Assimilation is one of the types of interactions. Like accommodation it is also a form of social adjustment. But it is more permanent than accommodation. If person-to-person, person-to-group, or group to-group relations were to remain at the level of accommodation only, there would not have been any fusion of groups and their cultures.
Assimilation is concerned with the absorption and incorporation of the culture by another. Hence, assimilation requires more fundamental changes than accommodation. When the process of assimilation takes place, the people in two distinct groups do not just compromise with each other, they are almost indistinguishable.
Definitions – (1) Bogardus – “Assimilation is the social process whereby individuals or groups come to share the same sentiments and goals.”
(2) Ogburn and Nimkoff – “Assimilation is the process whereby individuals or groups once dissimilar become similar and identified in their interest and outlook.”
(1) Assimilation is not confined to single field only
The term assimilation is generally applied to explain the fusion of two distinct cultural groups. But this process is by no means limited to any single field. For example, children are gradually assimilated into adult society. Husband and wife who start their marital life with their dissimilar family backgrounds normally develop a surprising unity of individuals of a particular religious background get converted into some other religious sect or group. As a group process assimilation encompasses life” in general.
(2) Assimilation is a slow and gradual process
Assimilation cannot take place all of a sudden. It takes time. Fusion of personalities and groups usually takes time. It occurs only when there is relatively continuous and direct contact. The speed of the process of assimilation depends on the nature of contacts. If the contacts are primary assimilation occurs naturally and rapidly. On the contrary, if the contacts are secondary and superficial, assimilation takes place very slowly. The assimilation of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman cultures has taken more than two centuries in Britain. The formation of American culture due to the assimilation of British, Scottish, German and other European cultures also has taken several decades and centuries.
(3) Assimilation is an unconscious process
In me process of assimilation the individual or group is usually unconscious of what is taking place. Mostly in an unconscious manner individuals and groups discard their original cultural heritage and substitute it with the new one.
(4) Assimilation is a two-way process
Assimilation involves the principle of give and take. It is normally preceded by another process called ‘acculturation’. Acculturation is a preliminary and necessary step towards assimilation. It takes place when one cultural group which is in contact with another borrows from it certain cultural elements and incorporates them into” its own culture. Contact between two groups essentially affects both. Usually, the culturally ‘weaker’ group borrows most of the traits from the culturally ‘stronger’ group. Examples: The American Indians adopted cultural elements of the Whites with whom they came into contact.
The Whites also borrowed some of the cultural traits (for instance, food items) from the native Indians. In the same way, immigrants to America adopted American customs and ways and in turn, the Native Americans borrowed many of cultural traits which the immigrants had brought along with them. Such exchanges of cultural traits also have taken place between Aryans and Dravidians. The adoption of some traits of the ‘dominant’ culture by another ‘weaker’ cultural group paves the way for the total merger of the latter with the former.