Acculturation as a concept had its origins in anthropology and sociology in the late 1800s and early 1900s but has more recently been applied in psychology. In his discussion of the history of acculturation, Sam (2006) identified the geologist/anthropologist John Wesley Powell as the first person to have used the term “acculturation” when he applied it to psychological changes resulting from cross-cultural imitation.
For the most part, anthropologists’ use of acculturation in the late 1800s was primarily concerned with how cross-cultural contact with an “enlightened” group of people helped “primitive” societies become more “civilized,” with anthropologist W. J. McGee (1898) defining acculturation as the process of exchange and mutual “improvement” by which societies advanced from savagery to barbarism, to civilization, through to enlightenment (Sam 2006: 12-13). At the same time, sociologists have acknowledged the process of “reciprocal accommodation” between cultural groups, despite sociological accounts of acculturation primarily emphasizing “one-sided” change conforming to host culture norms and expectations in the context of immigration (Sam 2006: 12-13).
Although acculturation as a concept has now fallen out of vogue with many anthropologists and sociologists, it is the classic definition of acculturation by anthropologists Redfield et al. (1936: 149) that is still commonly used: “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.” This culture-level definition was reframed at the individual level and termed psychological acculturation by Theodore D. Graves (1967 cited in Sam 2006). Since then, it has been primarily cross-cultural psychologists who have built upon these definitions and extended the study of acculturation to include both the group (culture) and individual levels.
Tourism and acculturation
Theron Nunez (1963 cited in Leite and Graburn 2009), in his anthropological study of the impacts of tourism in a rural Mexican village, is credited as having first applied the concept of acculturation within a tourism context. As interest (or perhaps concern) about the impacts of tourists on host nationals grew, so did the application of acculturation theory (both explicitly and implicitly) as a means of understanding them. This early research provided a foundation of knowledge about the sociocultural changes affected by tourism. Acculturation, however, fell out of favor with anthropologists and sociologists because of its apparent simplistic approach suggesting that impacts were unidirectional with (Western) tourists being active agents of change in relation to passive (developing country) host populations (Leite and Graburn 2009).
Although many anthropologists and sociologists began to look elsewhere to understand the dynamics and outcomes of intercultural contact, cross-cultural psychologists continued to develop and apply the concept of acculturation, distinguishing between group-level and individual-level changes and taking into consideration three key issues: the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of contact, the reciprocal nature of cross-cultural influence, and change as both a dynamic process and an outcome. These may be cultural, physical, social, psychological, or a combination (Sam 2006). However, most of the research focused on acculturation in immigrant, expatriate, and refugee populations, though there is a growing literature on acculturation in receiving societies.
Acculturation and future directions
Tourism is the most common form of face-to-face intercultural contact, with new transport and communication technologies making it increasingly easier for people to travel. However, it is only recently that cross-cultural psychologists have turned their attention to tourism as a context (Berno and Ward 2005; Ward 2008). One of the first published psychological studies that considered tourism and acculturation in a resident population was that of Berno (1999), in which John W. Berry’s (1990) framework for the study of acculturation processes was applied (Ward 2008). Further to this research, Berno and Ward (2005) demonstrated that an acculturation framework could be effectively applied in the tourism domain and argued that psychologists should consider tourism as a context for research. Subsequent to this, Ward and Berno (2011) concluded that related conceptual frameworks such as relative deprivation, the contact hypothesis, and integrated threat theory which are found in the psychological literature on intercultural relations can also be applied to the study of host-guest encounters.
Beyond this, acculturation theories can be applied to tourists’ experiences as suggested by Ward in her assertion that “[Cross-cultural psychologists] believe that tourists constitute a distinct acculturating group, merit explicit acknowledgement as such, and warrant greater attention in the acculturation literature” (2008: 111). Subsequent tourism studies heeded this call and suggested that acculturation models could be extended to tourism contexts and used for market segmentation purposes. Ward (2008) concluded that, through adopting an intercultural perspective and synthesizing a range of theories previously applied to other acculturating groups (such as migrants), tourism offers almost limitless possibilities for extending acculturation theory for its future research.
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