The Acculturation of Canadian Immigrants: Determinants of Ethnic Identification with the Host Society *

By Walters, David; Phythian, Kelli et al. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, February 2007 | Go to article overview

The Acculturation of Canadian Immigrants: Determinants of Ethnic Identification with the Host Society *


Walters, David, Phythian, Kelli, Anisef, Paul, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


IN THE EARLY PART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, social researchers focussing on immigrant acculturation generally presumed that assimilation was an unavoidable consequence of continuous interaction with the dominant cultural group. Robert Park's (1950) race relations cycle, for instance, posits that when two or more ethnic groups share a common geographical location, their interactions and relationships pass through a series of stages that ultimately end in assimilation. According to Park, interactions between ethnic groups sharing a common geopolitical boundary become increasingly frequent, such that distinct ethnicities disappear and the groups become culturally indistinguishable from one another. Building on this concept, Milton Gordon (1964) proposed a multidimensional approach to assimilation. Gordon conceptualized several components of assimilation, each of which represents a different incorporation strategy of either the minority or the majority group. Gordon's definition of assimilation therefore implies participation on the part of both immigrants and the host society. In particular, a willing immigrant cannot assimilate into a host society whose members are not receptive to immigrants or to particular ethnic groups. The dimensions of assimilation proposed by Gordon together form a continuum that denotes degree of assimilation the more stages of assimilation through which one passes, the more assimilated one is said to be.

Glazer and Moynihan (1963) proposed additional acculturation strategies, noting that while some immigrant groups indeed assimilate, others retain specific features of their native culture. In countries of immigration, then, cultural pluralism is an alternative to assimilation. Rather than presuming that assimilation is the inevitable outcome of immigrant adaptation, as did earlier researchers, recent and emerging literature has instead focussed on the multiple ways in which newcomers are incorporated into their host society. Berry (1997), for instance, identified four mutually exclusive acculturation strategies. These four strategies are: assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization. Assimilation, as defined by Berry, can be understand as a process of adaptation whereby the migrant, or migrant group, takes on the customs, values and social attributes of the host society to the extent that the immigrant becomes indistinguishable from the majority. Integration may be defined as a similar process by which the immigrant, or immigrant group, becomes an active member of the host society, yet simultaneously maintains a distinct ethnic identity. Separation occurs when ethnic minorities seek to maintain distinct identities, refusing (or being refused) active participation in the larger society, and marginalization takes place when one neither identifies with his or her original cultural background, nor with that of the host society (Berry, 1997).

In this study we focus on the concepts of assimilation and integration as defined by Berry (1997), but which are consistent with those proposed by Park (1950), Gordon (1964) and Glazer and Moynihan (1963), and which have received general consensus in the research literature (see, for example, Gans, 1997; Rumbaut, 1997; Price, 1969; Bernard, 1967; Baglioni, 1964). The analysis for this study is situated within the acculturation literature; however, we place specific emphasis on the issue of identity. While immigrant incorporation has received much attention in the research literature, particularly in the areas of labour force participation, socio-economic status, and residential segregation, little attention has been paid to the factors responsible for immigrant ethno-cultural identities.

Review of the Literature

A great deal of political attention has been devoted to distinguishing between the processes of assimilation and integration. Perhaps the most widely discussed topic in the field of immigrant adaptation is socio-economic assimilation, or the achievement of occupational, educational and income success on par with the native majority (see, for example, Chiswick, Lee and Miller, 2005; van Tubergen, Maas and Flap, 2004; Aydemir and Skuterud, 2004; Reitz, 1998; 1998; 2001; 2003; Li, 2001; 2003; Boyd, 1975; 1984; 2002; Boyd and Thomas, 2002; Kalbach, Hardwick, Vintila and Kalbach, 2002; Kazemipur and Halli, 2000; 2001; Boyd and Grieco, 1998; Chiswick and Cohen, 1997; Perlmann and Waldinger, 1997; Reitz and Sklar, 1997; Rumbaut, 1997; Bloom, Grenier and Gunderson, 1995; Baker and Benjamin, 1994; Borjas and Tienda, 1993; Abbot and Beach, 1993; Borjas and Freeman, 1992; Borjas, 1982; 1989; 1996; Beaujot, Basavarajappa and Verma, 1988; Chiswick, 1977; 1980; 1984). …

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