It is the process by which an individual acquires the mental representations (beliefs, knowledge, and so forth) and patterns of behavior required to function as a member of a culture. It can be seen as the counterpart, at the level of culture, of the process of socialization. Enculturation is largely seen, for native members of a culture, as taking place in childhood as part of the process of child training and education. Initiation rites and other forms of training later in life can also be seen to have an enculturating function. From the time of Margaret MEAD'S pioneering research on CHILDREN and ADOLESCENCE it has been a continual topic of research and theory in anthropology. Margaret Mead (1963) herself distinguished between enculturation, the process of learning a particular culture, and socialization, which she defined as the demands made on human beings by human societies everywhere. Today the term commonly embraces both concepts.


Culture is normally transmitted from generation to generation by adults to children, and from those expert in a particular cultural domain to novices. But this notion of a direct cultural transmission may be misleading if it assumes that learning is essentially a passive process without active involvement by the learner. Recent studies have stressed that such active processes of meaning making are indispensable in acquiring culture (J. Briggs 1992). Encounters that lead individuals to embody a specific culture in their own experience, and thereby make it possible for them to be integrated into the flow of social life, may be of various kinds. People encounter culture in the form of significant others (parents, teachers, heroes) who embody culture and with whom they come to identify, or they may encounter culture in the form of rituals into which images of self and life are incorporated, celebrated, and made experientially real (such as major life-crisis rituals of puberty, marriage, childbearing, and death) (Parish 1994). As every foreignlanguage student knows, to learn and use a language demands engagement with the culture that produced it: and children learn culture as they learn language (P. Miller & Hoogstra 1992; B. Schieffelin & Ochs 1986a). In the stories they tell themselves and each other about the world and the nature of their lives, society, and selves, people create and transmit cultural constructs (P. Miller & Moore 1989; P. Miller et al. 1990).


Anthropologists began studying this phenomenon in the late 1800s. Unlike psychologists, they did not automatically assume that the enculturation process was identical cross-culturally. Influenced by Freud, the early work focused on set stages encountered in the first 3 years. Freud believed that each individual experience in early childhood formed adult personality and any deviation from a set pattern produced psychosis. However, in Margaret Mead’s classic study, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), child-rearing studies showed that Freud’s stages were not universal; even the concept of adolescent angst was foreign to the Samoan teenagers. Mead argued that no stage was common to all cultures nor inevitably faced by a growing child. Children growing up in Samoa developed different personality traits because their characters were formed by different enculturation processes.

Following is a small class on enculturation (bilingual, meant for my students)

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