This chapter provides an ecological perspective to the role of culture and behavior. A multilevel systems perspective is applied consistent with Bronfen-brenner's Ecological Systems Theory (1989). It is essential to eliminate from the mind the notion that culture is a singular variable. A "big perspective" is required to understand culture in its entirety (C. Cheney, personal communication, June, 1973). This chapter aims to maintain that perspective in understanding psychological adjustment, particularly with respect to the interactions of health, illness, and behavior.
Charles Darwin is credited for modern ecological theory (Hawley, 1950). Ecological concepts initially formulated by Darwin (1963) maintain that all life has its province and is related to others in a 'web of life' in which each struggles for existence. This struggle constitutes an adjustment to other organisms and their way of life. The adjustment process is a competitive struggle for existence, referring to relations among organisms, including cooperation and mutual aid
Handbook of Multicultural Mental Health: Assessment and Treatment of Diverse Populations Copyright © 2000 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
that develops among organisms in the struggle to adjust (Hawley, 1950). No other organism is believed to have advanced their culture as rapidly as man from a rudimentary state to its current, modern, highly sophisticated complexity. Mankind's superior culture-building skills are believed to be critical to past and future capabilities and capacities to adjust. An ecological perspective thus provides the environment and culture imminent roles with respect to humankind's struggle for adjustment.
Human culture is as varied as there are human communities on earth. There is much truth in the analogy that water is to fish as culture is to a person. Culture, as emphasized throughout this handbook, is a highly potent variable; it provides people a means of communication, a sense of belonging, meaningful systems of beliefs, views of self and others, means of commerce, among many other vastly important influences on the essentials of living and procreation. What happens when distinct cultures come into contact with one another? Some of the world's great meccas are cities where major cultures come into contact, but these places also have some of the most long-lasting conflicts between communities. Cultures come into contact in many ways and in all places, and that acculturation, the process in which cultures and people change as a function of culture contact, is a common phenomenon. It used to be true that first-hand contact was required for acculturation changes to take place. In today's advanced technological, satellite-internet age, acculturation changes occur via electronic media and satellite devices without any "first-hand" contact having occurred. In every culture, although more in some than others, gender subcultures represent a common, initial, and continuous experience of acculturation. This is because each person has a gender identity formulated in part from experiences and knowledge about both genders (see Canales, chapter 4, this volume, for further discussion of gender as a subculture).
Along with the postindustrial technological revolution of the 20th century, societal and cultural changes have transpired in an exponential manner throughout the world. Cultural conflicts and tensions between nations and people seem to be most pronounced where deeply held cultural beliefs and values are in direct conflict with those of an opposing culture.
The cultural conflicts at the macrolevel have their individual or psychological referents in behaviors, customs, and cognition (attitudes, schemas, beliefs, ideas, etc.) of individuals (Berry & Kim, 1988; Cuéllar, Arnold, & González, 1995; Graves, 1967). Changes that transpire in individuals at the microlevel, through some form of continuous contact with others from a different cultural group, are referred to as psychological acculturation changes. In geographical zones or meccas where cultures come into continuous contact, acculturation processes and changes are rapid and intense. The frequency and intensity of cultural conflicts at both the micro- and macrolevels in these geographical zones would appear to be proportionate to the extreme differences between cultures, particularly with respect to the system of mores (Stonequist, 1937).
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