Assimilation (sociology)

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In sociology, assimilation describes the adjustment of one social group to another while giving up one's own cultural assets and is therefore a form of acculturation and a process of cultural change .

The focus can be on the process or the outcome. In order to understand the processes at the social level, individual assimilation must be distinguished from the assimilation of groups. Empirically , the focus is on the merging of a minority with the majority. Assimilation can take place on a cultural (adoption of language, customs and manners), structural (placement on the job market, in the school system, etc.), social (contact with members of other groups) and emotional level.

It is disputed whether the concept of assimilation is a deliberate imposition of the characteristics and attitudes of the dominant society ( dominance culture) or whether assimilation is merely an empirical prerequisite for achieving equal life chances without an evaluation of the characteristics of minorities being associated with it.

Assimilation of immigrants is usually associated with accepting the language (while giving up their own) and the habits and customs of their host country. So, z. B. in relation to the 19th century, there is also talk of an assimilation of the Jews (see below) into the majority societies of their home countries.

The targeted, and especially compulsory, bringing about assimilation through political measures is called assimilation policy . Examples of extensive voluntary assimilation are the former immigrant groups in classic immigration countries such as Australia , Brazil , Canada , New Zealand and the USA , or the Ruhr Poles in Germany , which have merged into the new overall society .

Theoretical approaches

The most important and still recognized theory of assimilation comes from the American sociologist Milton M. Gordon , who put it up in 1964. Although Gordon started from the American example, he was able to develop a theory that could be transferred to other cases and that has proven itself in individual studies. He divided the process of assimilation into seven stages:

  1. cultural assimilation ( cultural assimilation ) - this stage he called interchangeably as acculturation ( acculturation )
  2. structural assimilation ( assimilation structural )
  3. marital assimilation ( marital assimilation )
  4. identifikationale assimilation ( identificational assimilation )
  5. Assimilation by adopting attitudes ( attitude receptional assimilation )
  6. Assimilation by adopting behavior ( behavior receptional assimilation )
  7. Assimilation as a (full) citizen ( civic assimilation )

The last five stages mentioned are consistently assigned to structural assimilation in recent literature and are no longer considered to be an independent form. It is different with the first two stages - or forms - of assimilation, the cultural and the structural. They are that part of Gordon's theory that received wide acceptance and, in modified form, was deemed valid until around 1990. Structural assimilation implies much more than cultural assimilation, namely anchoring in the education system, the labor market, etc.

Because of their ethnocentrism, the idea of ​​a "melting" of ethnic and family ties was increasingly replaced by the idea of ​​a "merging" with the newly acquired identity in the sense of a mutual exchange process.

This is how the concept of assimilation is defined by J. Milton Yinger :

“Assimilation is a process of boundary reduction that can occur when members of two or more societies or smaller cultural groups meet. When viewed as a closed process, it [assimilation] is the blending of previously distinguishable socio-cultural groups into a single one. However, when we look at assimilation as a variable , which I believe deepens our understanding, we find that assimilation can range from the humble beginnings of interaction and cultural exchange to thorough group amalgamation. "

In the meantime, however, the concept of assimilation is becoming more and more differentiated. The psychologist James H. Sidanius , professor of African-American studies, dominance and conflict research at Harvard University, distinguishes between hierarchical and authoritarian assimilation. A hierarchical (and gradual) assimilation takes place when one tries to adapt to a cultural ideal (see the debate about a German “ leading culture ”) in behavior, language etc. as far as possible. Sidanius refers to the example of France , where there is a fixed idea of ​​a "French culture". Assimilation then consists in the attempt to minimize the difference to this model as much as possible. An authoritarian mode of integration prevails in the United States . This consists of following certain rules without being expected to behave like an "American". A successful assimilation in this sense can therefore imply strongly deviating social behavior, a deviating language etc. The rejection and aggression towards minorities who are willing to assimilate could paradoxically turn out to be even stronger than towards minorities who hold on to their separation.

Assimilation of the Jews

The question of assimilation of the Jews was strongly present in Jewish debates from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century: “The question of assimilation and symbiosis is closely related to the definition of Jewish existence.” Assimilation proceeded differently in the individual countries. It was pronounced wherever it could find an ally in a distinct bourgeoisie .

Gershom Scholem considered assimilation of the Jews to be hopeless: “Very broad layers of German Jews were ready to liquidate their nationality, but wanted, to a very different extent, their Judaism, as an inheritance, as a denomination, an indefinable and yet consciously preserve clearly existing element. What is often forgotten, they were not ready for the total assimilation which the majority of their elite were willing to pay for by disappearing. "

The political philosopher Hannah Arendt rejected the assimilation of Jews in Germany and emphasized the independence of the Jewish identity , even if it was not tied to any religion.

The hopes that Jews had associated with assimilation were initially destroyed when the National Socialists came to power in the 1930s. The trust that had been shattered as a result of persecution and the Holocaust could only be gradually restored over the post-war decades.

Indigenous minorities

The assimilation of traditional societies (or indigenous or indigenous peoples) as "minorities in their own country", according to some ethnologists, has various negative consequences due to the great cultural differences and an often traumatic relationship with European cultures:

Corresponding counter-movements to assimilation are indigenization and re-indigenization .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Köck u. Hanns Ott: Dictionary for education and instruction. 5., completely reworked. and exp. Ed., Auer, Donauwörth 1994, ISBN 978-3-403-02455-2 , p. 11
  2. See Leibold 2006, pp. 70–74.
  3. Milton M. Gordon: Assimilation in American Life. The Role of Race, Religion and National Origins. Oxford University Press, New York NY 1964.
  4. Kay Deaux, Mark Snyder: The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. Oxford University Press 2012, p. 555.
  5. ^ J. Milton Yinger: Toward a Theory of Assimilation and Dissimilation. In: Ethnic and Racial Studies. Vol. 4, No. 3, July 1981, ISSN  0141-9870 , pp. 249-264, doi : 10.1080 / 01419870.1981.9993338 .
  6. ^ S. Guimond, P. de Oliveira, R. Kamiesjki, J. Sidanius: The trouble with assimilation: Social dominance and the emergence of hostility against immigrants. In: International Journal of Intercultural Relations 6 (34) 2010, pp. 642–650.
  7. ^ Moshe Zimmermann : The German Jews 1914–1945 (= Encyclopedia of German History. Vol. 43). Oldenbourg, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-486-55082-9 , p. 88 ( available from Google Books).
  8. Gershom Scholem : Jews and Germans. In: Gershom Scholem: Judaica (= Library Suhrkamp. Vol. 263). Volume 2. Edited by Rolf Tiedemann. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1970, pp. 20–46, here p. 35.
  9. Hannah Arendt: We refugees . In: At the moment. Political essays . Rotbuch-Verlag, Hamburg, updated and expanded new edition 1999, ISBN 3-434-53037-1 , pp. 7-21.
  10. ^ Walter Hirschberg (founder), Wolfgang Müller (editor): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005. p. 34.
  11. Raul Páramo-Orgega: The trauma that unites us. Thoughts on the Conquista and Latin American identity. In: Psychoanalysis - Texts on Social Research. 8th year, issue 2, Leipzig 2004, pp. 89–113.