Acculturation Processes: Substitution, Syncretism, Addition, Deculturation & Origination

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  • 0:23 The Mosaic of Society
  • 1:19 Substitution
  • 2:24 Syncretism
  • 3:16 Deculturation
  • 4:19 Origination
  • 4:57 Addition
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson will highlight processes of acculturation that create a diverse, complex society. As part of the discussion, we'll consider how the fast-food fish filet sandwich came to popularity due to forces of acculturation.

Why Fish Sandwiches?

Have you ever had a fish filet sandwich at a fast food chain? Love the sandwich or hate it, the process of acculturation is at work in the development of this menu item, which became popular in the 1960s. This lesson explores the different ways that acculturation can occur, ending with what a fast-food fish sandwich has to do with culture anyway!

The Mosaic of Society

Acculturation is the result of the continuous interactions of cultures. Acculturation is happening everywhere, all of the time, in some form. If you visit a friend's house, they probably have a somewhat different set of values, habits, beliefs, and approaches to life. Spend enough time there, and you may notice your own personal culture being affected and your culture affecting your friend's family.

In the past, acculturation was viewed as a process of one culture taking on characteristics of a more dominant culture. Modern theorists have a different take on things. Many see communities as a combination of the various cultures that make up the region. Instead of a melting pot where all cultures become the same, they describe society as a mosaic of different cultures, each with qualities that influence one another over time in complex and sometimes unpredictable ways.


Now we'll look at the different acculturation processes themselves. One process of acculturation is known as substitution. This is a lot like it sounds. It's when a culture substitutes one cultural trait for another, switching one tradition, belief, or practice for another.

For example, Lucy is a child of Italian-American parents, living in the mid-20th century. She's been sent to school with a salami sandwich in her lunchbox, rather than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like some of her classmates. If Lucy asks her parents for a peanut butter sandwich instead of the more traditional Italian salami sandwich, she is substituting one element of her culture for another.

Her Italian culture is largely in place in other ways at home and in social activities, but this one element has shifted. This kind of shift can happen quickly. For the sake of simplicity, the examples in this lesson are basic, but if changes like these happen on a large scale, they are part of a process of acculturation.


Another type of acculturation process is syncretism. It's when cultures blend together various elements of each. Remember this term 'syncretism' by thinking about things syncing up together.

For example, Lucy's parents work in the wine-making industry. As Italian Americans, they work alongside people of other ethnicities who are influencing the development of winemaking in the region. Each cultural tradition brings different practices to the art and science of creating wine. Unlike substitution, syncretism takes time. It won't happen overnight, like Lucy and other students having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their lunchboxes. It also has a bigger impact on the culture. In this example, it could lead to an entirely new way of making wine.


The next process that can occur is deculturation. This refers to when a cultural element is lost. For instance, Lucy's Italian parents may have brought to America the practice of having a family garden, a fig tree, or grapevines. Time passed and younger generations, like Lucy's, lost this practice of gardening these fruits and vegetables in their yard. This part of the culture was lost due to deculturation. You can remember this term by thinking about a cultural trait being destroyed.

Is deculturation always negative? Not necessarily. Efforts to end segregation by race in the culture of the Southern United States, for instance, are considered a positive cultural shift. You can probably think of examples in your own community where there are practices and habits you want to change. Deculturation does not mean that a particular culture ceases to exist, but that some elements of a culture are no longer practiced or reinforced by that community.


Origination is another process. This is when new traits of culture are developed to meet the demands of the environment. For instance, Italian immigrants arriving in the United States in the early 20th century needed work. The work available to those with limited English and education, like Lucy's grandparents, were jobs in the unskilled physical labor force. While in Italy, a person may or may not have performed physical labor, the new environment made this a part of Italian-American culture. You can remember this term by recalling that origination creates original traits for the culture.

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