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Acculturation is a process in which member of one cultural group has adopt the beliefs and behaviours of another group. Assimilation of one cultural group into another may be evidenced by changes in language preference, adoption of common attitudes and values, membership in common social groups and institutions, and loss of separate political or ethnic identification. Although acculturation is usually in the direction of a minority group adopting habits and language patterns of the dominant group acculturation can be reciprocal that is the dominant group adopts patterns typical of the minority group. With the diversification of the population and marketers increasing need to target minority groups, researchers have undertaken studies of these minority groups and their consumer behaviour. This incorporates assimilation and ethnic identification in the broader framework of acculturation mechanisms through which acculturation influences consumer behaviour are explored. Two variables, the level of assimilation into the major culture and ethnic identification, are often used to individuals within these minority groups.
Whereas factors such as socioeconomic and demographic variables can be used to characterize these minority groups, most research has paid attention to the influence of cultural factors on minority individuals' consumer behavior. The two variables most often used to correlate with these minority consumers' behavior are assimilation into the mainstream and ethnic identification. First, although concepts such as acculturation, assimilation, and ethnic identification are frequently used, it is often unclear what these concepts really mean. Sometimes what is meant by acculturation is actually assimilation, whereas other times acculturation and ethnic identification are treated as synonymous. Such confusions over the concepts have also led to different operationalization of the constructs, which poses questions about both the validity of these studies and the comparability of the results from different studies. Second, acculturation in many cases is taken to be equivalent to assimilation and is treated as a unidimensional construct is a notable. However, both psychological and sociological research has shown that acculturation is a multidimensional construct. Consumer researchers need to consider these multiple dimensions of acculturation, which may have different influence upon minority consumers' behavior. Third, although empirical research has found that the acculturation process does have an influence on consumer behavior, no systematic account exists that explains why and how acculturation influences consumer behavior. Such a systematic explanation is imperative if we desire a true understanding of the acculturation process and its influence on consumer behavior. Consumer researchers should go beyond the mere observation that acculturating individuals do exhibit different consumer behavior and should explore the mechanism that leads to such differences. An acculturating individual's consumption experience is understood from a consumer resocialization perspective and from the struggle between change and continuity of the individual's self-identity. The model also incorporates important environmental factors and individual characteristics and explains how they can influence the relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior.
Assimilation and ethnic identification in a broader concept acculturation. It is argued that acculturation is a multidimensional construct. One dimension of acculturation is the acceptance of the host culture or the mainstream culture. And the other dimension is the individual's maintenance of his or her original or ethnical culture, which is closely related to the concept of ethnic identification. A person adopting many aspects of the main culture does not necessarily has a low degree of ethnic identification, and vice versa. Different patterns emerge as individuals vary along these two dimensions. Having given a broad picture of our framework, we now turn to the concept of acculturation and the difference between acculturation and assimilation.
Although an individual's acculturation contributes to and is influenced by group-level acculturation, the two do not always evolve in the same direction or in the same way. An individual may be highly acculturated, whereas the group he or she belongs to may be not acculturated at all. The reverse may also be true. As here is on each individual consumer the individual-level acculturation. It will not constrain ourselves to only psychological factors, as research has indicated that both sociocultural and psychological adjustments occur in the acculturation process. Here acculturation as the changes in an individual's value, attitude, and behavior due to his or her direct contact with a culture other than his or her original culture. This acculturation is a long process and can go on for several years or even throughout a person's entire life. Different individuals may take different paces in this acculturation process. Some individuals may be completely assimilated into the host culture and lost their original cultural identity, while other individuals may integrate the host culture into their original culture. Therefore this acculturation process is highly individualized and is influenced by an individual's psychological traits as well as environmental and other external factors. Having defined acculturation, it is useful to further distinguish acculturation from assimilation. Acculturation and assimilation are similar since they all refer to a process that happens when an individual is in direct contact with a new culture. But assimilation takes on a much narrower meaning than acculturation. Assimilation refers to the adoption of the host culture and the loss of the original culture. It is a unidirectional process that goes from the individual's original culture to the new host culture. As one moves on in the assimilation process, he loses part of his original culture and acquires the host culture so that he or she will be indistinguishable from people in the host culture.
