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Negotiate the difficulties of cross-cultural contact

The identity process of the multicultural individual represents a new kind of person unfettered by the constricting limitations of culture as a total entity. Yet, like women and men in any age, the multicultural person must negotiate the difficulties of cross-cultural contact. The literature of cross-cultural psychology is rich with examples of the kinds of problems encountered when people are intensely exposed to other cultures. Integration and assimilation, for example, represent two different responses to a dominant culture, integration suggesting the retention of subcultural differences, and assimilation implying absorption into a larger cultural system. The relationship between assimilation, integration, and identification, according to Sommerlad and Berry (1973), suggests that if people identify with their own group, they will hold favorable attitudes towards integration. On the other hand, if they identify with the host society, they should favor assimilation. Related to this are the various negative attitudes, psychosomatic stresses, and deviant behaviors that are expressed by individuals in psychologically risky situations.

"Contrary to predictions stemming from the theory of Marginal Man," writes J.W.Berry (1970), "it tends to be those persons more traditionally oriented who suffer the most psychological marginality, rather than those who wish to move on and cannot." The multicultural man or woman is, in many ways, a stranger. The degree to which he or she can continually modify the frame of reference and become aware of the structures and functions of a group, while at the same time maintaining a clear understanding of personal, ethnic, and cultural identifications, may very well be the degree to which the multicultural person can truly function successfully between cultures.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the conditions under which cultural identities will evolve into multicultural identities, such changes in psychocultural style are most likely to occur where the foundations of collective cultural identity have been shaken. "Communities that have been exposed too long to exceptional stresses from ecological or economic hardships," writes J.W.Cawte (1973), "or from natural or man-made disasters, are apt to have a high proportion of their members subject to mental disorders." Cawte's studies of the Aboriginal societies of Australia and Turnbull's studies of the Ik in Africa (1972) document how major threats to collective cultural identity produce social and psychological breakdown in individuals. Yet, potentially, multicultural attitudes and values may develop where cultural interchange takes place between cultures that are not totally disparate or where the rate of change is evolutionary rather than immediate. The reorganization of a culture, suggests J.L.M. Dawson (1969), "results in the formation of in-between attitudes" which Dawson considers "to be more appropriate for the satisfactory adjustment of individuals in transitional situations." The multicultural style, then, may be born and initially expressed in any society or culture that is faced with new exposures to other ways of life.

Conceptualization of a multicultural identity

Conceptualization of a multicultural identity style in terms of personality types, behavior patterns, traits, and cultural background is at best impressionistic and anecdotal. Yet, the investigations of cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists give increasing credence to the idea of a multicultural personality who is shaped and contoured by the stresses and strains which result from cultural interweaving at both the macro- and microcultural levels. Seemingly, a multicultural style is able to evolve when the individual is capable of negotiating the conflicts and tensions inherent in cross-cultural contacts. The multicultural person, then, may very well represent an affirmation of individual identity at a higher level of social, psychological, and cultural integration.

Just as the cultures of the world, if they are to merit survival amidst the onslaught of Western technologies, must be responsive to both tradition and change, so too must the individual identity be psychoculturally adaptive to the encounters of an imploding world. There is every reason to think that such human beings are emerging. The multicultural person, embodying sequential identities, is open to the continuous cycle of birth and death as it takes place within the framework of his or her psyche. The lifestyle of the multicultural person is a continual process of dissolution and reformation of identity; yet implicit in such a process is growth. Psychological movements into new dimensions of perception and experience tend very often to produce forms of personality disintegration, and disintegration, suggests Kazimierez Dabrowski (1964), "is the basis for developmental thrusts upward, the creation of new evolutionary dynamics, and the movement of personality to a higher level...." The seeds of each new identity of the multicultural person lie within the disintegration of previous identities. "When the human being," writes Erikson (1964), "because of accidental or developmental shifts, loses an essential wholeness, he restructures himself and the world by taking recourse to what we may call 'totalism'." Such totalism, above and beyond being a mechanism of coping and adjustment, is a part of the growth of a new kind of wholeness at a higher level of integration.

