Cultural assimilation occurs when a minority group leaves their traditional culture behind to take on the customs, traditions, language, and culture of the dominant culture.
The minority group assimilates into the dominant society to such a degree that it is impossible to distinguish them from the dominant group.
Cultural assimilation is most commonly seen when:
- Immigration: Immigrants move to a new society and leave their old culture, beliefs, and practices behind.
- Colonization: During colonization, a process of cultural imperialism often occurs. During this process, the colonizers often force or coerce local populations into rejecting their culture and embracing the dominant culture.
- Globalization: Many postcolonial theorists are also very concerned with the spread of American and European values not through colonization but through cultural hegemony. American values are spread as a result of American dominance in cultural, media, and economic spheres. As a result, younger generations often reject their local culture and try to assimilate into the American-dominated global culture.
Cultural Assimilation Definition (Sociology)
In sociology, assimilation refers to the process whereby individuals or groups with different ethnic or cultural heritage are absorbed into the dominant culture of that society.
The assimilation process involves taking on the traits and customs of the dominant culture while simultaneously rejecting your traditional culture.
The goal of assimilation is for the assimilating group to become socially indistinguishable from members of the dominant group.
Acculturation: Assimilation vs Integration vs Self-Determination
Assimilation is one form of acculturation. Other forms include integration and self-determination.
- Assimilation involves losing your own culture and taking on the dominant culture. It may be driven through force or undertaken willingly. However, it is rare for a minority group to replace its previous cultural practices fully.
- Integration refers to societies where multiple cultures exist simultaneously. The minority culture keeps its unique identity and participates in the social, cultural, and political life of the dominant culture. It is akin to cultural pluralism.
- Self-Determination refers to a process whereby a minority culture makes independent decisions for itself and its people. The dominant culture does not pass laws or exert influence over the minority culture.
25 Cultural Assimilation Examples
- Embracing the language of the prevailing culture as a primary mode of communication.
- Alteration of one’s name to a more “Western” equivalent.
- Discarding traditional fashion choices and clothing in preference for the fashion of the dominant culture.
- Adoption of the dominant culture’s religious customs and practices.
- Substitution of traditional foods for the cuisine of the dominant culture in your own diet.
- Intentionally disregarding the education and credentials you received in your home culture due to the belief they no longer have worth to you.
- Participation in the holidays and celebrations of the dominant culture.
- Conforming one’s accent or dialect to the speech patterns of the dominant culture.
- Internalization of the values and beliefs of the dominant culture.
- Engaging in the forms of entertainment and leisure activities of the dominant culture. For example, you might start playing the dominant culture’s preferred sports and discarding your own culture’s sports.
- Disavowal of one’s cultural heritage or identity.
- Prioritizing assimilation to the dominant culture over retention of one’s own culture.
- Conforming to the dominant culture’s views on gender roles and expectations.
- Adaptation to the economic system and work culture of the dominant culture.
- Alignment of one’s political views with those of the dominant culture.
- Minimizing one’s own cultural background and experiences during conversations.
- Conforming to the parenting styles and approaches of the dominant culture.
- Abandonment of traditional spiritual practices and beliefs.
- Adopting the relationship expectations and dating norms of the dominant culture.
- Altering one’s community and social connections to align with those of the dominant culture.
- Feeling remorseful or embarrassed about one’s cultural background.
- Rejecting traditional healing practices and medicines.
- Perceiving the dominant culture as superior to one’s own culture.
- Neglecting or changing traditional arts and crafts practices and processes.
- Embracing the attitude towards the environment and nature of the dominant culture.
8 Real-Life Examples of Cultural Assimilation
- Assimilation of Native Americans (USA and Canada): The U.S and Canadian governments actively forced Native Americans into assimilation starting in the 19th Century through practices such as suppression of native languages and forced removals of children.
- Assimilation of Immigrants in the USA: After United States was founded a lot of immigration from Europe took place. These groups, mostly Germans and Scandinavians, generally willingly assimilated into American society.
- French Colonization of Algeria: The French wanted to make the Algerians, a former French colony, more like them. They imposed their culture by limiting their religious liberties, encouraging the learning of the French language, and educating the Algerians about French history and culture.
- European Colonization of Argentina: When Argentina was settled, local populations were expected to assimilate to the new European culture.
- Dutch Colonization of Indonesia: When the Dutch colonized Indonesia, there were many attempts at assimilation of the Indonesian locals. This was largely unsuccessful, and today Indonesia continues to practice its own cultural values and heritage.
- Spanish Colonization of the Philippines: The Philippines where colonized by Spain for over 300 years. During this era, the Spaniards imposed their language as well as social, economic, and political values. Despite decolonization, Spain’s influence is still evident in the Philippine languages to this day.
