These organizations provide continuity to society, which is maintained by enculturation. Soon after birth, the child learns the culture traits and complexes of his society.
It is through the process of socialization that the whole body of traditions economic, social, technological, religious, aesthetic and linguistic-is learnt by the child. In short, enculturation is a long process of learning.
The process of enculturation in social anthropology is what we call socialization in sociology. Socialization is a process by means of which men adjust to their fellows in society. It is through the process of learning that men become members of society. Herskovits, in his cultural anthropology, has defined enculturation as below:
The aspects of the learning experience that mark off man from other creatures, and by means of which he achieves competence in his culture may be called enculturation.
Herskovits brings out the fact of conscious and unconscious conditioning. When a student meets his teacher in the market he expresses his respects by greeting him, which is an unconscious behaviour. Similarly, when a man starts eating, he does not decide it consciously that he would eat with his right hand.
The behaviour here also is unconscious. But, in a rally, when a participant raises slogans, he does it consciously. We see that a person adopts the ways of the society both consciously and unconsciously.
From the adaptation or adjustment to traditions and ways of life, he becomes a member of the society. Every human being goes through a process of enculturation, for without it he cannot live as a member of that society.
Herskovits argues that the process of enculturation is a process of adaptation. This process does not terminate at the close of infancy. As an individual continues through childhood through adolescence to adult status, he is continuously exposed to this process of learning, which can be said to end only with his death. He writes:
The difference between the nature of the acculturative experience in the early years of life and later is that the range of conscious acceptance or rejections by an individual continuously increases as he grows older.
The fact is that with the increase in age, the man gradually becomes mature. In other words, on serious matters, he starts thinking consciously and accepts or rejects any aspect of society’s culture.
It is interesting to note that “the enculturation of the individual in the early years of his life is the prime mechanism making for cultural stability, while the process, as it operates on more mature folk, and is highly important in inducing change”.
What is important is that human beings learn their cultures so well that most behaviour rarely rises to the level of consciousness. During childhood, everything that is referred to the child is unconsciously learnt by him or her. All this is below the level of conscious thought.
Culture is transmitted from generation to generation. The family norms are handedover from one generation to the next. Thus, in the process of culture transmission, enculturation is a basic process. In the present era of information technology (IT) enculturation has assumed new dimensions. The process has become intense and complex.
Kroeber has defined acculturation as below:
Acculturation comprises those changes produced in a culture by the influence of another culture which result in an increased similarity of the two. The influencing may be reciprocal or overwhelmingly one way.
The resultant assimilation may proceed so far as the extinction of one culture by absorption. In the other, or other factors may intervene to counterbalance the assimilation and keep the cultures separate. The process of acculturation tends to be gradual rather than abrupt.
Herskovits considers acculturation as the strongest mechanism of culture change. Culture diffusion is also possible through acculturation. Sometimes students confuse diffusion as acculturation. In fact, both these processes are supplementary, as Herskovits observes:
Diffusion is the study of achieved cultural transmission, while acculturation is the study of cultural transmission in process.
We shall take up the definition of diffusion a little later; suffice it to say at this stage that in all respects acculturation is a social process. Though acculturation tends to investigate historic facts, in the study of behaviour it remains restricted to the facts pertaining to the contemporary period only.
Perhaps, an authentic definition of acculturation is given by a committee formulated by the American Anthropological Association and consisted of Redfield, Herskovits and Linton. The definition reads as under:
Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups.
The committee has not only defined acculturation, but also distinguished acculturation from cultural change. In fact, acculturation is only one aspect of culture change. The definition given by the committee is further interpreted by Kroeber. He says that the acculturation process has an effect on other cultures. This means that acculturation also affects the society which carries the culture. Kroeber further says:
Viewed in this way it is evident that acculturation takes in a lot of meaning. It has, no doubt, been operative since there have been separate human cultures. Ninety-nine per cent of all acculturation must lie in the past; and it involves the nature, the” processes, and the patterns of culture as well as its changes.
Thus, the definitions of acculturation, as given by Herskovits and the American Anthropological Association, boil down to the fact that acculturation is the process through which modification in one culture is made by another culture. In the British social anthropology context, it could be said that acculturation processes are studied by ethnology.
For instance, Rivers studied the Todas of Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. In course of time, the Toda culture, and for that matter, the culture of any Indian or African tribe has been influenced by western civilization.