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Evaluation of Social Identity Theory and Acculturation

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The two theories I will be evaluating in this essay are Social Identity Theory and acculturation. Social Identity Theory (SIT) was proposed by Turner & Tajfel (1979) and states that we aim to enhance our own self-image by discriminating against people who do not belong to our group. The second theory, acculturation, is “the process of internalising the rules for behaving in another culture” (Hogg & Vaughan, 2009, p.329). The issue in which I will be focusing on in this paper is the ways in which SIT and acculturation can be used to explain the discrimination Mesut Ozil has experienced. Ozil is a German footballer who released statements, which were displayed in a newspaper article, highlighting his decision to quit the German team. I will be comparing the two theories and evaluating them in relation to this newspaper article.

Our ‘social identity’ refers to our knowledge that we belong to a certain social category or group (Hogg and Abrams, 1988). We naturally put people into social groups, and divide them into the in-group (people who are similar to us) and out-group (people who are different than us). This is known as social categorisation, and through this process we tend to see our category as the best, because it’s a part of our identity. A study by Mastro, Behm-Morawitz and Kopacz (2008) used SIT to examine the effects of exposure to television portrayals of Latinos. Their results suggested that participants preferred the in-group, and their self-esteem was enhanced by making downward social comparisons. This can be used to explain why the German media were blaming Ozil for losing the World Cup. He discusses in his statement how the newspapers criticised his Turkish ancestry, rather than his performances. The media’s agenda in this case was to make a story that will sell and they used Ozil as their opportunity. The people of Germany will naturally prefer people who belong to their group, as stated by social identity theory, and since Ozil has Turkish heritage, they see him as in the out-group.

However, SIT does not fully explain the racism show towards Ozil. Ozil belongs to the category of ‘German’ and this is the group he identifies himself with. He was born in Germany and has lived there his entire life, yet he is being discriminated against for being part of an out-group. SIT states that one’s self-esteem increases when we have a group-based identity, but this is not the case for Ozil since he is not being accepted into the group he identifies himself as a member of. This suggests that one’s social identity based on group membership may only increase self-esteem through acceptance by that group, and reflects the limited support for self-esteem effects (Abrams, 1992; Abrams and Hogg, 1990).

The process of acculturation occurs when two cultural groups come into contact, resulting in psychological and cultural change (Berry, 2017). Berry et al. (1986) described strategies used by immigrants to cope with the change between their own culture and the host culture, including integration, separation, assimilation and marginalisation. However, these strategies did not account for a dynamic interplay between both groups – it’s about more than just the immigrant’s approach to acculturation. The Interaction Acculturation Model (Bourhis, 1997) better explains the ‘fit’ between the minority and majority groups’ acculturation strategies. The racism Ozil has experienced can be explained by this model of acculturation. He experienced a problematic fit; the host culture did not adopt the same acculturation strategies as him and did not accept his ancestral culture. The German footballer stated,

“Werner Steer told me to “piss off to Anatolia”, a place in Turkey where many immigrants are based,” (MetinOzil1088, 2018).

This is one example of a German national refusing to accept any aspect of Ozil’s host culture, displaying racism and excluding him from the majority culture.

Recent research focuses on the effect of acculturation preferences on inter-group relations. It is evident from the newspaper article that Ozil has experienced a lot of stress and negative emotions due to the discrimination he has received from the majority culture in Germany. A study by Zagefka, Binder and Brown (2010) found that a desire for minority group members to adopt the host culture increased negative emotions for host culture members, but decreased them for minority members. This study does not support the argument shown in the newspaper article, because Ozil’s negative emotions increased. This inconsistency in research may be due to the differences in majority attitudes to different minority groups (Bourhis & Dayan, 2000). This is displayed in the statement when Ozil talks about how his friends are never referred to as German-Polish, yet he is called German-Turkish. The majority group may have a particular disliking towards the Turkish, compared with other cultures. The host culture tends to prefer minority groups which have the most similar physical attributes to the majority group (Padilla & Perez, 2003).

SIT and acculturation can be brought together in order to explain prejudice attitudes to immigrants. Padilla and Perez (2003) believe that past research on acculturation has limited value and propose a new model. They state that international migration requires a person to reconstruct their social identities. The person will form new social identities, relating to both the host culture and their heritage group. This is positive new research, which doesn’t focus on traditional correlational measures of acculturation.

Both SIT and acculturation theory can evidently be used to explain the processes which occur in the newspaper article. Acculturation arguably provides a more limited explanation, as Ozil is not technically an immigrant, because he was born in Germany. The research on acculturation processes highlight that immigrants’ have to adjust to the rules for behaving in a new culture (Berry, 1986; Hogg & Vaughan, 2010). SIT explains that Ozil is discriminated against because he is seen as part of an out-group, even though his own social identity is German. More research in the areas of SIT and acculturation would be beneficial in providing explanations for racism towards people who aren’t technically immigrants, but have a different cultural heritage. 

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Evaluation Of Social Identity Theory And Acculturation. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from
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