Okay, okay, this is a bit of a cheat post. I want it to be known I was going to do something on “understanding” but realized I had departed a bit from the tenets of anthropology. This is a return to that brief education.
Acculturation (see? it has TWO u’s in it!) is a term introduced by Alfred Louis Kroeber in his 1948 book Anthropology: race, language, culture, psychology, pre-history to describe “changes produced in a culture by the influence of another culture which result in an increased similarity between the two” (pg. 425).
I assume everyone knows where this is going?
Acculturation is basically the old anthro way of describing the cultural changes imposed upon a conquered group by the dominating group. It can include two-way transfer of cultural items and traditions but usually one group is contributing much more (and taking away from the other). In fact, while acculturation studies were mostly focused on the extremely profound influence of Euro-American interactions with isolated, often nonliterate groups (to put it academically), when immigrants moved into Europe and America, these studies became, instead, assimilation studies. Note that the former is comprised of a forced, mostly one-way cultural influence while the latter includes a general mixing of cultures.
Acculturation is relation to the concept of diffusion–where cultural items originate in one group and are spread outward over time. The main difference is diffusion tends to deal with specific cultural items (which can include actual items or things like songs, legends, etc.) while acculturation is the profound change within a culture brought about by another culture, usually not in a friendly way.
How can acculturation help writers? Well, consider how most major countries in the world today have been impacted by acculturation. Isn’t this something you would expect to find in your world’s history? How have dominating forces changed the landscape of your world through time? Considering acculturation usually results in inequality between the two peoples, how does this persist into your story? It’s extremely rare to find a totally egalitarian society, but you don’t have to point a big neon sign at the effects of acculturation (like I do).
What kind of effects has the acculturation events in your world’s history wrought on your characters? What outside forces have changed the way the people of your story live?