[ en-kuhl-chuh-rey-shuhn ]
/ ɛnˌkʌl tʃəˈreɪ ʃən /
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the process whereby individuals learn their group's culture, through experience, observation, and instruction.


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Sometimes in·cul·tu·ra·tion [in-kuhl-chuh-rey-shuhn] /ɪnˌkʌl tʃəˈreɪ ʃən/ .

Origin of enculturation

First recorded in 1945–50; en-1 + (ac)culturation
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is enculturation?

Enculturation is the gradual process by which people learn the culture of their own group by living in it, observing it, and being taught things by members of the group.

Your culture consists of the beliefs, arts, customs, and general ways of living of the people who are like you in some way (the people who live in the same place as you or those who have a similar identity). Enculturation is sometimes also called socialization. It should not be confused with acculturation, which is the process of learning the culture of another group, not your own.

Enculturation occurs naturally (absorbing the things around you), and it can be promoted intentionally (being teaching values and customs). It can happen on both small and large scales, such as in a school, in a country, or from being a member of a large or small group.

Why is enculturation important in anthropology?

Think of someone you have a lot in common with. One way or another, those commonalities have a lot to do with enculturation. The more time you spend in a group, the more you’re exposed to all the ways that the people in your group think and behave, and these things become part of who you are and what you know. This is enculturation.

If you have a childhood friend who you went to school with, part of the enculturation you both experienced was learning the culture of that school: the way kids behaved, the way they talked, what they did for fun. The same thing goes for the people who are from the same place. The enculturation they’ve undergone includes all kinds of things, from learning to speak in a certain way to rooting for the same sports teams. Enculturation even happens on a national scale—most Americans, for example, know the national anthem, can name the same famous athletes, or have a sense of the American ideal of freedom (even if it means different things to each of them).

Enculturation, though, isn’t always connected to a place. People who share the same religion also share the culture of that religion. For them, enculturation means they share not only a lot of the same beliefs but also many of the same customs and celebrations. The same goes for people who have the same job or hobby: enculturation has led to them knowing much of the same stuff, including the specific ways of talking about it.

So how does enculturation happen? Some parts of your culture you absorb without even thinking about it. Others you learn by observing and adopting them, and others are taught to you. The fact is that enculturation can’t not happen. That’s because, one way or another, you live in a culture that shapes you and the things you know. You can reject certain parts of your culture, but you still know about those things and live among them. Enculturation doesn’t stop when you become an adult—it is an ongoing process.

Did you know ... ?

The first record of enculturation in English comes from the 1940s. In 1948, anthropologist Melville Herskovits used the word in his book Man & His Works, describing it as “a process of conscious or unconscious conditioning.”

What are some real-life examples of enculturation?

Sociologists often discuss enculturation in relation to how it shapes people’s behavior and the way they view the world around them.



What other words are related to enculturation?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following words refers to adopting the culture of a group other than one’s own?

A. enculturation
B. acculturation
C. nationalization
D. prioritization

British Dictionary definitions for enculturation

/ (ɛnˌkʌltʃʊˈreɪʃən) /

another word for socialization

Derived forms of enculturation

enculturative (ɛnˈkʌltʃʊrətɪv), adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012