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Enculturation and Acculturation

Enculturation is both a conscious and an unconscious conditioning process whereby people acquire competences in their own culture (Hoebel). What anthropologists call enculturation, sociologists may call socialization. The conditioning process begins in childhood and involves internalizing symbols, rituals, expectations, rules, and requirements not only related to the society as a whole but also for every specific required speech and behavior within the whole (Hesselgrave).

The enculturation process may include two major modalities:

  1. Informal – This could be called “child training” and precedes and runs concurrently with the formal. It usually is carried out within the context of the family and also among close friends. Jean Piaget famously researched and described the stages of child maturation.
  2. Formal – This facet is commonly termed “education” and takes place in institutions of learning, sacred or secular.

If enculturation is learning appropriate behavior of a person’s own culture, acculturation is learning appropriate behavior of a host culture. Often the acculturation process is hindered by one’s tacit assumptions about the structures and relationships of the former society. Acculturation requires these actions:

  1. Aware – To what degree is a person able to “see” the differences in the host society?
  2. Apprehend – To what degree does one understand similarities and differences?
  3. Accept – Is a person able to receive others favorably and respect Other?
  4. Adapt – Is one able to make adjustments in speech and behavior in order to be effective across cultures? This is common among first-generation immigrants. The most frequent hindrance to adaptation is ethnocentrism where one subtly assumes the superiority of one’s own culture over all others.
  5. Assimilate – In what circumstances is it appropriate for a person to take on the entire way of life in the host society? This is characteristic of many second-generation people. A person who truly adapts to the culture of the host society is considered bi-lingual/cultural where one speaks two or more languages fluently and is “at home” in most or all behaviors in both societies.

Enculturation and acculturation take place over a lifetime. These processes shape who we think we are and what we do. Imagine the problem when a business person enters another culture for the first time and assumes, without even realizing (s)he is making an assumption, that those in the host society are the same culturally. Problems! Often, Global Perspectives Consulting, will have clients say that something went wrong, but they do not really know what it was…other than “those people are strange”.

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This Post Has One Comment
  1. Uniquely insightful article on the more scientific inner workings of sociological culture development across communities. Thanks for providing a professional perspective in an accessible way.

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