Definition: Late stage of assimilation in which members of a minority group, such as newly arrived immigrants, develop a sense of peoplehood based exclusively on their host society
Significance: Sociologist Milton Gordon’s concept of identificational assimilation helps to explain how minority groups develop a sense of peoplehood, an important stage in the assimilation of U.S. immigrants.
In his 1964 book Assimilation in American Life, Milton Gordon created a synthesis that delineates the multiple dimensions of assimilation, according to the various indicators of the process. He identified seven stages in which assimilation takes place: cultural, structural, marital, identity, prejudice, discrimination, and civic. These steps are not causally distinct but describe different dimensions of the same underlying process: they are subprocesses of assimilation. Gordon placed great emphasis on the first two stages—acculturation and structural assimilation. In his analysis, acculturation could occur without the other types of assimilation, and it could last indefinitely. In addition, each of the subprocesses may take place in varying degrees.
The seven stages in Gordon’s synthesis offer a composite multidimensional index of assimilation that could be used to determine the extent of a group’s assimilation according to both individualand group-level criteria. Thus, Gordon’s framework provides specifications for empirical indicators of assimilation, which contributed to the development of quantitative research in sociology during the 1960’s.
The fourth stage in Gordon’s multidimensional scheme is identificational assimilation, which occurs when members of the minority group, usually newly arrived immigrants, develop a sense of peoplehood based exclusively on the host society, acquiring the memories, sentiments, and attitudes of people of the core culture. This step of assimilation became more popular in later discussions of assimilation with regard to both the descendants of European immigrants and members of the new immigrant groups.
In Gordon’s framework, ethnic identity is not an undifferentiated concept. He distinguishes between historical identification and participational identity. Historical identification is a function of past and current historical events and derives from a sense of “interdependence of fate”—in sociologist Kurt Lewsin’s words—which typically extends to the ethnic group as a whole. Participational identity refers to the sense of belonging to a subculture: Its members participate frequently in it and share close behavioral similarities with each other; they are also likely to be people from the same ethnic group and social class.
In 1985, Milton Yinger noted that among the several types of assimilation, the identification stage was perhaps the least well conceptualized and measured. In 1983, Richard Alba and Mitchell Chamlin tried to measure ethnic identification using a survey in which they asked people to specify the country of origin of their ancestors. In 1988, BarbaraTomaskovis-Devey and DonaldTomaskovis- Devey did similar research and established that identificational assimilation is an approximate measure of ingroup marriage in the last generation and of the intensity of current ethnic identification. In 1990, J. AllenWilliams and Suzanne T. Ortega used the same conceptualization to study the fourth stage of assimilation—they asked respondents to specify if thinking of themselves as a person from the country they named was very, somewhat, or not very important to them.
Some scholars find Gordon’s identificational assimilation to be ambiguous because it does not clarify if it applies to individuals or groups. Although the measurement has been applied to individuals, the overall hypothesis has been interpreted as applying to groups. Scholars like Richard Alba, Victor Nee, and Elliott Barkan find the strength of Gordon’s framework in its clear articulation of some of the key dimensions of assimilation, viewed as a composite concept. They also recognize that the dimensions of assimilation can be arranged in stages to the advantage of quantitative researchers in sociology.
See also: Anglo-conformity; Assimilation theories; Cultural pluralism; Hansen effect; Melting pot theory; Migrant superordination; Name changing.