Meaning of Enculturation

What is Enculturation:

Enculturation is the process by which an individual incorporates, knows, learns and puts into practice the norms, beliefs, traditions and customs of a culture in which he or she is part of.

The term enculturation comes from the English enculturation and was first used in 1948 by the anthropologist Melville Herskovits.

Enculturation aims to teach what is considered appropriate and what is not, within a social framework, so that individuals can integrate properly into the group to which they belong. These are the cultural norms that are transmitted from one generation to another, with the aim of maintaining a social balance.

This learning begins in childhood and extends into adult life, and can be conscious or unconscious. It can be transmitted through the repetition of customs, oral, written or audiovisual information and the cultural heritage (traditional games and songs, oral tradition, dances, artistic manifestations, etc.). Religious beliefs or rituals are also enculturation tools.

What is expected is that individuals assimilate the rules and put them into practice. And that once learned, they are the ones who transmit them to other members of the social group in which they operate.

However, although the intention of the enculturation processes is to establish rules that survive over time, the reality is that each generation introduces contributions according to the historical, political, economic, social and cultural context in which they live.

Characteristics of enculturation

  • In enculturation, learning processes take place within the same culture. When exchanges between different cultures occur, it is called transculturation or acculturation, as the case may be.
  • Enculturation takes place in childhood, with the induction of norms in the family and educational environment. However, in adult life, individuals experience other enculturation processes, such as when they integrate into the workplace and must assimilate the norms, values ​​and customs of the organization.
  • Enculturation processes tend to generate rewards to reward adaptation to the environment and condemn those behaviors that distort coexistence, depending on the cultural framework that is sought to be reproduced. For example, in Chinese culture it is socially valued for individuals to respect and honor older people. Hence, in Shanghai, children who do not visit their elderly parents can be fined financially.
  • Enculturation is largely an unconscious process. The individual adopts attitudes and forms of expression without intending to learn them, he simply assimilates them as part of the cultural elements of the conglomerate to which he belongs. The family nucleus and the close social environment have a great influence on this process.
  • Enculturation also requires conscious learning. The individual must use cognitive resources to understand, decipher, reflect and argue about the rules that he must abide by. Here, formal institutions, such as the school, are indispensable in this process.
  • Individuals acquire learning about material and immaterial aspects of their culture (objects, symbols, beliefs, customs).
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Difference Between Enculturation, Transculturation, and Acculturation

Very often, the terms enculturation, transculturation and acculturation are used as synonyms, or failing that, they are treated as similar processes. However, they are three different concepts.


It refers to the process of incorporation and learning of the norms, beliefs, customs and traditions of the culture in which an individual is immersed. Learning the anthem of the country, participating in social or religious rites are examples of enculturation.


It is the process that occurs when a social group incorporates cultural aspects that come from another group. Immigration processes are an example of transculturation, bringing with them changes that are reflected in the vocabulary (incorporation of new words), gastronomy, or social life. These changes are not usually sudden, but can be better appreciated in the long term.

See also transculturation


In this case, a social group adopts new norms, customs and traditions by another group that imposes it. Colonization processes are perhaps the most representative example of acculturation, since colonized groups are forced to assimilate what the colonizing group wants to apply, such as religion or forms of social organization.