Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 19: Assimilation

Emory S. Bogardus

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AFTER accommodation comes assimilation. In this process there is a further harmonizing of mental attitudes. The sutures found in accommodation tend to disappear and a new unity arises which is by no means the mere sum of the constituent units.

The material to be assimilated may be expected normally to have run the gamut of toleration, compromise, accommodation; it must submit itself in turn to being assimilated in a still larger unit. The idea of God as a tribal deity comes into conflict with a different tribal concept of God, and ultimately the two melt into one belief, namely, in a national God, which in turn enters into conflicts with the beliefs concerning the national deities of other nations, and the whole process is repeated. The languages of the Angles and the Saxons conflict with the language of the Celts, Normans, French, as well as with the older Latin and Greek languages, and after a long period of time a new product is reached, the English language, which although a hodge-podge, nevertheless, has acquired a dictionary entity. But as nations contact one another and the technique of world communication is improved, the English language will enter into a new conflict for world supremacy among languages. What the result will be, no one can now say, but the accommodation stage is already being reached.

Assimilation is distinctly a mental process, involving the remaking of habits. It is the uniting of minds into common ways of reacting, and hence involves giving up old loyalties and the building of new ones, which is in essence a rehabituation process. Hence, assimilation requires time. Ordinarily no one makes over fundamental habits quickly.

Assimilation is an educational process, in which direct and indirect suggestion and the making of habits function. With or without teachers, every individual throughout life is going to school to life, absorbing new ways of doing, and making over his stock of habit mechanisms. Cultural education serves to bring a larger variety of viewpoints into a person's life than does daily experience, and so is basic to assimilation.

An excellent definition of assimilation is given by Park and Burgess : "Assimilation is a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons

( 220) and groups acquire the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of other persons or groups, and by sharing their experiences and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life."[1] In this process there stand out participation, subtle changes, gradual growth. These terms present assimilation in contrast to accommodation with its open, abrupt external characteristics. Assimilation is so highly subjective, that it is hard to observe and hence to understand, and yet it is one of the main results of intersocial stimulation. A leading product of assimilation is likemindedness, a concept developed as early as 1896 by Giddings.[2]


A well known phase of assimilation is naturalization, a process whereby a person swears away his loyalty to one national group and acquires a loyalty to another group. Where a person has suffered persecution in his native land, as in the case of the Jews in Russia, or where he has been an illiterate in an autocratically controlled monarchy, he may not have much loyalty to give up, and hence, when the immigrant reaches a free country, the naturalization process is simplified. But when a loyal Englishman leaves home even for the United States, another English-speaking country, he is not readily naturalized, for to him naturalization means first of all denationalization. He must give up his loyalty to the Union Jack, which is almost impossible because that flag has been for him the center of much feeling and sentiment and habitual patriotic responses. A reason why English immigrants do not become naturalized in the United States as soon as certain other immigrants is because of special difficulty they experience in getting denationalized. H. J. Bridges analyzes this set of problems well, showing how the time element and sympathetic treatment in the new land are essential.[3] Edward A. Steiner has skilfully and with psychological insight depicted a similar type of difficulties, even more delicate and deep-seated, namely, de-religionization, that is, the giving up of an ingrained religion.[4]

The experiences of Prussia in attempting to Prussianize the Poles, of Russia in Russianizing the Poles, of Hungary in Magyarizing Slovaks and Croatians all reveal a woeful lack of knowledge of the assimilation process, and especially of the first steps in it. In Prussia and Russia the Poles were forbidden to use their own language, and at once were

( 221) made aware of how they were being manipulated. To forbid the use of one's native tongue, especially when that is inseparably bound up with religious worship and with domestic experiences and sentiments, at once arouses one's loyalty to that which one is about to lose. One will die rather than give up the old loyalties. On the other hand, the Poles in Prussia, before an active Prussianization program was inaugurated, were gradually losing their Polish ways and slowly becoming Prussian as a result of the indirect influence of a seemingly disinterested environment.

Denationalization, the first step in naturalization, can be promoted only indirectly. A person cannot be forced to give up loyalties, but new ideals can be made so attractive that he will grow loyal to them, and without being aware of the change gradually outgrow old loyalties. It is only when a crisis comes, that he realizes how his loyalties have become modified. How many persons after living in a large city or in a new country for a number of years are astounded upon return to the "old home" to find how small it seems, how they themselves have changed, and how quickly they become restless under the old conditions.


There are several theories and policies of ethnic assimilation.[5] The best known in our country is the "melting pot" theory.[6] A figure of speech is rarely accurate and the melting pot concept has been misinterpreted. Mr. Zangwill's original idea was thoroughly democratic, but immigrant interpretations have developed unfavorable meanings. The figure of the melting pot brings to the immigrant oftentimes the picture of himself being dangled over a cauldron into which he is about to be dropped and from which he ultimately will emerge a member of the body politic, but having lost all semblance of his former self.

