Outcome-Oriented and Process-Oriented Frameworks on Biculturalism

Hyun-Hee Heo & Min-Sun Kim

University of Hawaii at Manoa


This review attempts to answer the question, “How do individuals develop bicultural identities?” With today’s rapid globalization, not only are individuals increasingly mobile but also possess an unprecedented level of psychological interconnectedness. A growing number of cross-cultural researchers have examined the dynamic aspects of individuals’ cultural identities and the processes of their formation beyond stereotypical frameworks. Over time, acculturation literature has shifted from being outcome-oriented to being process-oriented. Outcome-oriented frameworks rely on in-groups’ judgment toward out-group individuals whereas process-oriented frameworks stress out-group individuals’ cultural identity development through an active process of inquiring, learning, and involvements. The outcome-oriented frameworks consist of the notion of “Marginality” and “Social Identity Theory.” The process-oriented frameworks consist of the model of “Ethnic Identity Formation,” “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity,” “Cognitive Constructivist Approach”, and “Cultural Hybridization”. “Multidimensional Acculturation Model” is posited as a transitional model between the outcome-oriented framework and the process-oriented framework. Much study has increasingly concentrated on understanding the developmental process of individuals’ cultural identities in various situations, rather than categorizing “this new kind of person” based on dominant cultural groups’ perceptions. As researchers began to focus on how individuals process biculturalism, negative views have been replaced with positive views. Our review ends with implications regarding how and why biculturals behave in specific ways in intercultural communication situations.

Keywords: biculturalism, marginality, ethnic identity, acculturation


The term “bicultural” is often used as a label for immigrants and ethnic minorities. Since Graham Spry[i] first used the term “bicultural” to characterize Canadians in his speech to the Canadian Club of Quebec in 1929 (“Biculturalism”, n.d.), this word has become widely used. Indeed, the Dutch government has recently highlighted this term to define ethnic minorities in Netherlands[ii] (“Cabinet Adopts”, 2009). In academic fields, a myriad of researchers have increasingly attempted to identify bicultural individuals who internalize more than one culture. However, there are few studies that examine the various ways of becoming bicultural and its psychological impact on individuals’ communication strategies.

Much research of cross-cultural comparisons is investigated in terms of cultural identities, identifying differences between distinct cultural groups with a particular variable. Most participants in these comparisons are assumed to be culturally homogeneous. However, homogeneous cultures are relatively rare in the modern world since more than 95% of the world’s countries are ethnically heterogeneous (Jandt, 2001). In today’s expanding “cultural supermarket,” individuals’ cultural identities can no longer be described as the static self (Matthews, 2000). The more society has rapidly changed, the more individuals become willingly or unwillingly exposed to diverse cultures. It is becoming common for individuals to internalize more than one culture, speak multiple languages, live in culturally mixed environments and retain transnational ties. According to this phenomenon, an individual’s cultural identity may be represented as dual or multiple identities in a constant flux (Benet-Martínez, Leu, Lee, & Morris, 2002). Thus, there is an increasing need for researchers to examine how a bicultural or multicultural individual (henceforth called “bicultural” or “multicultural”) processes their identities in many aspects.

The study of biculturalism is relatively new in psychology and has been rarely addressed in communication. There is little consensus among researchers about how bicultural identities are cognitively and interpersonally negotiated, and the impact of this psychological process on individuals’ lives (LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993). Some researchers argue that biculturalism brings positive outcomes for the individual (e.g., Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder, 2006; Leung, Maddux, Galinsky, & Chiu, 2008), while others contend that biculturals often experience psychological anxiety, contradiction, tension, and depression (e.g., Lee & Cochran, 1988; Vivero & Jenkins, 1999). Haritatos and Benet-Martínez (2002) believe that these contradictory reports may derive from the lack of consensus among researchers about how to conceptualize and measure biculturalism. These mixed results, in other words, may come from the unrecognized complexity and variation in the way biculturals experience and construct their cultural identities. Cultural identity is generally difficult to define, and bicultural or multicultural identity may be even more ambiguous. To identify biculturalism, this review will be concerned with the following questions: 1) Who is bicultural? 2) How can bicultural identities be developed? 3) What is the implication of biculturalism on communication? In short, identifying biculturals and clarifying the psychological process on being biculturals are getting increasingly important in today’s interconnected society. The in-depth studies on biculturalism will contribute to a better understanding how individuals communicate with culturally different others.

This paper will review several theoretical frameworks on biculturalism and identify the dynamic aspects of biculturals. To find prominent models related to biculturalism, several decades of social science literature were reviewed.” These frameworks will show how and why individuals develop their bicultural identities in intercultural encounters. For this review, we will first elaborate the definition of individuals who internalize more than one culture from various perspectives. Historically, the definition of this new kind of person has transitioned from “marginal” to “bicultural.” The remainder of the review will concentrate on theoretical frameworks to identify biculturals. Two broad umbrella frameworks, an outcome-oriented and a process-oriented framework, will overarch each theory and approach. Our review will end with implications regarding how and why biculturals behave in specific ways in intercultural communication situations.

Defining “Biculturals”

Many researchers have attempted to define the bicultural in their context of discipline. Several definitions of biculturals have been indicated from various perspectives. These include individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures (Park, 1928; Stonequist, 1935); are able to function in two cultures (Jandt, 2001; Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997); internalize more than one culture (Benet-Martínez, Lee, & Leu, 2008; Chen, Benet-Martínez, & Bond, 2008; De Korne, Byram & Fleming, 2007; LaFromboise et al., 1993; Luna, Ringberg, & Peracchio, 2008); retain ethnic identity and adjust to the mainstream cultural identity (Berry & Kim, 1988); endorse strongly both independent and interdependent self-construals (Kim et al., 1996; Yamada & Singelis, 1999); maintain a local identity along with an identity linked to the global culture (i.e. global identity) (Arnett, 2002: Eytan, 2004).

