Biocultural Context


The Process of Enculturation: A Survey of Myself

My Enculturation

In learning about the process of enculturation from a biological and cultural anthropological perspective, I have better learned to place my life in a greater context of history and society. Rather than see myself as just 'myself' and to accept my values and my leisure pursuits as natural, I have begun to see my self-concept as a cultural product of a specific cultural 'place' and time. In fact, one could argue that a focus upon 'the self' is in and of itself a cultural product and artifact. Very likely, someone from a different cultural background would not see him or herself as an individual constantly in the process of self-exploration and self-actualization. Rather an individual from a more collectively-oriented society might see him or herself primarily as a father, mother, child, or a member of a tribe or nation.


The process of enculturation in America is very much an enculturation in the ideology of individualism. From an early age, children are taught to find themselves, first to find a hobby that they enjoy, then to try hard at school so they can be successful later in life and win acclaim as an outstanding individual. Finding one's self and being true to one's self is even preached in schools, as students are encouraged to not cave into peer pressure and to be strong and resist negative influences by their teachers. Teachers seldom teach the value of community. Presumably, that is something we are supposed to learn at home -- making even our choice of community, whether it is religious, ethnic, or by common interest is an individual choice. From an early age we learn that individualism is 'good' and 'going along with the herd' is bad, even though in many other cultures, there is a strong philosophy that the 'nail' or the person who sticks out gets 'hammered down. Perhaps a balance of individualism and community spirit is ideal, although it can be difficult to find the 'perfect' balance of these ideals. Even on sports teams, coaches pay lip service to teamwork, but weaker individuals are 'cut,' 'benched,' or simply overlooked. Competitive excellence on the part of the individual player is rewarded.

Ethnic identity

Many of my friends have found a strong sense of personal expression in their ethnic identity. In America, even finding one's ethnic 'self' often has an individualistic emphasis. True, my Jewish friends find a connection through their heritage not simply in their religion, but in their support of Israel and a shared sense of culture, but they also find a sense of individual self-worth. My African-American friends connect through music, and a sense of common history that has often been difficult but leaves them full of pride. But they too phrase their ethnic quest as a personal journey of empowerment in a society that has often devalued their history. I do not see my ethnic identity as synonymous with myself, rather like a 'typical' American one might say, I am fascinated with all cultures and all ethnic backgrounds, and seek to make these cultures an equal part of my worldview -- in my own quest to find myself as a non-hyphenated American.

Belief System, Morals, Values

My sense of belief is something I am constantly struggling with as an individual. I think this is very common amongst my age group today. There are so many choices and options as to what one should believe, and the choices one can make in life will affect one's believes, morals, and values later on. Should I take a less lucrative job in favor of one that I feel is more enriching to the community? Will this make me a less able provider for my family, or even displease my parents because they fear I will come back, penniless to their home after only a few years? What is worth sacrificing for, what comes first, family, one's commitment to find a meaningful existence, or one's obligation to help the larger world?

Even in individualistic America, years ago, people traveled so little and seldom left the enclave of their community, and they were more apt to make what others said synonymous with their own beliefs. I have many choices as to where and how to live, and I like having a sense of many options, but like a hungry person facing a gigantic buffet for…