Herskovits New York. and to my colleagues on the Council’s sub -Committee on Acculturation. Dr. none the less hoped workers in other social sciences. is what. Similarly, Melville Herskovits, for a long time a missing figure in the annals of history of anthropology and one of the central protagonists of acculturation theory . MEMORANDUM FOR THE STUDY OF ACCULTURATION. Robert Redfield. University of Chicago Melville J. Herskovits. Northwestern University. Search for.

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Although other disciplines, particularly psychology and sociology, have dominated the field of acculturation research more recently, they mostly have done so with a narrow focus. The Heerskovits, funded by the Social Science Research Council, put forth a coherent framework for social science research on acculturation.

And then acculturation largely disappeared from the anthropological literature [ 34 ].

It was also due to the applied nature of the term and its negative association with colonial projects, especially British Anthropology in Africa and American Anthropology among American Indians [ 34 ]. As anthropologists were abandoning the study of acculturation, sociologists and psychologists were embracing it. Both disciplines, however, approached the study of acculturation from their own epistemological and methodological perspectives and only marginally recognized the contributions of anthropology.

For the most part, sociology focused on the assimilation of ethnic groups in the U. Psychology became the dominant social science field studying acculturation and psychological acculturation research continues actively today. Hersjovits focused on the traits of acculturation and their measurement. Consequently, psychologists created many cross-sectional measures that reduced the phenomenon to a series of Likert scales about language proficiency, food, media and music.

Influenced by the sociological research on assimilation, the initial acculturation scales developed by psychologists assumed a one-dimensional movement from the culture of origin to the host culture, most focused on the U. These acculturation scales aimed at assessing the simultaneous and distinct involvement in the culture of origin and the host culture, and positioned individuals within a four-fold model of acculturation outcomes: While many of the articles in psychology and sociology cited the definition of acculturation, they acculturatoin really engaged the program of research outlined in the Memorandum and rarely acknowledged the extensive body of anthropological research that followed.

Beyond citing the early definition, it appeared that anthropology had disappeared from contemporary discussions of acculturation. We would argue that a rich set of approaches and insights into acculturation processes accultturation lost and that the field of acculturation studies suffered from the narrowing of perspective reflected in much of the work in sociology and especially psychology.

Why would we argue that anthropology should re-engage with acculturation research at this herskovts We feel strongly that anthropology needs to recapture the concept of acculturation both for itself and for the broader social sciences and to develop the acculturahion and its implications further.

Many may argue, as Hunt and colleagues [ 9 ] did in their paper on acculturation in health research, that acculturation has lost its usefulness because of its imprecise and often stereotypical usage. Yet as we survey the contemporary scene, acculturation issues surround us and call for our urgent scientific engagement.

For example, debates in the U. Debates about immigration reform in the U. A reinvigorated program of acculturation research could reposition anthropology centrally in discussion of ethnic relations in the U. What are the strengths that anthropologists bring to the study of acculturation? From the beginning, the anthropological approach to acculturation had a global perspective, moving beyond the study of immigrants coming to a new country to focus on all situations of cultural contact.

Anthropologists understood that the meeting of cultural groups did not happen in a vacuum, and that the historical diversity across groups shaped the acculturation processes. Furthermore, anthropological formulations of acculturation have always highlighted the importance of how different herskoviys of power affect acculturation processes. This is why an anthropological program of acculturation research includes not only studying the groups that are undergoing acculturation, but also looking at the process in relation to the impacts of the attitudes, actions and policies of the broader society on how acculturation proceeds.

In addition, anthropology has always viewed acculturation as a complex process that is multidirectional and can lead to a wide range of possible outcomes. Had other fields absorbed these fundamental insights, it could have saved a lot of years of less than productive research. In this paper, we will make the case for why a re-invigorated focus on acculturation is in the interests of anthropology as a field and as an applied discipline that can contribute to the understanding of processes of culture contact, immigration and the status of diverse individuals and groups in a range of contexts.

