Sequent Occupance, Acculturation & Assimilation: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Cultures occur within physical space, giving us a distinct way to interpret them. In this lesson, we are going to look at cultural interactions with physical space and see how different groups interact with each other.

Humans, Cultures, and Landscapes

Try to describe your culture. It's not always easy to do because cultures are pretty complex. However, in attempting to do this, you might note some popular foods or drinks, holidays or rituals, and rules of social interaction. Those are all valid points, but did you think to describe where your culture occurs? Cultural geography is the study of human cultures as they occur in physical space and in relation to the physical landscape. Every aspect of our cultures occurs within a physical context, and when you stop to think about it, that context can actually be pretty important. If you saw someone dancing in a graveyard or mourning in a dance hall, you might be confused. So, our relationship with our physical surroundings matters, and can determine a lot about how various cultures interact within sometimes-shared spaces.

Sequent Occupance

For our discussion on the relationship between cultures and landscapes, let's head on down to Mexico City. This bustling metropolis is one of the largest cities in the world, nestled in a mountain valley at over 7,000 feet in elevation. Today, Mexico City is populated by urban Mexicans, with a distinct urban, central Mexican culture. But where did this culture come from?

One way to answer this is to look at the history of cultures within that single space, the Valley of Mexico, and to see how cultures have left their mark on this shared landscape over time. We call this concept sequent occupance. The basic theory is that many cultures will leave their mark on a landscape, which will be used by new cultures that replace them or change them. Over time, you build up a complex cultural landscape that has contributed to numerous societies over generations and generations.

In Mexico City, for example, we can start in roughly 200 BCE when the inhabitants of Teotihuacan formed the first major city in the Valley of Mexico. Later, other cities appeared around the lakes of the mountain valley, including the Toltecs, who formed their own empire. By the 14th century, the Nahuatl-speaking Mexica people had arrived, built their city in the swampy part of the valley and formed an alliance with the other cities to create the Aztec Empire. Each of these cultures added something to shared practices that directly reflected the realities of living in this landscape, such as irrigation and floating agriculture on the lakes. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors arrived, burned down many cities and rebuilt them in a fusion of Aztec and Spanish ideas. These cities grew with Spanish colonialism, then attempted to reclaim their Aztec roots after Mexico declared independence. Today, Mexico City has remodeled itself again as a world-class urban center of technology and transportation. It's the same physical space, but each culture has contributed to it over time.

The introduction of new cultures can sometimes be traumatic
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Acculturation and Assimilation

Sequent occupance is best understood through the arrival of new cultures within a single space, but there can be many ways for this to happen. It is actually pretty rare for one society to march in and completely replace the other. More often, new groups arrive and over time blend into the established society, often contributing to the dominant culture.

There are two primary ways through which this can occur. First is assimilation. Assimilation describes the process by which minority groups arrive in an established society, and over time adapt to the attitudes and practices of the dominant culture. Assimilation implies complete belonging within a new society, in which a person or group fully participates in mainstream culture and has often sacrificed their concept of belonging in a previous culture. Many scholars believe that true assimilation occurs within three generations of a new group's arrival. The first generation begins to learn the new society's practices but can never fully abandon their birth culture. The second generation is born into the new culture but still understands the old through their parents. The third generation is entirely devout to the new culture. That's the assumption, but not always an exact rule.

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