Acculturation is a transcultural process that is usually described as the set of outcomes and transformations that immigrants experience following their contact with new cultures. It is not a process of losing the own culture, or achieving a new one, but rather of cultural readjustment and reorganization within particular contexts of interaction; is a sign of cultural diversity and dynamism. This paper proposes a different approach to migratory situations from the semiotic point of view, dealing with a diverse object that is latent and present in most of 21st century contemporary societies. In this way, I foreground and explain a theoretical need to keep delving into this research object. The essay also touches on one of the most fundamental issues for cultural semiotics such as the seeking and construction of the self, and its counterpart — The other. On the one hand, I suggest to delve into the manifold reasons and mechanisms that conduce people to leaving their native culture, and on the other hand I set forth that self-understanding implies copying with a triple relationship: auto-communication, self-description and self-identification.
Keywords: cultural semiotics, acculturation, migration, identity, self-construction
Coming out of Culture. Suggestions for the Semiotic Study of Acculturation in Migratory Contexts
Nowadays, most contemporary societies are culturally plural. In fact, there are no actual societies made up of people having just one culture, one religion, one identity, or one language. People have always been on the move and at present times we can appreciate continuous flows of migrants all around the world. Migration here is seen as a phenomenon involving complex relations of semiotic exchange. Thereby, it entails a cultural shock where two cultures exchange cultural traits. I state that migration is one of the manifold ways to meaning since it’s a way into the self.
When individuals enter an acculturation situation they face concrete questions whose character is quite complex: Who am I? To which group do I belong? Hence, this paper doesn’t try to set up a model for assessing migratory processes, but rather to suggest a particular point of view from the optics of cultural semiotics, and mainly focused on a particular process that follows migration, namely acculturation.
Cultures need or want to interact to each other; these interactions are mainly caused due to dissimilarities. Humanbeings have the need of approaching to what is understandable, recognized, and is already inserted in ideas and values that are known, but also want to approach what is incomprehensible, and unexplored. Acculturation is a phenomenon belonging to culture that produces a dialogue with the own and the other, a dialogue that must be carried out mandatorily.
What is acculturation?
Acculturation is a set of processes that not only deals with culture itself, but also with the transmission of cultural traits, the transformation of cultures, and with the gradual loss of a culture as well. Therefore, acculturation is a phenomenon that belongs to culture. For the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics, culture is seen, as “the object of analysis for cultural semiotics, and culture is semiotic by its nature because it is information and communication” (Uspenskij et al., 1998, p. 1). Semiotics of culture, as developed by the Tartu-Moscow school departs from the presupposition that it is operatively possible to describe pure sign systems, although these can only function when they establish contact one another, developing mutual influences: that is “the functional correlations of different sign systems” (Uspenskij et al., 1998). Thus acculturation will be described in terms of the metalanguage of cultural semiotics as developed by the Tartu Moscow-School of semiotics.
Acculturation is a conflictive term that is present in contemporary research on cultural, sociological and psychological phenomena. It has been used with reference to groups or individuals identified as undergoing acculturation, such as: immigrants, refugees or sojourners. Immigrants — Are people who usually move in order to achieve a better life elsewhere; refugees — People who leave their homeland to escape signiﬁcant human rights violations such as torture, imprisonment, threat of harm or otherwise dangerous environments sojourners — Individuals who travel abroad to attain a particular goal within a speciﬁed period of time: tourists, students, military personnel, expatriate workers (van Oudenhoven, 2006).