A natural sequel to the culture area studies of Wissler and the study of the dynamics of contact initiated by Boas has been the considerable attention which a large number of American anthropologists have given to the study of the changing of one way of life through the impact of another.
When culture-traits or complexes have been diffused we talk about diffusion, but when a whole way of life is in process of change under the influence of another culture we call it acculturation. Linton, Redfield, Herskovits, Hallowell and Beals have made important contributions towards the development of a body of explanatory concepts relating to acculturation.
Thus, Herskovits says that when a growing child learns to conform to his own cultural traditions, the process may be designated as enculturation. When there is exchange of cultural traits and complexes it may be called transculturation, but when one way of life is being displaced by another, it is acculturation.
Acculturation may lead to assimilation, but very often it does not. The dominated culture breaks down at first and then recovers to develop reaction to the loss of its own individuality.
Such a reaction is called contra- acculturation. An example is available from contemporary India, after centuries of exploitation and material impoverishment, the Chota Nagpur tribes have developed a new found sense of strength and opposition which has resulted in the Jharkhand movement demanding autonomy in cultural, social, economic and political matters.
Acculturation studies have been motivated by the realisation that there are no ‘pure’ or ‘uncontaminated’ cultures in the world today. Secondly, the conjectural studies of diffusionists about what happened in unrecorded history had also to be supplemented by more authentic studies of a scientific value in order to develop theoretical, explanatory postulates.