Acculturation, on the other hand, does not necessarily presume the loss of one's original culture and does not always lead to the adoption of the host culture. Although an individual's acculturation contributes to and is influenced by group-level acculturation, the two do not always evolve in the same direction or in the same way. An individual may be highly acculturated, whereas the group he or she belongs to may be not acculturated at all. The reverse may also be true. Acculturation as the changes in an individual's value, attitude, and behavior due to his or her direct contact with a culture other than his or her original culture. This acculturation is a long process and can go on for several years or even throughout a person's entire life. Different individuals may take different paces in this acculturation process. Some individuals may be completely assimilated into the host culture and lost their original cultural identity, while other individuals may integrate the host culture into their original culture. Therefore this acculturation process is highly individualized and is influenced by an individual's psychological traits as well as environmental and other external factors.
Acculturation it is useful to further distinguish acculturation from assimilation. Acculturation and assimilation are similar since they all refer to a process that happens when an individual is in direct contact with a new culture. But assimilation takes on a much narrower meaning than acculturation. Assimilation refers to the adoption of the host culture and the loss of the original culture. It is a unidirectional process that goes from the individual's original culture to the new host culture. As one moves on in the assimilation process, he loses part of his original culture and acquires the host culture so that he or she will be indistinguishable from people in the host culture. Acculturation, on the other hand, does not necessarily presume the loss of one's original culture and does not always lead to the adoption of the host culture. This framework pays more attention to the attitude an individual holds towards the host culture and the original culture. The two dimensions are the deemed importance of maintaining one's original culture and identity and the importance of maintaining relationship with other groups. The values individuals take on these dimensions vary continuously. When it is considered important to maintain one's own culture as well as maintain relationship with other groups, an integration strategy will be adopted. When such a strategy is also accepted by the majority group, the outcome will be a pluralism society. When it is considered of value to maintain relationship with other groups but not important to maintain the original culture, an assimilation strategy will be used. The acculturating individual will gradually lose his or her original culture and identity and mix him or herself into the host society. When maintaining the original culture and identity is considered important but not so for maintaining relationship with other groups, the acculturating individual will adopt a separation strategy and will isolate him or herself from the influence of the host culture. When neither maintaining the original culture nor maintaining relationship with other groups is considered important, a marginalization situation will result. Often a third culture will appear. Based on the above framework, an acculturating individual's behavior will be based on the attitudes he or she has, which also predicts the stress the individual may experience in the acculturation process.
The deemed importance of maintaining one's own cultural identity can be easily associated with the frequently used concept of ethnic identification. Ethnic identification refers to which ethnic group an individual identifies with and how strong the identification is. A positive correlation can immediately be seen between ethnic identification and the importance of maintaining one's own cultural identity. An individual considering maintaining his or her cultural identity important is likely to be more strongly identified with his or her ethnic or cultural group, while an individual strongly identified with his cultural group also tends to think it important to maintain this group's identity. Therefore, research on ethnic identification can be drawn upon to yield a better understanding of this dimension of acculturation. Likewise, the second dimension, whether it is considered of value to maintain relationship with the majority group, is closely related to assimilation research. Although assimilation involves a loss of one's original cultural identity, which is not implied by this dimension of acculturation, the part of assimilation regarding the adoption of the host culture undoubtedly offers a good opportunity for understanding the relationship between the acculturating individual and the host culture. The whole body of research on assimilation and its effects on consumer behavior can be tactically integrated to the study of this dimension of acculturation, that is, the deemed importance of maintaining relationship with the majority group for the acculturating individual.
Although one may argue that other multidimensional structures may also be appropriate or may be more appropriate for understanding acculturation, we do not think the use of framework will produce much difference in our theoretical model compared with models adopting these other structures of acculturation.