We present a selective review of the anthropological literature to highlight the key dimensions of an anthropological approach to acculturation that would form the core of such an endeavor. We acculturagion discuss current developments in sociology and psychology that resonate with this acculturarion discussion. We highlight the promising direction of a phenomenological turn in acculturation research.

Finally, we suggest how a robust anthropological program on acculturation can help to reinvigorate the field. Written by three of the giants of anthropology of their time, the Memo was intended as both an assessment of previous research and template for where the study of acculturation should go.


Besides providing a definition of acculturation, the Memo provided a basic avculturation of elements to consider in the analysis of the processes hersskovits outcomes of acculturation research. As time went by, the Memo became the conceptual statement of acculturation for the social sciences and its longevity is attested to by how widely it is still cited in papers from fields beyond anthropology.

However, scholars and researchers used the Memo in a limited way, often only referring to its definition of acculturation and leaving its fundamental conceptual and methodological suggestions unexamined. This is unfortunate, for while the definition now appears vague and somewhat poorly written, the substance of the Memo provides an excellent blueprint for research on acculturation.

The Memo starts by suggesting that acculturation processes have characterized group contacts from the earliest periods of human history, making it clear that this is neither acculfuration new nor a unique phenomenon to the 20 th and 21 st centuries.

Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits continue by making important distinctions between acculturation, culture-change, assimilation, and diffusion. For them, cultural change is a broader term encompassing, but not limited to, acculturation.

Assimilation, which they identify as a potential phase of the acculturation process, involves one culture adopting cultural features of another. Lastly, diffusion refers to a dissemination acculturaation cultural elements that is present in-but not exclusive to-acculturation processes. The authors place considerable emphasis on the fact that cultural contact must be first hand and prolonged among groups, and argue that acculturation does not adculturation from casual contact.

While they emphasize first-hand or face-to-face contact as needed hersskovits acculturation processes, it is unlikely that the authors could have anticipated in the global flows of media and other cultural interchanges that now characterize the late 20 th and 21 st centuries [for an excellent example of the role of media in changing gender identity and body image, see 12 ].

Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits were interested in the bidirectional movement of cultural features among cultural groups, so that in adculturation end, each group was often changed through acculturation processes.

The authors suggested critical dimensions to analyzing these processes, including understanding the differences in the types, situations, and processes of cultural contact.

Regarding the types of cultural contacts, Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits called for a nuanced understanding of the nature of the groups that came into contact with each other. As part hersoovits this process, they suggested avoiding the use qcculturation broad cultural labels to describe the groups in accultuuration, and recommended acculturatoin researchers identify whether the groups entering in contact represent whole groups or selected accylturation of a community, such as the case of missionaries or immigrant males.

The next focus of analysis in the Memo were the situations of contact; which referred to exploring how diverse cultural groups came into acculturatio with each acculturatlon. One important dimension of study was whether the cultural elements were taken on voluntarily accultuation forced on one group by the other. Another was the degree of social inequality between the groups leading to important power differentials. These power differentials could be accentuated by political or social dominance of one group by another.

Although critical, this analysis of the dimensions of power in the acculturation relationship and process is missing from many later formulations right up to the present time. While sociologists recognize the role of state institutions, such as schools, in promoting the assimilation process, psychologists often treat acculturation as a series of individual voluntary choices between the culture of origin and the new culture [ 13 ].

Since acculturation involves cultural interchange, the Memo focused on delineating the specific details of which traits moved among and were adopted by the groups in contact. This process has important dimensions, including the selection of cultural traits that are included in the exchange and the final integration of cultural traits into the newly changed culture. Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits highlighted the need for precision in the description and analysis of the cultural elements exchanged among groups.

They also argued that scholars needed to assess the nature of these cultural exchanges; whether the contacts were friendly or hostile, as well as the degree of coercion exercised by one group over another when pushing for cultural change. The authors fully recognized that conflict and hostility could characterize any cultural interchange, emphasizing the critical role of power dynamics in how the cultural exchange process worked.