The melting pot theory has furthered the laissez-faire policy of doing nothing regarding assimilation. After 1909, when the melting pot figure of speech caught the public fancy, there was a widespread conviction that ethnic fusion had been taking place more or less automatically. People had taken pride in referring to our country as a vast assimilation cauldron, and had not investigated the facts, which received no publicity until after the United States entered the World War. Then it became

( 222) known at large that there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions of immigrants who were living in our large cities and industrial centers in huddled groups having few contacts with American life at its best. There were vast undissolved lumps in the body politic.

A second proposal is well illustrated in the American attitude in 1917 and 1918 that indiscriminately called immigrants "foreign invaders." Many Americans gained patriotic prestige by urging the use of force, and by declaring in effect that immigrants must all "get a hustle on themselves and get naturalized, or get out of the country at once." Their languages were to be denied them and they were to be compelled to become like us. This Prussian method has, of course, little scientific value, and represents a narrow-minded, autocratic attitude.

A third suggestion is that of ethnic federation. Each group is to maintain its racial integrity ; inter-marriage is not to occur ; but a common type of culture is to be developed. According to this conception ethnic differences are the basic matters in the life of each member of the group; "they are primary, and ineradicable because natural, while all other differences, those of environment and acquired, are secondary and changeable." [7] This theory is hardly tenable, but is serviceable for purposes of comparison.

The community theory means developing a community of culture as a psychical and educational process. This is the idea that is represented in the best interpretations of Americanization as disclosed in the following definitions quoted elsewhere by the writer :

Americanization means giving the immigrant the best America has to offer and retaining for Americans the best in the immigrant.

Americanization is the uniting of new and native-born Americans in fuller common understanding and appreciation, to secure by means of self-government the highest welfare of all.[8]

It is in mental and cultural unity that we expect to find the true goal of ethnic fusion. We cannot ask an immigrant to give up his loyalty to his home land where his early days were spent, where he learned his mother tongue, and where his parents lived and perhaps have died. He who has no such loyalties has no dependable basis for developing a new set of loyalties. It is doubtful if he who has never loved anyone will become a dependable citizen. A great love and loyalty are built by degrees ; and hence, the immigrant may be expected to keep his home

( 223) land loyalty providing he will try to fit it in, or significant phases of it, into the new national loyalty. His native tongue is of value in his new habitat, for it will serve as a means of connecting a new people with an ancient literature and cultural history. Immigrants from all races thus bring the keys that unlock the cultural treasure-stores of all mankind. They may be encouraged to offer their gifts of art, music, and song, hand-work, cultural viewpoint to the making of a new cosmopolitan culture, and to fit them into a new all-inclusive cultural unity.

The community theory includes the participation method. The immigrant is expected to take part first in the community life and then in the larger life into which he has entered; it is essential that he be given reasonable opportunities and stimuli to participate. The primary result ordinarily is a new sense of responsibility, of social or group consciousness, and of democratic responsiveness. The method is illustrated in the community organization process at its best, for it provides that participation whereby an individual feels himself a responsible part of any movement or group or institution. The immigrant is usually willing to participate to the extent that he understands what is to be done and is able to respond, but the native is generally slow or reluctant to give the newcomer the needed opportunities. The "stranger" is handicapped until he can demonstrate his honesty; he must be careful to show himself worthy of confidence. The native is handicapped by prejudice and often by feelings of superiority, aloofness, and unwillingness to be democratic.


Acculturation is a phase of assimilation that refers to the fusions of cultures; it is a leading theme in ethnology. The study of racial contacts among primitive peoples deals largely with acculturation. Material elements are the first to be transmitted from race to race; "the objective demonstration" of their effect is sufficient to secure their adoption. The transmission and adoption of stimulants, firearms, the potato, poison gases, motion pictures illustrate a common phase of acculturation. In this connection "the basic patterns" of family and social life remain practically unmodified despite transformations in technique, in language, and in religion, and indicate that acculturation is an uneven process, taking place in certain phases of cultural life but not affecting others.

The interesting problem arises whether acculturation may take place too rapidly. Can a primitive group be truly "converted" to a new religion, such as Christianity with high ethical standards, in a short space of time?

