Cultural Assimilation Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Cultural Assimilation Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

The term is best understood in contrast with close sociological concepts, some more general (cultural diffusion) and others more specific (acculturation). Cultural diffusion denotes the passage of ideas, norms and practices from one group to another in general. Acculturation is the processes whereby one cultural system conquers the minds of an individual or group. ‘Cultural assimilation’ is used generally to denote the situation in which a group gradually acquires some traits of a larger society’s repertoire of concepts and norms. Two main features are specific to assimilation situations. First, there is a clear asymmetry, often between a majority and a minority but, more importantly, between what are felt to be center and periphery, a dominant culture and a less central one. This is often visible in the way the central group’s identity remains unnamed, or else carries the name of the overall society. In this way the leading group in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had no explicit ethnic label, unlike the Czechs, Jews, or Hungarians they ruled.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

Similarly, although white Americans of European descent are clearly the majority background against which minorities are defined in the USA, there is no commonly-used ethnic category for them (‘Caucasian’ is not really used by anyone outside the census bureaucracy). Second, assimilation is the project whereby a group tries to gain a seat at the common table, as it were, but not to dissolve itself. But there may be considerable anxiety that achieving this political and social goal will inevitably dissolve the cultural traits that underpin a sense of common identity and destiny.

The most acute of these debates were conducted among the Jewish minorities of central Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. From this situation in which a general, often violent oppression of Jews as a group combined (in some European polities) with unprecedented opportunities for Jews as individuals, emerged two different views of assimilation. One recommended a more intense participation in the social and political processes of the wider polities, trusting that common legal arrangements would shield the minority from the worst effects of personal prejudice. The end-goal was to make Jewishness, if not invisible, at least irrelevant to most contexts of social interaction, and therefore accepted in practice. The other, largely Zionist, view assumed that such a project would either fail altogether (inasmuch as the ever-more visible presence of Jews in the larger society would fan the fire of resentment and prejudice) or, on the contrary, succeed all too well, at the price of dissolving Jewish identity and annihilating Jewish culture.

This tension between participation in the wider social forum, often seen as a condition for survival, and the preservation of identity, construed as equally urgent prescriptions, informs American debates about the depth, meaning and consequences of the cultural assimilation of minorities. The phrase ‘melting pot’ was coined in the 1910s. It was thought to describe the essentially American and altogether laudable practice of combining norms and practices from different groups in order to create a distinct American political entity as well as a distinct culture. It was assumed that this cultural alchemy would preserve the best of each culture and create an even better one, in the same way as a free market weeds out inefficiency and fosters good practices.

The ‘melting pot’ ideology emerged more or less at the time when it ceased to be an American reality. Whereas the unification of American groups of different European origins (Scandinavian, English, Irish, etc.) in the course of the nineteenth century more or less corresponded to what the ‘melting pot’ was supposed to describe, the destinies of groups such as Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans in the twentieth century were to follow a distinctly separate trajectory. For these groups there was no melting pot, as many liberal critics of American politics observed. These critics often saw the sorry plight of minorities as a straight-forward consequence of this failure to mix or assimilate.

However, many members of these minority groups had a diametrically opposed view of the assimilation process. For them, acquiring political leverage and legal protection requires, not their dissolution into larger social membership, but exactly the opposite; an attempt to make their membership of a particular group visible and audible, so that minorities could be counted and allocated political power commensurable to their demographic composition. This change in assimilation patterns (whereby modern assimilation no longer entails acculturation) does not reduce to the general contrast between old groups and newly arrived ones (called the ‘old-new’ model in sociology). Hence a distinctively American nonmelting pot, where de facto cultural similarities are ever-increasing, but social-ethnic groups also maintain strict boundaries and a heightened sense of distinctive identity, and seek an corresponding political influence.

This modern American situation is equidistant from two European political projects that informed the connections between nation and culture. One such project was romantic nationalism. Born in European nations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this ideology celebrated the ideal of a community united by land, language, and cultural traditions. It suggested that the most ‘natural’ or most viable political units would correspond to such communities. There was no need to provide specific political recipes for the management of such communities since each cultural tradition already incorporated its own political wisdom, time-tested and therefore appropriate to the nation concerned.

The opposite project was that of the Enlightenment and French Revolution. Here the nation was a de facto political unit, with a predefined political ideal (equality and democracy) but no connection to any particular cultural tradition or language. The nation was there-fore construed as emerging from the participation of different individuals qua individuals. This is the sense of the famous statement of the French Constituent Assembly, requiring that the emancipation of the Jews, while granting them citizenship and making religiously-based oppression illegal, would ‘give them everything as citizens, but nothing as a group.’ In such a political project there is space for various associations of citizens based on common interests or ideology, but no place for ethnically-defined groups as political participants.