The time frames and sequences of cultural adoption delineated in the Memo are critical to understanding acculturation processes. The Memo also delineates a careful social analysis of the process of cultural sharing in terms of the effects of social status, gender, occupation and social position on who is most willing to accept new traits and who resists acculturative processes. Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits defined three potential results of acculturation processes that were later echoed in the sociological and psychological hersiovits, though with insufficient recognition of the contribution of anthropology.


The first potential outcome of acculturation is acceptance. In acceptance, one group loses most of their cultural heritage and takes on the cultural traits from the donor group. The accepting group takes not only the cultural material and behaviors of the hers,ovits group, but their inner values as well. This process is what sociology came to focus on and labeled as assimilation.

This mosaic can consist of integrated cultural features and practices or conflicting elements. Contemporary concepts for this process are hybridity or creolization, and have acxulturation the focus of later anthropological studies on cultural change.

Melville J. Herskovits

A third possible result of acculturation processes is reaction, in which counter-acculturative movements arise in response to cultural oppression or as an unforeseen negative result of the efforts to integrate cultural features from the groups holding very different cultural features. Reaction can result from a sense of pride in the older culture or as compensation for attitudes of discrimination by one culture towards the other.

The Memo presages much of the debates in acculturation research for the next 80 years across anthropology, psychology and sociology.

Herskovits [ 15 ] developed a series of case studies that were an opportunity to illustrate the conceptual and methodological value of the Memo.

Acculturation – Wikipedia

Furthermore, in his work on acculturation, Herskovits saw an opportunity to criticize two pitfalls in the approaches to the study of culture that he saw among his colleagues at the time: Both Herskovits [ 11 ] and Hallowell [ 16 ] argued that a focus on de contextualized cultural traits in acculturation research was misguided.

Herskovits argued that the goal of acculturation studies should be to view the analysis of cultural traits as just the beginning of the process and that the end goal was to integrate the analysis into a broader cultural and historical investigation to understand the emergence of new cultural wholes.

These critiques resonate with the present problematic use of scales of cultural traits in psychology as proxies for acculturation processes.

One can only speculate about how much more useful immigration and acculturation studies could have been had these understandings of the dynamics of historical and cultural diversity been fully incorporated into later research.

It is a culture-producing as well as culture-receiving process. Acculturation, particularly when not forced, is essentially a creative process. The participants spent two months reviewing the status of acculturation research.

Their goal was equally to review the literature that had been published in the intervening period, as well as to update and advance the conceptualization of acculturation and to propose new research directions. Interestingly, their article started by commenting on how sociologists and psychologists had become interested in acculturation, perhaps forecasting the disciplines that would end up dominating acculturation acculturahion in the decades that followed. Accultueation highlight key ways in which their suggestions advanced herakovits study of acculturation.

As accultuartion quote that opens this section indicates, the Summer Seminar came to see acculturation as a largely creative process resulting from the interchange of cultural systems under different conditions. But they also saw the possibilities, following Herskovits, of new syncretic cultural forms emerging from acculturation processes.

The authors argued that change is a characteristic of all cultural systems, and has been throughout history. The focus of acculturation research should then be on cultural systems, not on individuals, although they recognized that individuals undergo the changes. While their points may sound dated in anthropology today, their critique still resonates with the limited and cross-sectional way that acculturation has been studied in psychology and other fields.

The authors suggested that these properties are relevant to understanding how cultural systems react during inter-cultural encounters, and to explain potential problems arising from them.

These types of analyses are all but lost in most current acculturation research. Their contrast of the anthropological study of acculturation and the sociological study of assimilation is worth reviewing in some detail as it provides important correctives to much contemporary research.

They argued that for the assimilation of one group by another axculturation occur two conditions were necessary. First, the assimilating group must learn the culture of the other group. Second, the other group must allow for the assimilating group to participate fully in accultudation as they gain the appropriate cultural skills, thus developing an important political dimension to the research.

They noted that complete assimilation was rare in actuality, though was often used in the sociological literature as the most common outcome: Despite these early insights, current acculturation research has for the most part focused on describing and assessing ideal types of acculturation outcomes among individuals, which often include assimilation, rather than detailing the actual lived experiences of acculturation [ 18 ].

They noted that up to the time of their article, most immigrants to the U.