- British Colonization of Australia: One of the most egregious examples of assimilation is the British colonization of Australia. From colonization in 1788 through to the 1960s, the Australian government actively embraced a white Australia policy that sought to create a single, homogenous white Australian culture. This was practiced through assimilation policies such as forced removal of children from Indigenous parents to raise them in white culture. The babies taken from Indigenous communities are today known as the Stolen Generations.
- British Colonization of India: When the British colonized India, they forced their institutions and legal systems upon the local populations. Some aspects succeeded – i.e. today India is one of the world’s largest cricketing nations – while others failed. Today, India has regained its independence from British cultural rule.
1. Assimilation of Native Americans
The U.S government forced the Native Americans into assimilation in the 18th and 19th centuries due to a belief in the supremacy of their cultural values.
In many instances, Native Americans were banned from participating in and practicing their traditional rituals and ceremonies, were forced to give up their lands, and coerced into adopting the religious and educational system of American society.
This assimilation process led to the loss of many Native American languages and the loss of traditional tribal lands.
2. French Colonization of Algeria
Algeria was invaded by the French army in 1830 and became a French colony. France desired to increase trade, spread their religion, and establish itself as a dominant European force during the colonial era.
Max Lejeune, French Minister for the Armed Forces, March 15, 1956 made a case for assimilation of the Algerian people:
“We want the men in Algeria to be more free, more fraternal, more equal, that is to say more French. We must guarantee their political liberties and their social emancipation in the face of a few thousand rebels inspired by unemployment, the absence of hope, religious fanaticism, and not least the fit of nationalists who aspire to an unreliable independence.” (Evans, 2012).
Algerians both within Algeria and France became subjects of French assimilation policies. The French limited Algerian religious liberties, encouraged the learning of the French language, and educated the Algerians about French history and culture without concern for Algerian culture and heritage.
3. Spain and the Philippines
The Philippines were colonized by Spain for over 300 years, from 1565 to 1898. During this era the Spaniards imposed their cultural, social, economic, and political perspectives upon Filipinos.
Following the imposition of Castilian colonial sovereignty, the Spanish influence on the Filipino inhabitants was immediately visible. The Spaniards transplanted their social, economic, and political institutions, as well as their values to the Philippine archipelago.
The Spaniards obliged the native Filipinos to swear allegiance to the Spanish monarch.
Previously, the natives had village tribal chiefs called “datus”. Moreover, a new God was implemented, whereas the Filipinos before worshipped deities and divinities.
A new language was introduced and new working habits, as they were compelled to work within the framework of a subsistence economy. (Bauzon & Leslie, 1991).
The Spanish landholding system, based on private ownership, replaced the Filipino system of communal land ownership. This change in land ownership had a significant impact on the way of life of the Filipinos, and when the Spanish rule ended, many aspects of the culture and society were found to be similar or equal to that of the Spanish (Bauzon & Leslie, 1991).
Related Sociological Terms
- Cultural acculturation –.Cultural acculturation refers to the process of cultural change and adaptation that occurs as a result of contact between different cultural groups (see also: assimilation vs acculturation).
- Cultural integration – When an individual or group from one culture integrates into the daily practices and institutional hierarchy of another culture while maintaining their own cultural beliefs, values, and practices.
- Multiculturalism – Multiculturalism is the idea that cultures, races, and ethnicities can live together in one society. Most multicultural societies believe that minority cultural groups deserve special acknowledgment and respect from the dominant society to ensure their minority cultural practices are preserved.
Cultural assimilation occurs when a minority group takes on the customs, traditions, language, and culture of the dominant culture while also discarding their own beliefs and values.
The minority group assimilates into the dominant group to such a degree that it is impossible to distinguish them from the dominant group.
Assimilation may be driven through force or undertaken willingly; however, it is rare for a minority group to replace its previous cultural practices fully.
Potinkara N., (2022). Finland-Swedes and the Concept of National Minorities in Sweden, Ethnopolitics, DOI: 10.1080/17449057.2022.2108596
Evans, M. (2012). Algeria: France’s undeclared war. Oxford University Press.
Bauzon, L. E., & Leslie, E. (1991). Influence of the Spanish culture. Tonan Azia No Jiten Firipin (Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia: The Philippines), edited by Shizuo Suzuki and Shinzo Hayase. Kyoto: Dohosha, 195-196.
Velez, W. A. (1990). South America Immigration: Argentina. Volume I: The Autobiographical Mode in Latin America Literature, Yale-Lew Heaven Teachers Institute.