11.Participation and Social Assimilation [1]

The Americanization Study has assumed that the fundamental condition of what we call "Americanization" is the participation of the immigrant in the life of the community in which he lives. The point here emphasized is that patriotism, loyalty and common Sense are neither created nor transmitted by purely intellectual processes. He must live and work and fight together in order to create that community of in-

( 48) -terest and sentiment which will enable them to meet the crises of their common life with a common will.

It is evident, however, that the word "participation" as here employed has a wide application, and it becomes important for working purposes to give a more definite and concrete meaning to the term.

(1) Language

Obviously any organized social activity whatever and any participation in this activity implies "communication." In human, as distinguished from animal society, common life is based on a common speech. To share a common speech does not guarantee participation in the community life but it is an instrument of participation, and its acquisition by the members of an immigrant group is rightly considered a sign and a rough index of Americanization.

It is, however, one of the ordinary experiences of social intercourse that words and things do not have the same meanings with different people, in different parts of the country, in different periods of time, and, in general, in different contexts. The same "thing" has a different meaning for the naive person and the sophisticated person, for the child and philosopher; the new experience derives its significance from the character and organization of the previous experiences. To the peasant a comet, a plague, an epileptic person may mean a divine portent, a visitation of God, a possession by the devil ; to the scientific man the; mean something quite different. The word "slavery" had very different con-notations in the ancient world and today. It has a very different significance today in the Southern states and the Northern states. "Socialism" has a very different significance to the immigrant from the Russian pale living on the "East Side" of "New York City, to the citizen on Riverside Drive, and to the native American in the hills of Georgia.

Psychologists explain this difference in the connotation of the same word among people using the same language in terms of difference in the "apperception mass" in different individuals and different groups of individuals. In their phraseology the apperception mass represents the body of memories and meanings deposited in the consciousness of the individual from the totality of his experiences. It is the body of material with which every new datum of experience comes into contact, to which it is related and in connection with which it gets its meaning.

When persons interpret data on different grounds, when the apperception mass is radically different, we say popularly- that they live in different worlds. The logician expresses this by saying that they occupy dif-

( 49) -ferent "universes of discourse"—that is, they cannot talk in the same terms. The ecclesiastic, the artist, the mystic, the scientist ; the Philistine, the Bohemian, represent more or less different universes of discourse. Even social workers occupy universes of discourse not mutually intelligible.

Similarly, different races and nationalities as wholes represent different apperception masses and consequently different universes of discourse and are not mutually intelligible. Even our remote forefathers are with difficulty intelligible to us, though always more intelligible than the eastern European immigrant, because of the continuity of our tradition. Still, it is almost as difficult for us to comprehend Elsie Dinsmore or the Westminster Catechism as the Koran or the Talmud.

(2) Education

It is apparent, therefore, that in the wide extension and vast complexity of modern life, in which peoples of different races and cultures are now coming into intimate contact, the divergences in the meanings and values which individuals and groups attach to objects and forms of behavior are deeper than anything expressed by differences in language.

Actually common participation in common activities implies a common "definition of the situation." In fact every single act, and eventually all moral life, is dependent upon the definition of the situation. A definition of the situation precedes and limits any possible action, and a redefinition of the situation changes the character of the action. An abusive person, for example, provokes anger and possibly violence, but if we realize that the man is insane this redefinition of the situation results in totally different behavior.

Every social group develops systematic and unsystematic means of defining the situation for its members. Among these means are the "don'ts" of the mother, the gossip of the community, epithets ("liar," "traitor," "scab") the sneer, the shrug, the newspaper, the theater, the school, libraries, the law and the gospel. Education in the widest sense—intellectual, moral, esthetic—is the process of defining the situation. It is the process by which the definitions of an older generation are transmitted to a younger. In the case of the immigrant it is the process by which the definitions of one cultural group are transmitted to another.

Differences in meanings and value, referred to above in terms of the apperception mass, grow out of the fact that different individuals and different peoples have defined the situation in different ways. When we speak of the different "heritages or "traditions" which our different immigrant groups bring, it means that owing to different historical cir-

( 50) -cumstances they have defined the situation differently. Certain prominent personalities, schools of thought, bodies of doctrine, historical events have contributed in defining the situation and determining the attitudes and values of our various immigrant groups in characteristic ways in their home countries. To the Sicilian, for example, marital infidelity means the stiletto; to the American, the divorce court. And even when the immigrant thinks that he understands us he nevertheless does not do this completely. At the best he interprets our cultural traditions in terms of his own. This is well exemplified in a letter dated May 2, 1907 to President Roosevelt from an Italian ("the writer was at the time in Sing Sing) proposing to make him president of the Black Hand if his candidacy for the presidency at Washington failed. The native American appreciates the "manhood" and the "big stick" of Colonel Roosevelt in their whole context, but the Sicilian identified them with his own "omerta."

Actually the situation is progressively redefined by the consequences of the actions, provoked by the previous definitions, and a prison experience is designed to provide a datum toward the re-definition of the situation, though in the case of the Italian this was evidently not doing its perfect work.

It is evidently important that the people who compose a community and share in the common life should have a sufficient body of common memories to understand one another. This is particularly true in democracy. where it is intended that the public institutions should be responsive to public opinion. There can be no public opinion except in as far as the persons who compose the public are able to live in the same world and speak and think in the same universe of discourse. For that reason, it seems desirable that the immigrants should not only— speak the language of the country— but should know something of the history of the people among whom they have chosen to dwell. For that same reason, it is important that native Americans should know the history and social life of the countries from which the immigrants come.

