Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Intercultural Relations in Plural Societies

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Intercultural Relations in Plural Societies

Article excerpt

Donald O. Hebb Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology as a Science (1998) -- Prix Donald O. Hebb pour contribution remarquable a la psychologie en tant que science (1998)

Abstract. How can peoples of many and diverse cultural backgrounds come to live together successfully in culturally plural societies? The central issue for psychologists is how psychological research (theory and data) might contribute to an answer to this question, and perhaps influence public policy in this domain. Two research traditions have been concerned with this issue. One is the study of acculturation, which refers to the process of cultural change that results when two (or more) cultural groups come into contact as well as the psychological changes that individuals experience as a result of being members of cultural groups that are undergoing acculturation at the group or collective level.

The second research tradition is that of ethnic relations; it is concerned with understanding how individuals perceive, evaluate and behave towards each other, both within and across ethnic group boundaries. This paper reviews a program of research on these two traditions that seeks to contribute to the understanding and management of intercultural relations in Canada.

I am very pleased to be this year's recipient of the D.O. Hebb award for research; I take it to be a recognition of the field of cross-cultural psychology, as much as for my own contribution to it. While I am pleased, I'm not so sure about Professor Hebb. In his Textbook of Psychology (1958), he wrote: "Psychology is fundamentally a biological science, not a social science, nor a profession..."(f.1) In this brief overview of some of my research, I will try to convince him (and you) that psychology is also fundamentally a social science, and one that can be applied to the understanding of social and cultural issues.

The general issue that I want to address is: How can peoples of many and diverse cultural backgrounds come to live together successfully in plural societies?(f.2) The central issue for psychologists is how psychological research (theory and data) might contribute to an answer to this question, and perhaps influence public policy in this domain.

Psychological Research In Plural Societies

Over the years, I have attempted to link two research traditions that have been concerned with this central issue (see Figure 1). One is the study of acculturation, which originated in the discipline of cultural anthropology (see Berry, 1990). The concept refers to the process of cultural change that results when two (or more) cultural groups come into contact with each other; the changes occur in both groups, but usually one (the dominant group) changes less than the other(s) (Redfield, Linton, & Herskovits, 1936). Interest in the psychological aspects of acculturation began with Hallowell's (1945) research among Ojibwe peoples in Canada, and was expanded when Graves (1967) proposed the concept of psychological acculturation: the process of change that individuals experience as a result of being members of cultural groups that are undergoing acculturation at the group or collective level. This tradition is shown on the left of Figure 1, where the key concepts are presented; these concepts will be expanded below; along with some empirical evidence about them from studies in Canada. Taken together (at bottom of Figure 1), they can help us to understand (and perhaps manage) intercultural relations along a dimension that ranges from those that are conflictual and stressful for groups and individuals in contact (obviously the negative pole of the dimension) to those that are characterized by mutual accommodation and adaptation (the positive pole).

The second research tradition (one that is more familiar to psychology) is that of ethnic relations. This field has a long history in social psychology, but has drawn considerably on ideas in sociology and political science. …

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