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Comparing Enculturation & Acculturation

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  • 0:00 Cultural Acquisition
  • 0:48 Enculturation
  • 3:04 Acculturation
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do we learn to interact in a culture? In this lesson you will explore two different processes, enculturation and acculturation, and then get to test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Cultural Acquisition

Anybody here ever been accused of being uncultured? You know, like when you show up to a black-tie event in your jeans holding a red plastic cup? Or, when you see modern art and say that any five-year old could do that? There's always someone to comment on how uncultured you are. So how do you become cultured? Well, I can't tell you how to be classy, but we can watch the story of somebody going through the process of cultural acquisition, which is the fancy anthropological way of saying learning culture. You see, we aren't born with culture. We learn it throughout our entire lives. And, how do we learn culture? Well, this is John Study. John Study has no culture whatsoever, but he's about to get some. And, we're going to watch.

Enculturation

The most common way to learn culture is through enculturation, which is the process of learning the rules, guidelines, customs, values, and skills to participate in a society. In other words, the process of learning culture. Now, enculturation is something that every single one of us has gone through; it's how we learn the rules of our own culture. Sociologists call this process socialization because we learn about our culture through interaction with others, but anthropologists prefer the term with the word culture in it because for anthropologists, the answer is always culture. Enculturation begins in infancy, from the minute that we first start teaching children how to behave, act, and think. This is the process of learning your own culture, so it has to begin from when you are a baby, otherwise you already have culture. So, sorry John Study, but for this to work, we need to turn you into a baby. There we go.

So, John Study has zero culture and needs to learn the rules of his own culture. How does enculturation work? How do we make little baby John Study into a functioning member of this society? Well, this is really a two-stage process, with both stages working at the same time throughout a person's life.

The first is informal enculturation, the subconscious internalization of social rules. As a baby, John Study will learn rules about his culture that become immediately internalized, such as family structures and dynamics that are based on who raises him, basic moral rules and guidelines, and language.

The other stage is formal enculturation, which is pretty simply education. John Study is formally taught the rules of society as well as how to function independent of his family. Now, both of these processes are something that John, like all of us, continually perfects across our entire lives. Even if it becomes a completely internalized, subconscious process, we never truly stop learning the rules of our society, learning how to interact, how to behave, how to think. We create and learn our cultures simultaneously, which sounds complicated but is actually pretty cool.

Acculturation

So, John Study now has the skills and knowledge to interact within his own culture. He is a productive member of society. But, sorry John, life's not that simple. We're going to take John Study out of his culture, and drop him somewhere completely new. There you go. Now, John has been enculturated, so he understands the rules of his own culture, but those rules may not be of any use in this new culture. That means that John Study is now going to go through acculturation, the process of learning the skills, values, attitudes, and behaviors to interact in a new culture. John Study already has the ability to learn a culture, which is useful, but that has become such an automatic process that once he suddenly needs to be consciously aware of learning culture, it can be hard. We often call this difficult period of transition where new cultural rules must be learned culture shock.

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