Both European projects seem to have reached the limits of their political relevance by the end of the twentieth century. Romantic nationalism, the foundation stone of many central European nations, flounders in situations characterized by ethnic patch-work, as in the Balkans, and leads to deluded ideologies of domination and the annihilation of the other. Enlightened, supposedly antiethnic nations are reinvested with ethnic and cultural qualities by many participants. This is why many citizens of the Federal Republic in Germany or the French Republic find certain of the cultural practices of Turks or Arabs repulsive or culturally threatening. In both countries political debate now centres on the way distinct ethnic groups could be granted some measure of influence or cultural autonomy without threatening the liberating possibility of participation as a free citizen, with no specific group affiliation. These debates are made more pressing by the expansion of the European Union, with the attendant decrease in the powers of the states and the increase of political influence from regions.

In Europe and other parts of the world such debates are also prompted by concerns over ‘globalization.’ However vaguely defined, this phenomenon of world-wide cultural integration and political interdependence is seen as desirable (or inevitable) by many ruling elites and every bit as detrimental (or resistible) by others. From both positions, it seems that even established nations, where cultural and political identities coincide, find themselves confronted with an assimilation process. That is, some of their characteristic political or cultural arrangements are seen as an obstacle to entry into a global economic and political world. So most places become a periphery relative to a center defined as everywhere else.

Historians, sociologists, and political scientists have focused mainly on the social groups concerned, on the interaction between center and gradually assimilated entities. As a consequence, assimilation is often construed, albeit implicitly, as a one-dimensional process, whereby a given group gets closer to the cultural mainstream or maintains its distance from it (or is kept at the periphery). Such metaphors of proximity and distance may not do justice to the multidimensional nature of participation in a large polity. There may be many different dimensions along which a given individual places him-or herself at a particular point relative to a social mainstream. Many African-Americans feel more culturally assimilated to main-stream America than Asian-Americans, yet they are accepted much less in terms of political participation.

To make matters even more complex, it may be insufficient to describe cultural assimilation in terms of explicit concepts and norms. So far, social scientists have focused principally on those notions or preferences that individuals are aware of, and consider to be their distinctive character: their cultural traditions, their language, their common political past. But a cultural unity, a sense of being the same kind of person as others, may also be based on concepts and norms that are not consciously accessible; on ways of acting and even reasoning that are transmitted from one generation to the next without much conscious realization. Experimental social psychologists have documented such subtle cultural differences.

For instance, (white middle-class) American subjects do not react to simple computer animations in quite the same way as Chinese or Japanese subjects. When such animations show a school of fish tightly packed together and another fish at a distance from the group, Americans see the latter as a laudably independent, self-motivated agent. Many Asians, how- ever, tend to see it as pitifully isolated and probably lost. Such results may seem largely explained by explicit ideologies of individualism and self-reliance (in the West) contrasted with group cohesion and solidarity (in the East). Other differences are less easy to interpret, such as a tendency in Asians to look at the overall pattern of a computer display, when Americans are more likely to focus on details and ignore its overall coherence.

Such experimentally-revealed differences do not necessarily mean that socialization in different groups result in fundamentally different cognitive processes. But they do show that assimilating a culture, either that of one’s own group or that of a larger polity, cannot be reduced to adherence to explicit norms and cultural concepts. This connects with a concept of culture that is familiar to anthropologists but less so to other social scientists as encompassing, not just explicit norms and habits, but also what goes without saying, the tacit norms and unconscious cognitive habits that structure one’s everyday world.

There is still little systematic study of the impact of migration and political assimilation on such elusive cognitive differences. Yet this is a crucial domain of investigation. Social and political interaction between central and noncentral groups may depend on agreement or discrepancies between these tacit norms every bit as much as they depend on explicit differences. Most social scientists are eager to show that assimilation processes require agents, that is, they do not happen outside the social and political projects of various people. It is not, for instance, just American culture, as an abstract entity, that somehow permeates cultural boundaries but actual Americans and members of other groups that join (or do not join) common social projects. Without neglecting this sense of active decision-making on the actors’ part, it may be necessary to take into account aspects of cultural inertia that are not affected by people’s decisions, because they are not really visible to the actors themselves, yet influence their integration into a wider cultural environment.


  1. Choi I, Nisbett R E, Smith E E 1997 Culture, category salience, and inductive reasoning. Cognition 65(1): 15–32
  2. Gellner E 1983 Nations and Nationalism. Blackwell, Oxford, UK
  3. Glazer N, Moynihan D P 1963 Beyond the Melting Pot. Basic Books, New York
  4. Lieberson S 1963 The old-new distinction and immigrants in Australia. American Sociological Review 28(4): 550–65
  5. Morris M, Peng K 1994 Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67: 949–71
Ethnogenesis Research Paper
Consumer Culture Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!