875–892. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2547417. 

[4]Raymond H. C. Teske, Jr., and Bardin H. Nelson. “Acculturation and Assimilation: A Clarification.” American Ethnologist, vol. 1, no. 2, 1974, pp. 351–367. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/643554.

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