A critical examination of acculturation theories The concept of acculturation, conceived in the fields of anthropology and sociology early in the 20th century (see Park Burgess, 1921; Redfield, Linton Herskovits, 1936), has been used to explain dynamics involved when people from diverse cultural backgrounds come into continuous contact with one another.
Throughout the years, theories of acculturation have evolved from the unidirectional school of thought with an emphasis on assimilation to bidimensional and interactive perspectives which posit various acculturative outcomes (see Berry, 1980; Castro, 2003; Chun, Organista Marin, 2003; Gordon, 1964). Acculturation theories could potentially offer insights into multifaceted and often versatile interactions between immigrants and the dominant culture. The processes of acculturation are, however, complex and have often been dealt with in the literature in confusing and inconsistent ways (Berry Sam, 1997). The interchangeable use of the terms assimilation and acculturation in many acculturation theories also points to the persistent melting pot discourse. Furthermore, many acculturation theorists have not explicitly reflected upon their ontological and epistemological orientations and biographies, and how these impact their work. These contexts call for the use of an anti oppressive and social justice lens to critically examine the prominent acculturation theories and their usefulness to understanding of interactions between immigrants and the dominant culture. The anti oppressive and social justice perspective has served as a critical lens for feminists, critical race theorists, queer theorists, and proponents of the rights of persons with disabilities, among others, to examine social structures that favor certain groups in society and oppress others along social divisions of class, race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and so forth. Philosophically, proponents of the anti oppressive and social justice view position themselves in the transformative paradigm (Mertens, 2004), also known as the structuralist or socialist collectivist paradigm in social work literature (see Payne, 1997; Poulter, 2005). They reject the notion of consensus in the nature of society, and attempt to deconstruct apparently democratic notions of and individualized power as convenient illusions which mask a more complex reality in which some are more able than others to exert influence (Tew, 2006). Instead, they see society as changing and evolving not through cooperative endeavour, but through conflicts of interest, power and resources (Howe, 1987). According to the anti oppressive and social justice perspective, complex, multifaceted oppressive relations at the personal, institutional, cultural, local, national, and global levels permeate all physical, psychological, cultural, economic, political and spiritual domains of humanity (see Dominelli, 2002). Oppressive relations divide people into dominant and subordinate groups along social divisions. It also exerts, reinforces and defends its status quo through various oppressive mechanisms, such as normalization of dominant values and priorities, curtailing activities of subordinate groups with social control systems, attacks on formation and reformation of identity, aimed at dehumanizing people and ascribing to them a subordinate status, creating myths of superiority and inferiority, and cultural alienation and annihilation (Dominelli, 2002; Freeman, 2006; Mullaly, 2002). With respect to social justice, the anti oppressive perspective is critical of conventional notions of distributive/redistributive social justice, which focus solely on the distribution and redistribution of income and other resources, often defined in terms of some kind of social minimum (Mullaly, 2002). Rather, it advocates for procedural justice with greater emphases upon social structures, processes and practices (see Duetsch, 2006). As a profession, social work has articulated its commitment to social justice and human rights (see Abramovitz, 1998; CASW, 2005; NASW, 1999). It is, thus, necessary to put a spotlight on the theorists ontological and epistemological orientations and histories before delving into the theories. Ontologically, many influential acculturation theorists, including Milton Gordon and John Berry (see Gordon, 1964; Berry Sam, 1997), have firmly planted their philosophical roots in realism, which posits an objective, knowable and universal reality (Williams Arrigo, 2006). Berry and Sam (1997), for example, insist that although there are substantial variations in the life circumstances of the cultural groups that experience acculturation, the psychological processes that operate during acculturation are essentially the same for all the groups. They go on to state explicitly that adopt a universalist perspective on acculturation (Berry Sam, 1997, p.296, italics in original). Such an empirical, universalist stance on acculturation has been responsible for a significant body of theoretical work that denies historically, politically and socially situated realities facing immigrants and fails to explain varying experiences in immigrants lives. The field of acculturation has been dominated by white males of European descent, who often do not speak immigrant languages (Gans, 1997). Yet, these scholars do not readily discuss their limitations with respect to their understanding of languages, cultural nuances and histories. They seldom offer a critical account of the effect of their own biographies, worldviews and ideologies on their work with people of diverse cultures and on their own theoretical development. Further, they often do not articulate their awareness of the social, political and cultural contexts in which they are living, and how these impact their work. Consequently, their analyses of acculturation have been ahistorical, gender neutral, and apolitical. Most ironically, their views on culture have been rather monolithic, overlooking diversity within cultural groups. In summary, the existing body of knowledge related to acculturation theories has been bounded by the prominent theorists relatively uniform ontological and epistemological orientations and histories. It is important to keep these limitations in mind as we proceed with a critical examination of the prominent acculturation schools of thought, namely unidirectional, bidimensional and interactive acculturation. In the unidirectional tradition, acculturation is synonymous with assimilation, or absorption of subordinate groups into the dominant culture. Early in the 20th century, Robert Park drew upon the hallmark ecological framework of the Chicago school of sociology to