Enculturation refers to the process of learning and internalizing rules, values, and expectations of one’s culture (Grusec & Hastings, 2014).
Examples of enculturation include learning and internalizing appropriate dress codes, learning the rules of a workplace, and learning to avoid cultural taboos.
Through enculturation, individuals become socialized into their own culture by adopting its norms and values.
This process happens through observation and interaction with others, starting from the earliest stages of life (Grusec & Hastings, 2014).
Enculturation enables individuals to familiarize with their own cultures and to conform to its expectations. It is an essential requirement for surviving and becoming an accepted member of one’s own community or society.
Enculturation Definition and Explanation
Enculturation occurs through different ways of observation and social interaction. Starting from one’s birth, cultural rules, values and expectations are taught by the family, peers, school, workplace, and society.
These expectations are acquired through conscious and unconscious repetition, which allows one to conform to their society’s norms (Grusec & Hastings, 2014).
For example, a child would observe their parents thanking the cashier after shopping in a grocery store every time.
As a result, they will learn that this is the cultural norm in their society, and repeat this behavior in their own interactions with cashiers.
Enculturation can take place openly in formal settings, or observed unconsciously in informal settings.
Types of Enculturation
The four main types of enculturation can be divided into the categories of formal, informal, conscious and subconscious enculturation.
These types of enculturation can also overlap or be combined depending on the context in which this process takes place.
1. Formal vs Informal Enculturation
Formal enculturation takes place in institutions of education or learning. These institutions include all levels of secular and religious schools and training centers (Bowen & Roth, 2002).
Through formal enculturation, individuals are openly taught about norms and values of a culture in formal settings.
An example of formal enculturation would be learning one’s national celebrations and their meanings in the school.
In contrast with formal enculturation, informal enculturation happens in settings which are not supposed to directly teach anything (Bowen & Roth, 2002).
These include one’s home and public spaces such as marketplaces.
2. Conscious vs Unconscious Enculturation
Another distinction between types of enculturation can be made according to how conscious or deliberate the process is.
Conscious enculturation refers to teaching of cultural norms and values that take place deliberately and consciously.
It often overlaps with formal enculturation which happens with the goal of passing the culture (Shimahara, 1970).
An example of conscious enculturation is church speeches by pastors, passing the Protestant cultural values.
In contrast, unconscious enculturation happens when an individual learns their culture through channels that are not aiming to teach them, such as observing peers or family members.
This type of enculturation can overlap with informal enculturation which take place in casual situations (Shimahara, 1970).
For example, in a misogynist culture, an individual who constantly sees violence against women in movies and news may unconsciously internalize and normalize this.
- Food and Diet: Individuals learn about acceptable diets in their own culture through enculturation. For example, a Muslim individual would learn how eating pork or drinking alcohol is not acceptable through observing their family and society.
- Success: What is considered being successful in life changes depending on the culture and it is learned through acculturation. For example, some cultures put heavy emphasis on higher education while others value financial independence and having a family.
- Dress codes: Dress codes are learned through both legal and socio cultural ways. For example, someone living in Iran will learn that it is legally expected for women to wear hijab through enculturation.
- History: Learning one’s society’s history is also a part of enculturation, which takes place through various ways including formal educational curriculum, national celebrations, and symbols. For example, a Canadian can be enculturated about their history of fighting in the Second World War through seeing and wearing red poppy pins.
- Parenthood Styles: Acceptable behaviors for parents are also learned through enculturation. These include different styles of disciplining children and varying degrees of intervention in adult children’s lives, including living together.
- Dating Practices: Dating practices and norms around romance are learned through enculturation, by observing society and various other resources such as movies and songs.
- Marriage Ceremonies: Individuals learn about expected marriage ceremonies and rituals in their cultures through formal and informal ways, such as education and observation.
- Political Expression and Speech: Each society has different cultures around acceptable political expression and speech, such as criticism of political leaders. These norms and expectations are learned and reproduced through enculturation.
- Workplace Culture: Workplace cultures include expectations around punctuality, collegial and hierarchical relationships, and work ethics, which are learned through observation or direct communication.
- Politeness: Expectations around polite behavior also vary across cultures. For example, while in North America it is considered polite to smile at strangers in casual interactions, or to ask a client in a supermarket how they are doing, these behaviors can be perceived as fake or strange in East Europe. These expectations are learned in childhood through parental or school education, or by observing others’ behaviors.
Enculturation vs. Socialization
While they have many overlapping characteristics, enculturation and socialization refer to two different concepts.
As defined above, enculturation refers to the process of learning the norms and values of a culture.
For example, for a Jewish person, enculturation enables them to learn that eating a kosher diet is a norm of their culture.
Socialization also refers to a process of learning norms and values. However, unlike enculturation which is focused on culture, socialization is about learning the rules and expectations of the society (Grusec & Hastings, 2014).
Therefore, while enculturation focuses on internalizing cultural rules and expectations, socialization refers to adopting social norms, values, expectations, knowledge, and roles.
For example, learning and internalizing gender roles is a part of socialization, while learning a specific culture’s expectations of femininity and masculinity is enculturation.
It can be argued that since culture is an important part of any society, enculturation is a more specific type of socialization or one of its components. In other words, enculturation happens when someone is socialized into their own culture.
Enculturation vs. Acculturation
Both enculturation and acculturation are processes related to understanding a culture. However, there are important contextual factors that differentiate enculturation and acculturation.
While enculturation refers to learning the rules, norms, values and expectations of one’s own culture, acculturation refers to getting adjusted to another culture.
Therefore, the question “Which culture?” can be asked to differentiate if a process fits to the concepts of enculturation or acculturation.
Unlike enculturation which starts from the birth, acculturation often happens later in life, when an individual or a community becomes exposed to another culture.
This is why acculturation is often a concept that is used for immigrants. Usually acculturation includes a dimension of compromise or change in one’s own cultural habits (Sayegh & Lasry, 1993).
For example, when an Arab individual born and raised in the Middle East learns to take Fridays off as a cultural and religious weekly holiday, this is an instance of enculturation.
When the same individual immigrates to a Western culture, and gets adjusted to working on Fridays and taking Sundays off instead, this is an example of acculturation.
Unlike acculturation which is vital for one’s survival in a society, acculturation is not essential, even though it is often seen as a positive factor for mental health and well-being (Balidemaj & Small, 2019).
Enculturation refers to the process through which an individual learns and internalizes the norms, values and expectations of their own culture.
Enculturation can be seen as a specific part of socialization, as the former is related to culture while the latter is about society.
In contrast, acculturation is getting adapted to another culture, often in a setting of immigration.
Enculturation has four main types including formal, informal, conscious and unconscious enculturation.
Examples of enculturation include learning about one’s national celebrations at school, or internalizing cultural norms of parenting by observing parental behaviors.
Balidemaj, A., & Small, M. (2019). The effects of ethnic identity and acculturation in mental health of immigrants: A literature review. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 65(7-8), 643-655.
Bowen, G. M., & Roth, W. M. (2002). The” socialization” and enculturation of ecologists in formal and informal settings. The Electronic Journal for Research in Science & Mathematics Education, 6(3), 1-29.
Grusec, J. E., & Hastings, P. D. (Eds.). (2014). Handbook of socialization: Theory and research. Guilford Publications.
Sayegh, L., & Lasry, J. C. (1993). Immigrants’ adaptation in Canada: Assimilation, acculturation, and orthogonal cultural identification. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 34(1), 98-109.
Shimahara, N. (1970). Enculturation-A reconsideration. Current Anthropology, 11(2), 143-154.