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What happens when a low cultural group comes suddenly into contact with a higher cultural group? Evidently there is much reorganization with a certain amount of disorganization and deterioration taking place.[9] Missionaries have often failed to appreciate the full significance of acculturation.[10] It is apparently a mistake for people “to wear out their souls in efforts to convert the thirteenth century into the nineteenth in a score of years." [11] According to Wallis : "Sudden transformations usually mean the rapid death and disappearance of the people themselves as well as of their culture." [12] The missionary, like the evangelist at home, must see to it that there is not too much negation, too much taboo, and too little that is socially positive in his religious program.[13]

The "mass movements" in India where multitudes as groups have adopted Christianity do not provide for acculturation. The substantial character of the results is thus to be questioned.

An even more serious form of negative and deteriorative acculturation is that resulting from the contacts of commerce with primitive peoples. Here oftentimes destructive techniques have been introduced in a wholesome way, sometimes for purposes of pecuniary exploitation, and again, just because the commercial promoters are away from home and give their lower nature, particularly their sex nature, free reign. This disastrous phase of acculturation needs to be dealt with by a strong world conscience, expressing itself through a world organization.


A leading outgrowth of assimilation is amalgamation, a process which is sometimes called biological assimilation. It refers to the fusion of races by intermarriage. It is the process of developing blood relationships and of making new races.

Amalgamation naturally follows assimilation. After people have learned to think alike, they are apt to intermarry. In other words, when assimilation occurs and a community of minds takes place, the problems of intermarriage have disappeared. Until assimilation has been achieved, amalgamation is not advisable, for the one who marries out of his racial

( 225) group will be ostracized by that group, and will by no means feel at home in the new racial group. The problems of amalgamation are largely chimerical except as the laws of assimilation are disregarded.

A bad form of amalgamation is found where civilized and uncivilized races contact one another, for miscegenation occurs between the morally weak men of the higher race and the less advanced women of the lower race. Mixed bloods of illegitimate origin are the product of vicious social conditions, and yet may yield a surprisingly large percentage of capable persons, as demonstrated by outstanding leaders among mulattoes in the United States. In these pathological phases of amalgamation, the sex impulses have been the controlling factor and have operated irrespective of the laws of assimilation.

The rate of racial intermarriage depends on many factors, chief of which is the assimilation differential, namely, the greater the racial differences the lower the percentage of racial intermarriage. Some races may have a definite set of traditions against intermarriage, as represented by

Jewish customs with reference to Gentiles, and some peoples may follow specific religious instructions, as represented by Catholic rules regarding intermarriage with non-Catholics. In a study of 100,000 marriages in New York City, extending over a five year period (1908-1912), by Julius Drachsler,[14] it was found that the ratio of intermarriage for men and women of all nationalities, as a group, is about fourteen out of every one hundred marriages, with "a strong tendency for intermarriage to occur within identical generations." The social intermarriage rate for Jews and Negroes is the lowest of all, for the Jews because of distinctions of religion, and for the Negroes, because of color and other prejudicial differences. The ratio is also lowest for first generation immigrants, because their contacts are greatly limited and their points of view are apt to be specialized.

The three main factors which seem to operate in furthering amalgamation, for example, in New York City are: (I) the preponderance of marriageable men over marriageable women, with the consequent seeking of mates in outside groups; (2) a rise in economic status, although here a controlling social reaction sets in as soon as a medium economic level is attained. Social exclusiveness begins to operate forcefully with economic success, and cuts down the intermarriage rate to that, if not below that, of the lowest economic classes, and (3) a diminution in the intensity of the group consciousness or in the attitude of group soli-

(226) -darity.[15] In the second generation the increase in intermarriage rate is offset by a decrease in "the number of nationalities with which individuals of the second generation intermarry." Here again the attitude of social aloofness operates with increasing force. The second generation suffers a break in racial solidarity but to the extent that it experiences success, its release from regulations against intermarriage are counter-balanced by new bonds of social exclusiveness. The intermarriage rate varies in the main according to the increase or decrease of social contacts.

Amalgamation is often objected to because races are inferior and superior in stock and thus the superior will be pulled down. There is probably more difference in quality of stock between members of any given race than there is between races. "No race is lacking in any essential characteristic of mind," declares E. B. Reuter, after a careful scientific scrutiny of the data.[16] Superiority and inferiority relate essentially to the time of observation.[17] It makes a difference whether you rate the Anglo-Saxon race according to its cultural status in 1000 B. C., or now. Social contacts and stimuli seem to be the most important factors creating racial "inferiority" or "superiority."

Biological assimilation is not to be forced. Unlike mental assimilation it requires generations. A new race is not made in a day, but rather in a thousand years. "Too rapid a mixture involves a sudden break with cultural tradition, and a consequent demoralization of the individual." Biological assimilation is the slowest to operate of all phases of human interaction. The whole process hinges on mental assimilation, which is both educational and social.