Depending on what socialization agents are involved, the outcome of the socialization process can be both functional and dysfunctional. The other way acculturation can influence consumer behavior is through the maintenance and change of the acculturating individual's self-identity. The acculturation process obviously has a significant impact on the individual's self. It is very important for the individual to adapt to the changes while at the same time maintain an integrated self. The struggle between change and continuity in the acculturation process is reflected in the products the individual consumes and how he or she consumes. Individuals adopting different acculturation strategies will put different emphases on change vs. continuity and will tend to consume in a way that reflects this difference in emphasis. Environmental factors and individual characteristics also play an important role in the acculturation process and in the relationship between acculturation and consumer behavior. For example, the working environment and the residential environment surrounding an acculturating individual shape the socialization agents the individual has direct access to, which further influences the individual's socialization process and his or her consumption behavior.
The social learning approach to consumer socialization can help us understand how acculturating individuals learn to consume in a new country and why the outcome of this learning process often turns out to be different for different individuals. This difference in outcome is a result of the different impact each socialization agent has on an individual, which can come from the individual's voluntary as well as involuntary choice of the socialization agents. Environmental factors pose restrictions on the socialization agents an acculturating individual is likely to be in contact with. An example of such environmental factors is the acculturating individual working environment. Working in a company whose employees are mainly from the host culture and working in a company who employs people from the same cultural origin as the acculturating individual surely produce different sets of peers the individual directly contacts. Individuals without adequate access to host culture through the host country's people may have to rely heavily on other information sources such as mass media and family for advice on consumption.
The two dimensions of acculturation, the acculturating individual's attitudes towards the host culture and the original culture lead to his or her voluntary selection of socialization agents. An individual with a positive attitude towards the host culture tends to be more willing to consult information sources from the host culture, such as the host country's mass media, peers from the host country. An individual who sticks to his or her original culture and does not accept the host culture, however, may turn to family or peers from the original culture for advice. Empirical research has shown that individuals who are more structurally assimilated tend to consult friends, coworkers, salesperson and mere observation before purchase, whereas individuals less assimilated tend to turn to family for advice.
These voluntary as well as involuntary choices of socialization agents to a great extent determines what the acculturating individual sees and learns about the consumption reality in the host country. These differences in learning further lead to different consumer behavior, such as processing advertisements differently or using different criteria in making purchase decisions. It is through constant changes that the self develops. At the same time, to keep the self integrated and unified, there also needs to be certain continuity of the self during the changing process. This ongoing dialogue between change and continuity makes up the history of the self. Just as historical remnants make it possible for us to understand and partially reproduce historical events and the life of historical people, there are also certain things that symbolize an individual's past, present and future self. Both the individual's possessions and people around the individual make up the extended self (Belk 1988) and substantiate the history of his or her self.
Although many changes in self are trivial and may not even be recognized, other changes can be dramatic and can significantly alter the self. The changes an acculturating individual's self undergoes would belong to the latter. When an individual comes to a new country, he or she is very likely to experience dramatic changes through the acculturation process, especially when the individual's original culture is very different from the host culture. It is very important for the individual to adapt to the changes and at the same time to maintain the continuity of the self. Possessions play an important role in this self-management. On the one hand, acquiring new possessions or products, especially products strongly associated with the host culture, helps the self to transfer to the new culture. On the other hand, old possessions remind the acculturating individual of his or her past and provide the basis to go on as still the same self, therefore soothing possible conflicts or stress brought by the changes. As very few old possessions can be carried when one travels abroad, these possessions are substituted by products from the original country or products symbolizing the original culture.
For individuals in different acculturation modes, the emphasis on change versus continuity will be different. For assimilationists, they will be eager to change themselves to the new identity as a member of the host culture. For them, products from the host country are often purchased and consumed to show belonging to the host culture. For integrationists, however, emphasis will be put on both change and continuity. Products from host country are consumed and absorbed, and at the same time products from the original country are equally cherished. Integrationists' consumption pattern will be expected to be a mixture of host country style and original country style. For separationists, since they stick to their old culture and cannot or are not willing to accept the new culture, they will be resistant to change as well as the products symbolizing such changes. For these individuals, products from the original country or products symbolizing the original culture will be treated with enthusiasm and bestowed significance these products may not have before.