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Cultural pluralism and multiculturalism

The process of adapting to or adopting the practices of a culture different from one's own.

Acculturation is the process of learning about and adapting to a new culture. A new culture may require adjustments in all or some of the aspects of daily living, including language, work, shopping, housing, children's schooling, health care, recreation, and social life. Relocation to a society that is similar to one's own requires less acculturation than moving to a society where cultural norms are unfamiliar. For example, moving to a society where women's roles are different from those of one's home culture can cause feelings of isolation and confusion for the adult women of the family.

Acculturation is different in subtle ways from assimilation: assimilation involves being absorbed into the new culture. A popular metaphor for this process was introduced in 1908 by the playwright Israel Zangwill with his work, The Melting Pot. Acculturation, on the other hand, is the process of learning the practices and customs of a new culture. People can assimilate without being acculturated. The distinctively dressed Hasidim of Brooklyn or the Mormons of Utah are not completely acculturated to contemporary American society, but they are assimilated. Understanding the distinction between acculturation and assimilation is important for public policy and for society's ability to grow and function smoothly.

A homogeneous consumer culture worldwide has changed the nature of acculturation. People all over the globe watch the same news reports on CNN, rent the same movies, watch the same television programs, eat the same pizzas and burgers from fast food franchises, and many of the world's families have made at least one visit to a Disney theme park. Immigrants to a new country may already be very familiar with the customs and lifestyle of their new home.

Cultural pluralism and multiculturalism

American sociologist Horace Kallen argues that it is unrealistic and counterproductive to force new immigrants to abandon their familiar, lifelong cultural attributes when they arrive in the United States. Instead of the concept of the "melting pot," Kallen prescribed what he called "cultural pluralism." Cultural pluralism views U.S. society as a federation rather than a union. Sometimes referred to as multiculturalism, this approach suggests that each group of ethnic Americans has rights, such as representation in government according to their percentage of the total population, and the right to speak and work in their native language. However, English-language culture and social influences continue to dominate, but African American, Hispanic, Jewish, Italian, Asian, and other ethnic influences are certainly apparent.

Further Reading

Gordon, Milton Myron. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Jacobson, Adam R. "Changing With the Times." Hispanic 7, (March 1994): 20+.

Portes, Alejandro and Min Zhou. "Should Immigrants Assimilate?" The Public Interest, (Summer 1994): 18+.

Richey, Marilyn. "Global Families: Surviving an Overseas Move." Management Review 85, (June 1996): 57+.

Salins, Peter D. Assimilation, American Style. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage