Cultural Assimilation & Extinction: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Globalization &…
  • 0:59 Cultural Assimilation
  • 4:08 Cultural Extinction
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
In this lesson, you'll learn about the interactions between different cultures, and how those interactions can potentially lead to two different ways in which one culture is replaced by another.

Globalization & Cultural Change

It's pretty amazing that today a person can travel across the world within a relatively short period of time when there was once a time when most people didn't even venture more than a few miles from their homes! The development of technology has made it increasingly possible to bring people together and allow them to interact across traditional borders. The process of people interacting and exchanging ideas across traditional borders is called globalization.

While advancements in technology have allowed globalization to occur at a much more rapid pace, it's not really a new concept. Different cultural groups have been interacting with one another ever since humans developed new ways to travel long distances. As different cultural groups interact with one another, there are a wide range of relationships that can develop.

Cultural Assimilation

In this lesson, we will discuss two possible effects of increased cultural interactions: cultural assimilation and cultural extinction.

If you've ever started at a new school or job, you probably realized how important it can be to 'fit in' and satisfy your innate need to belong to something. People at your new school or job may have said or done things that were much different than what you were used to. In order to fit in, people may need to pick up on and/or adhere to such things as local fashion trends and musical tastes, cultural norms and attitudes and/or body language habits and everyday slang. The process of taking on the characteristics of a culture by giving up one's own is called cultural assimilation.

However, it's important to note that for the most part, the process of assimilation is something that's done willingly. One of the most obvious examples of assimilation is the United States' history of absorbing immigrants from different countries. From 1890 to 1920, the United States saw an influx of many immigrants from European and Asian countries. The desire to come to the United States was primarily for economic purposes. Nevertheless, the longer those immigrants stayed in the U.S., the more likely they were to assimilate to its culture.

For example, many Irish immigrants assimilated to the American way of life, including its fashion trends, cultural norms, and everyday slang in the early 20th century, though they did keep many of their own traditions as well.

Sociologists often measure the degree to which immigrants assimilate into a new culture in terms of four areas of interaction:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Spatial concentration
  • Language assimilation
  • Intermarriage

Socioeconomic status is the level to which immigrants can move up the social ladder and earn a suitable living for themselves. Unfortunately, non-white/non-European immigrants often faced racial and ethnic discrimination, which makes it harder for them to establish a healthy socioeconomic status.

Spatial concentration is the degree in which similar cultures start to spread out and not live as clumped together. Major U.S. cities are locations that often have pockets of different ethnic groups living close to one another.

For example, there may be a Latino pocket of immigrants in one neighborhood of a city and an Asian pocket of immigrants living in another. This is often practical for immigrants because it gives them opportunities to assimilate more slowly by giving them more time to learn the larger culture and language. It also allows them to keep a bit of their own culture.

Language assimilation involves learning the local language or dialect and using it to communicate on a daily basis. It can be one of the hardest barriers for immigrants or a minority culture to overcome, as learning a new language can be hard and not doing so can limit employment and education opportunities, which can also effect socioeconomic status.

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