describe the process through which ethno racial groups progressively and irreversibly experience contact, competition, accommodation and assimilation (Park, 1950, p.138). Building upon his mentor work, Gordon (1964, 1978) proposed an assimilation model that describes the gradual process of absorption of immigrants and members of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture at the individual and group levels. Gordon classified assimilation into seven types and their sub processes: (1) cultural assimilation and acculturation (change of cultural patterns to those of dominant culture); (2) structural assimilation (large scale entrance into institutions of dominant culture); (3) marital assimilation or amalgamation (large scale intermarriage); (4) identificational assimilation (development of sense of peoplehood based exclusively on the dominant culture); (5) attitude receptional assimilation (absence of prejudice); (6) behavoural receptional assimilation (absence of discrimination); and (7) civic assimilation (absence of value and power conflicts). According to Gordon theory, cultural assimilation and acculturation is the first step of the absorption process that would take place and that would continue indefinitely even when no other type of assimilation occurred (Gordon, 1964). Gordon vision for intergroup harmony, however, rests in the centrality of structural assimilation. He states, structural assimilation has occurred, either simultaneously with or subsequent to acculturation, all of the other types of assimilation will naturally follow (Gordon, 1964, p.80 81, italics in original). Gordon rationalized that structural assimilation would facilitate opportunities for interethnic relationships, which in turn provide opportunities for interethnic marriages. Marital assimilation then would result in the loss of ethnic identity of minority groups, promote stronger ties with the receiving society, and over time reduce prejudice and discrimination. Gordon made it clear that the culture, in the American context, that represents the direction and eventual outcome of assimilation is the cultural patterns of, largely, white Protestant, Anglo Saxon origins (Gordon, 1964, p.72). Acculturation, in his view, would require the extinction of any form of ethnic identity in favor of an exclusively national identity. Subsequent efforts, notably by Gans (1973) and Sandberg (1973), addressed Gordon somewhat price of ray bans static formulation of assimilation with their explicit elaboration of the notion of assimilation. Again, immigrants and members of ethnic minorities would be involved in a sequence of intergenerational steps, progressively stepping away from ethnic zero and moving toward assimilation (Alba Nee, 1997). Portes Zhou (1995), conscious of the importance of socioeconomic factors in immigrant adaptation, challenged the notion of homogeneous acculturation, and offered a segmented assimilation theory. They outline several distinct forms of adaptation, including: (1) acculturation and integration into the white middle class, (2) assimilation into the underclass, and (3) preservation of ethnic cultural traditions and close ethnic ties through social networks in the community. From the anti oppressive and social justice perspective, the unidirectional acculturation school of thought is pervasively and devastatingly oppressive. Its assimilation framework, both as a social process and an ideology, mirrors the deliberate colonization of the so called World nations and cultures by European imperialism over the course of hundreds of years. It involves the sociopsychology of superiority and domination of Eurocentric ways of being, the assignment of inferiority and otherness to non European people, and the gravitation toward expansion, exploitation and subjugation. The prevalent assertion among the unidirectional acculturation theorists that the ultimate aim for acculturation of immigrants is their assimilation into the dominant culture, involving their eradication of any form of ethnic identity in favor of an exclusively national identity (Gordon, 1964), is parallel to the final act of appropriation in the chronology of imperialism (see Smith, 1999). Theorists of the unidirectional school of thought gravitate toward an existentialist functionalist orientation, putting a strong emphasis on social equilibrium, stability, and free will. They have not adequately and justly examined the structure of the dominant receiving society and its role in the social construction of socioeconomic inequities facing immigrants. Specifically, they fail to position acculturation in the larger social, political and economic contexts of intergroup relationships and interactions, to question the role of power and domination in the marginalization of immigrants in the assimilation process, and to understand the historical influence of colonization and imperialism in modern day immigration. Even some progressive segmented assimilation scholars, such as Portes Zhou (1995), have only discussed the issues related to social class in deterministic, consensual terms. Unidirectional theories, then, view acculturation as a one way, psychological process relevant only to immigrants in their journey toward cultural shedding, behavioural shifting and eventual full absorption into the dominant culture. Embedded in this view is the inflated notion of free will exercised by immigrants, and undeclared structural determinism with respect to the dominant culture. Psychosocial and economic struggles of certain groups of immigrants are, thus, viewed as their failure to shed their cultural inferiority and to acquire the aspired to Eurocentric, middle class norms and standards. With a few exceptions (see Portes Zhou, 1995), the unidirectional acculturation school of thought perpetuates the pervasive myth of equal opportunities. Immigrants are assumed to be able to achieve a good life, similar to that of the dominant culture, once they shed their cultural identity, norms and practices and achieve full assimilation. This myth serves two purposes. First, it reinforces the myth of fairness in an unfair society in order to justify the status of the dominant culture. Second, it masks the fact that social position and resources will give some people preferred access to these so called (Mullaly, 2002). The myth of opportunity, therefore, helps to put blame on immigrants who fail to achieve Eurocentric, middle class life patterns. Those who experience socioeconomic hardship are seen as people of inferior, inassimilable cultural groups who fail to take advantage of the equal opportunities available to all citizens. The myth of equal opportunities, of course, has been proven