Conclusions and summary

This paper does not suggest that the multicultural person is now the predominant character style of our time. Nor is it meant to suggest that multicultural persons, by virtue of their uninhibited way of relating to other cultures, are in any way "better" than those who are mono- or bicultural. Rather, this paper argues that multicultural persons are not simply individuals who are sensitive to other cultures or knowledgeable about international affairs, but instead can be defined by a psychocultural pattern of identity that differs radically from the relatively stable forms of self-process found in the usual cultural identity pattern. This paper argues that both cultural and multicultural identity processes can be conceptualized by the constellation of biological, social, and philosophical motivations involved and by the relative degrees of rigidity maintained in personal boundaries and that such conceptualization lays the basis for comparative research.

Two final points might be noted about the multicultural personality. First, the multicultural person embodies attributes and characteristics that prepare him or her to serve as a facilitator and catalyst for contacts between cultures. The variations and flexibility of this identity style allows that person to relate to a variety of contexts and environments without being totally encapsulated by or totally alienated from any given culture. As Stephen Bochner (1973) suggests, a major problem in attempting to avert the loss of cultures in Asia and the Pacific "is the lack of sufficient people who can act as links between diverse cultural systems." These "mediating" individuals incorporate the essential characteristics of the multicultural person. "Genuine multicultural individuals are very rare," he writes, "which is unfortunate because it is these people who are uniquely equipped to mediate the cultures of the world." The multicultural person, then, embodies a pattern of self-process that potentially allows him or her to help others negotiate the cultural realities of a different system. With a self-process that is adaptational, the multicultural individual is in a unique position to understand, facilitate, and research the psychocultural dynamics of other systems.

Second, multiculturalism is an increasingly significant psychological and cultural phenomenon, enough so as to merit further conceptualization and research. It is neither easy nor necessarily useful to reconcile the approaches of psychology and anthropology; nor is there any guarantee that interdisciplinary approaches bring us closer to an intelligent understanding of human beings as exist in relation to their culture. Yet, the multicultural person may prove to be a significant enough problem in understanding the process of culture learning (and culture unlearning) to force an integrated approach to studies of the individual and the group. "Psychologists," write Brislin, Lonner, and Thorndike (1973), "have the goal of incorporating the behavior of many cultures into one theory (etic approach), but they must also understand the behavior within each culture (emic approach)." Empirical research based on strategies that can accurately observe, measure, and test behavior and that incorporate the "emic versus etic" distinction will be a natural next step. Such studies may very well be a springboard into the more fundamental dynamics of cross-cultural relationships.

We live in a transitional period of history, a time that of necessity demands parallel forms of psychocultural self-process. That a true international community of nations is coming into existence is still a debatable issue, but that individuals with a self-consciousness that is larger than the mental territory of their culture are emerging is no longer arguable. The psychocultural pattern of identity that is called for to allow such self-consciousness, adaptability, and variation opens such individuals to both benefits and pathologies. The interlinking of cultures and persons in the twentieth century is not always a pleasant process; modernization and economic development have taken heavy psychological tolls in both developed and Third-World countries. The changes brought on in our time have invoked revitalized needs for the preservation of collective, cultural identities. Yet, along with the disorientation and alienation which have characterized much of this century comes a new possibility in the way humans conceive of their individual identities and the identity of the human species. No one has better stated this possibility than Harold Taylor (1969), himself an excellent example of the multicultural person:

"There is a new kind of man in the world, and there are more of that kind than is commonly recognized. He is a national citizen with international intuitions, conscious of the age that is past and aware of the one now in being, aware of the radical difference between the two, willing to accept the lack of precedents, willing to work on the problems of the future as a labor of love, unrewarded by governments, academies, prizes, and position. He forms part of an invisible world community of poets, writers, dancers, scientists, teachers, lawyers, scholars, philosophers, students, citizens who see the world whole and feel at one with all its parts."

Instruction:This has been the final text of Module 2 extensive reading section.Now you know that Professor Peter Adler is the author of the contradictory concept of psychocultural Identity. He argues that self-consciousness, adaptability, and variation open cultural identity to both benefits and pathologies. There are many clues in the context to help comprehend his views and ideas. In ordinary extensive reading text, there always are a number of clues that can help you determine the creative design of the author as well as the meaning of ambiguous or/and unknown words or phrases.

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