1. The natural culmination of accommodation is assimilation, a process of uniting mental attitudes into a new and greater psychical and cultural whole.

2. The heart of the assimilation process is education.

3. Naturalization is a phase of assimilation whereby an individual gives up what loyalty he has to one nation and develops loyalty to another,

4. Ethnic assimilation may either be of the "melting pot" type, the "Prussianizing" type, the racial federation type, or the community and participation type.

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5. Acculturation is a phase of assimilation that involves the conflicts and fusions of different racial cultures.

6. Amalgamation, or biological assimilation, is the making of a new racial stock through miscegenation.


1. Distinguish between accommodation and assimilation.

2. What are the psychological fallacies in "Prussianization" as it was applied to the Poles?

3. What is meant by ethnic assimilation?

4. In what ways is the melting pot theory of ethnic assimilation weak?

5. Why is the laissez-faire policy of ethnic assimilation inadequate?

6. Why is ethnic federation insufficient?

7. What is the chief merit of the "participation" method as a mode of assimilation?

8. Illustrate the acculturation process.

9. Why may acculturation take place too rapidly?

10. Why should missionaries be thoroughly versed in acculturation principles?

11. What is the relation of amalgamation to assimilation?

12. What is the "assimilation differential?"

13. Upon what factors does the rate of racial intermarriage depend?

14. Why can biological assimilation not be forced?


1. In what way have you felt the process of assimilation?

2. Why is naturalization an unusually delicate psychological process?

3. Distinguish between naturalization and nationalization.

4. What is the best way to help a person develop a new loyalty?

5. What is the psychological weakness in the verb "to Americanize?"

6. In what sense is ethnic federation an accommodation process and in what sense assimilation?

7. How is the English language a product of acculturation?

8. Will the acculturation process probably continue until all the races of the world become one race?

9. What are the main objections to the intermarriage of persons belonging to widely different races?

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Abbott, Grace, The Immigrant and the Community (Century, 1917).

Antin, Mary, The Promised Land (Houghton Mifflin, 1912).

Boas, Franz, The Mind of Primitive Man (Macmillan, 1911).

Bogardus, E. S., Essentials of Americanization (Univ. of Southern California Press, 1923), Chs. I, XXI.

Bridges, H. J., On Becoming an American (Marshall Jones, 1919).

Butler, F. C., Community Americanization (U. S. Bureau of Education Bul., 1919, No. 80).

Drachsler, Julius, Democracy and Assimilation (Macmillan, 1920).

Lipsky, Abram, "The Political Mind of Foreign-born Americans," Popular Sci. Mon., 85: 393-403.

MacKaye, Percy, The Immigrants (Huebsch, 1915).

Miniter, Edith, Our Natupski Neighbors (Holt, 1916).

Neumann, Henry, "Teaching American Ideals through Literature," (Bul., 1918, No. 2, Dept. of Interior, Washington).

Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1921), Ch. XI.

Park and Miller, Old World Traits Transplanted (Harper, 1921).

Ravage, M. E., An American in the Making (Harper, 1917).

Steiner, E. A., From Alien to Citizen (Revell, 1914).

Thomas, W. I., "The Prussian-Polish Situation: An Experiment in Assimilation," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, V : 57-76.

Weatherly, U. G., "The Racial Element in Social Assimilation,"Publications of the American Sociological Society, V : 57-76.

Zangwill, Israel, The Melting Pot (Macmillan, 1909).


  1. Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1921), p. 735.
  2. Principles of Sociology (Macmillan, 1896), pp. 17 ff.
  3. On Becoming an American (Marshal Jones, 1919).
  4. From Alien to Citizen (Revell, 1914).
  5. Four of these are well summarized by I. B. Berkson in his Theories of Americanization (Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1920), Ch. II.
  6. See Zangwill's drama, The Melting Pot.
  7. Ibid.,p. 86.
  8. Essentials of Americanization (Univ. of Southern California Press, 1923), Ch. I.
  9. Quoted by Park and Burgess, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, p. 738, from River's study of Melanesian and Hawaiian cultures.
  10. A set of practical and concrete illustrations of the problems facing the missionary who wishes his culture upon peoples of a different culture is given by D. J. Fleming, Contacts with Non-Christian Cultures (Doran, 1923).
  11. Mary H. Kingsley, West African Studies (London, 1901), 379.
  12. Amer. Jour. of Theology, XIX:271.
  13. W. C. Smith, Jour. of Applied Sociology, VII: 184.
  14. Democracy and Assimilation (Macmillan, 1920), Chs. IV, V.
  15. Drachsler, ibid., pp. 146-148.
  16. Population Problems (Lippincott, 1923), p.275.
  17. Ibid.

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