It is important also that every individual should share as fully as possible a fund of knowledge. experience, sentiments and ideals common to the whole community and himself contribute to this fund. It is for this reason that we maintain and seek to maintain freedom of speech and free schools. The function of literature, including poetry, romance and the newspaper, is to enable all to share vicariously- and imaginatively in the inner life of each. The function of science is to gather up, classify, digest and preserve, in a form in which they may become available to community as a whole, the ideas, inventions and

( 51) technical experience of the individuals composing it. Thus not merely the possession of a common language but the wide extension of the opportunities for education becomes a condition of Americanization.

The immigration problem is unique in the sense that the immigrant brings divergent definitions of the situation and this renders his participation in our activities difficult. At the same time this problem is of the same general type as the one exemplified by "syndicalism," "bolshevism," "socialism," etc., where the definition of the situation does not agree with the traditional one. The modern "social unrest," like the immigrant problem is a sign of the lack of participation and this is true to the degree that certain elements feel that violence is the only available means of participating.

In general, a period of unrest represents the stage in which a new definition of the situation is being prepared. Emotion and unrest are connected with situations where there is loss of control. Control is secured on the basis of habits and habits are built upon the basis of the definition of the situation. Habit represents a situation where the definition is working. When control is lost it means that the habits are no longer adequate, that the situation has changed and demands a re-definition. This is the point at which we have unrest—a heightened emotional state, random movements, unregulated behavior—and this continues until the situation is redefined. The unrest is associated with conditions in which the individual or society feels unable to act. It represents energy, and the problem is to use it constructively.

The older societies tended to treat unrest by defining the situation in terms of the suppression or postponement of the wish ; they tried to make the repudiation of the wish itself a wish. "Contentment." "conformity to the will of God," ultimate "salvation" in a better world, are representative of this. The founders of America defined the situation in terms of participation, but this has actually taken too exclusively the form of "political participation " The present tendency is to define the situation in terms of "social participation," including a demand for the improvement of social conditions to a degree which will enable all to participate.

(3) Individual Liberty

But, while it is important that the people who are members of the same community- should have a body of common memories and a common apperception mass, so that they may talk intelligibly to one another, it is neither possible nor necessary that every individual and every group should have an identical body of experiences and that every-

( 52) thing should have the same meaning for everyone. A perfectly homogeneous consciousness would mean a tendency to define all situations rigidly and sacredly and once and forever. Something like this did happen in the Slavic village communities and among all savage people, and it was the ideal of the medieval church, but it implies a low level of efficiency and a slow rate of progress.

Mankind is distinguished, in fact, from the animal world by being composed of persons of divergent types, of varied tastes and interests, of different vocations and functions. Civilization is the product of an association of widely different individuals, and with the progress of civilization the divergence in individual human types has been and must continue to be constantly multiplied. Our progress in the arts and sciences and in the creation of values in general has been dependent on specialists whose distinctive worth was precisely their divergence from other individuals. It is even evident that we have been able to use productively individuals who in a savage or peasant society would have been classed as insane—who perhaps were indeed insane.

The ability to participate productively implies thus a diversity of attitudes and values in the participants, but a diversity not so great as to lower the morals of the community, and prevent effective co-operation. It is important to have ready definitions for all immediate situations, but progress is dependent on the constant redefinition of the situation, and the ideal condition for this is the presence of individuals with divergent definitions, who contribute, in part consciously and in part unconsciously, through their individualism and labors to a common task and a common end. It is only in this way that an intelligible world, in which each can participate according to his intelligence, comes into existence. For, it is only through their consequences that words get their meanings and that situations become defined. It is through conflict and co-operation, or to use a current phrase of the economists, through "competitive co-operation", that a distinctly human type of society does anywhere exist. Privacy and publicity, "society" and solitude, public ends and private enterprises are each and all distinctive factors in human society everywhere. They are particularly characteristic of historic American democracy.

In this whole connection it appears that the group consciousness and the individual himself are formed by communication and participation, and that the communication and participation are themselves dependent for their meaning on common interests.

But it would be an error to assume that participation always implies an intimate personal, face-to-face relation. Specialists participate notably

( 53) and productively in our common life, but this is evidently not on the basis of personal association with their neighbors. Darwin was assisted by Lyell, Owen and other contemporaries in working out a new definition of the situation, but these men were not his neighbors. When Meyer worked out his theory of the transmutation of energy, his neighbors in the village of Heilbronn were so far from participating that they twice confined him in insane asylums. A postage stamp may be a more efficient instrument of participation than a village meeting.

Defining the situation with reference to the participation of the immigrant is of course not solving the problem of immigration. This involves an analysis of the whole significance of the qualitative and quantitative character of a population, with reference to any given, values—standards of living, individual level of efficiency, liberty and determinism, etc. We have, for instance, in America a certain level of culture, depending, let us say as a minimum, on the perpetuation of our public school system. But, if by some conceivable lusus naturae the birth-rate was multiplied a hundred fold, or by some conceivable cataclysm a hundred million African blacks were landed annually on our eastern coast and an equal number of Chinese coolies on our western coast. then we should have neither teachers enough nor buildings enough nor material resources enough to impart even the three R's to a fraction of the population, and the outlook of democratic participation would become very dismal. On the other hand it is conceivable that certain immigrant populations in certain numbers, with their special temperaments, endowments and social heritages, would contribute positively and increasingly to our stock of civilization. Certainly if the immigrant is admitted on any basis whatever, one condition of his Americanization is that he shall have the widest and freest opportunity to contribute in his own way to the common fund of knowledge, ideas and ideals which makes up the culture of our common country. It is only in this way that the immigrant can participate in the fullest sense of the term.


  1. Reprinted with permission from mimeographed materials prepared by R. E. Park and W. I. Thomas for the "Americanization Study" which was made under the direction of A. T. Burns for the Carnegie Corporation, New York, 1917-19.

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