untrue. It has been well documented that immigrants do not have equal access to opportunities in various aspects of their lives, including education (Ngo, 2007; Watt Roessingh, 2001) and employment (Statistics Canada, 2001), and that second and third generation children of immigrants have experienced differential rates of poverty and social alienation (Portes Zhou, 1995; Reitz Banerjee, 2007). If there were such a thing as equal opportunity for immigrants, it would be the equal opportunity of becoming unequal. Finally, the monolithic view of culture, inherent in the unidirectional acculturation school of thought, refuses to examine the diversity within cultural groups in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation, ability and so forth. It further attacks the very identity formation and reformation of immigrants. By presenting Eurocentric middle class cultural patterns as the goal, the monolithic view has reinforced inferiority and subjugation of non European immigrants by the dominant culture. Unidirectional acculturation theories ignore the devastating impact of the extinction of ethnic cultural identity in the process of assimilation on the wellbeing of immigrants, and its potential role in creating bleak socioeconomic realities for some immigrants. Unfortunately, the oppressive intent behind the unidirectional school of thought has often escaped scrutiny in the existing literature. Many scholars, particularly those who focus on measurement of acculturation of immigrants, have uncritically incorporated the established unidirectional acculturation theories into their research efforts. They have contributed to the imperialistic discursive field of knowledge that pathologizes the complex and often unjust experience facing immigrants (see Cuellar, Harris Jasso, 1980; Padilla, 1980; Szapocznik, J. Scopetta, Kurtines, Aranalde, 1978; Wong, 1999). Criticism of unidirectional acculturation theories led to the development of the bidimensional acculturation school of thought. Prominent, and perhaps most influential, in this school of thought is John ray ban rb4151 Berry, a Canadian scholar of cross cultural psychology. Berry (1974, 1980) proposed a quadric modal acculturation model outlining acculturation strategies that individuals and groups use in their intergroup encounters. Central to this model is the concept that there are two independent dimensions underlying the process of acculturation of immigrants, namely maintenance of heritage, culture and identity, and involvement with or identification with aspects of their societies of settlement (Berry, 1980). Projected orthogonally, an acculturation space is created with four rayband glasses sectors within which individuals may express how they are seeking to acculturate: assimilation, separation, marginalization and integration (see figure 1). According to this model, assimilation occurs when there is little interest in cultural maintenance combined with a preference for interacting with the larger society. Separation is the way when cultural maintenance is sought while avoiding involvement with others. Marginalization exists when neither cultural maintenance nor interaction with others is sought. Finally, integration is present when both cultural maintenance and involvement with the larger society is sought. Other scholars have also proposed similar bidimensional acculturation models (see Phinney, 1990; Bourhis, Moise, Perrault Senecal, 1997). Figure 1a: Quadric modal acculturation model (Berry, 1980; 1984) Like its unidirectional acculturation predecessor, bidimensional acculturation theory gravitates toward the functionalist perspective. In a recent publication, Berry, Phinney, Sam Vedder (2006) stated, we seek to avoid the extra baggage that often accompanies terms such as mainstream, majority, dominant, minority, non dominant and host society (p.11). This is as much a declaration of their apolitical, ahistorical and overall functionalist stance in viewing intergroup relations as a statement about their choice of terminology. Without a willingness to engage in critical examination of domination and institutionalized oppression (legitimizing the dominant group power through established social structures in all social, political, economic and cultural domains), bidimensional acculturation theorists focus solely on how immigrants, in a one way process, acculturate themselves into the dominant culture. Even though the bidimensional school of thought offers various acculturation outcomes, its notion of acculturation, with a strong focus on changes of identity, life patterns and adaptation of immigrants, carries remnants of the assimilation school of thought. Without being grounded in social justice, bidimensional acculturation theories have faced some serious conceptual limitations. At issue are the two foundational dimensions, namely maintenance of cultural identity and characteristics and relationships with the dominant culture. In the context of intergroup relations, identity is a site of struggle that involves ongoing negotiation, creation, deconstruction and re creation (Dominelli, 2002). Depending on their dominant subordinate experiences and subsequent effects, struggles and resilience, immigrants may view their cultural identities differently at various points in life, and at times even experience a false sense of identity, as in the case of internalized oppression. race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and so forth) among immigrants. Similar dynamics also challenge the construction of the second dimension of immigrants relationship with the dominant culture in the bidimensional framework. A sole focus on immigrants perception of their relationships raybans glasses to the dominant culture as individuals possessing free will undermines the dominant subordinate interactive processes that involve exclusion, negotiation, acceptance, accommodation, and so forth, and have varying impacts on immigrants relationships with the dominant culture. Without a deeper understanding of social justice involved in formation and reformation of multiple identities of immigrants and their interactions with the dominant culture, the bidimensional acculturation theories at best cannot provide a holistic explanation of inequitable socioeconomic realities facing some immigrants, and at worst pathologize a marginalized population.
Finally, the language attached to various acculturation modes requires analysis. In the consensual perspective, the bidimensional acculturation theories assume horizontal hierarchy in power relations among groups. This unexamined and biased assumption is in direct co.
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