The Differences (or Similarities) Between Ethnic identity, Cultural identity, and Acculturation

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The unprecedented increase in the rate of international migration have prompted many social scientists to look at studying the many aspects of culture that interact with the whole immigration process, and the many changes that occur not only to the immigrant groups but to the members of the host community.

A review of studies on attitudinal, cultural and/or behavioural change as a result of the immigration and adaptation processes has identified three constructs that have received much attention among researchers. They include: ‘ethnic identity’ which is generally defined as the degree to which an individual perceives himself as part of an ethnic group (Trimble & Dickson, 2005); ‘cultural identity’ which is perceived as the level of
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Ethnic identity
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‘Ethnic’ is a term with Greek origins – ‘ethnikas’ which means ‘nation’ and ‘ethos’ which means custom, characteristics or trait. When taken together, ‘ethnikas and ethos’ can mean a group of people living together and sharing common beliefs and tradition. The second part of the construct is ‘identity’, which was derived from the Latin word ‘identitas’ formed from another Latin word ‘idem’ meaning ‘the same. Thus, when we combine the meanings of ‘ethnic’ and ‘identity’, they may imply the sameness of a group of people who share common beliefs and traditions, experiences, and sometimes, common geographical location (Trimble & Dickson, 2005).

‘Ethnic identity’ as a term was first used by the French nationalist and scientist, Georges Vacher de la Pouge in 1896 to explain the natural and simulated cultural, psychological and social traits of a group of people. In modern usage, the term usually refers to ‘the way individuals and groups distinguish themselves based on their race, country of origin, language, and cultural experiences. It also refers to ‘the psychological attachment to an ethnic group or heritage’ which significantly touches on self-perception (Cheung, 1993). Saharso (1989) extends the definition of ‘ethnic identity’ to include social processes (e.g. establishing relationships or choosing a life partner).

The psychologist, Jean Phinney (1990),

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