Migration has been a prime mover in accelerating biculturalism in modern society. When individuals come in contact with a new culture, they acculturate themselves to new culture in different ways. In acculturation literature, immigrants, ethnic minorities and a hyphenated ethnic identity (e.g. African-American, Korean-Canadian) have been treated as biculturals (Moon & Park, 2007). Several terms and quotations have described “a new kind of person” (Adler, 1977/1998). In a study of African American and Mexican American adolescents (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997), many adolescents reported feeling part of both cultures, with statements such as, “It doesn’t seem like two cultures”; “I see them as one”; “Some people think of themselves as just Black; I think of myself as Black American” (p. 21). Jolanta, who has US and Polish citizenship in interviews conducted by De Korne et al. (2007), expressed her cultural identity as ‘cosmopolitan’: “I don’t feel a citizen… of a country; I feel more cosmopolitan in many ways” (p. 296). Susanne who was another participant in the same interview described her identity as “chameleon-like, both French and English” (p. 296). Much research has studied acculturation strategies that new immigrants utilize when they move from their home cultures to new cultures and cultural identity transitions that sojourners experience when they go back to their home (Berry & Kim, 1988; Sussman 2000). Less attention, however, has been paid to the identification of biculturals in intercultural contacts supported by globalization.

Some researchers argue that globalization deeply and largely affects individual and national psychology and thus results in bicultural identities or hybrid identities (Arnett, 2002; Herman & Kempen, 1998). Global interconnection and shared responsibility in our communities has driven the concept of global citizenship or a “transnational identity” (Dwyer, 1999, p. 288). Croucher (2004) argues, “globalization intensifies the need for cosmopolitanism or for an awareness of being citizens of the world” (p.189). Nowadays, migration has increased under the globalization so both trends towards biculturalism should be simultaneously considered.

Numerous researchers have looked at a variety of conceptions of psychological and social outcomes of bicultural identification, ranging from harmful to beneficial. The identification of those who internalize more than one culture has historically shifted from marginals to biculturals. With simple and monolithic definitions, several scholars attempted to categorize a “marginal man” as a negative or unstable self (Park, 1928; Stonequist, 1935). As time goes by, however, the alternative view of marginality changed these negative perspectives into positive ones. In 1940s, there were shifting perspectives on the marginal man. Goldberg (1941) and Green (1947) argue people who live in two cultures may necessarily not have psychological conflicts. Both authors contend that the marginal person may face challenging situations only if the individual internalizes the conflict between the two cultures in which he or she is living. In the 1990s, there were increasingly positive views of the marginal and also vast discussions on the cross-cultural adaptability of biculturals. Many researchers began to focus on the process of cultural identity formation at the individual level. Berry (1990) proposes that individuals’ acculturation strategies can be varied depending on their acculturation attitudes. Phinney (1990) argues that the developmental perspectives should be used for individuals, especially adolescents to construct their ethnic identities. M. Bennet (1993b) contends that individuals make a concerted effort to eradicate negative connotation of marginality to be effective in other cultures. J. Bennet (1993a) suggests the concept of constructive marginals who fluidly come and go across cultural borders.

These trends reflect a paradigm shift, from viewing the marginals negatively to viewing them positively. That is, members in the mainstream culture emphasize the process of acculturation as new members come in contact with the mainstream culture, rather than its outcomes. It is getting more important to understand how new members of society process their cultural identities with their own choices and describe themselves on their own terms. In the following sections, several theoretical frameworks on biculturalism will be illuminated.

Theoretical Frameworks on Biculturalism

Culture is defined as the socially construed set of roles, attitudes, behavior, and beliefs of people (Charles, Gafni, Whelan, & O’Brien, 2006). Cultures may play an important role in understanding individuals’ perceptions and attitudes in the context of intercultural communication. As many people identify with more than one culture through immigration and globalization, a growing number of researchers have examined how biculturals or multiculturals shape their intentions toward communicative behaviors in the context of intercultural interactions. For the purpose of the study, the theoretical frameworks on biculturalism were divided into three categories: outcome-oriented, transitional, and process-oriented. The frameworks on biculturalism have been historically changed from being outcome-oriented to being process-oriented. The former stresses the result from categorization of out-group individuals based on dominant groups’ perception whereas the latter stresses the process of individuals’ acculturation. “Multidimentional acculturation model” transits both frameworks. The notion of “marginal man” and “Social Identity Theory” are grouped into the outcome-oriented frameworks. The model of “Ethnic Identity Formation”, “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity”, “Cognitive Constructivist Approach”, and “Cultural Hybridization” are classified into the process-oriented frameworks.

Outcome Oriented Frameworks

Outcome-oriented frameworks highlight how members of majority groups perceive people who have more than one culture based on dominant cultural norms. Early studies on the formation of ethnic identity fall into this category because many researchers in this era attempted to identify cultural differences and socio-psychological outcomes in people who live as biculturals or multiculturals. The representative theory and approach in this category, i.e., Social Identity Theory and the notion of marginality, will be reviewed.

Social Identity Theory

Social psychologists have studied ethnic identity based on the study of group identity (e.g., Tajfel & Turner, 1986). From this perspective, ethnic identity is an aspect of social identity, which is an individual self-concept stemming from group membership. In his Social Identity Theory (SIT), Tajfel (1982) contends that a member of a group must have a sense of belonging to one’s group and then can have a positive self-concept. Individuals attempt to have self-esteem based on in-group membership through making themselves distinct from the out-group by comparing both groups. Through comparison between two groups, individuals may perceive that the dominant and mainstream groups are superior. In sum, individuals try to achieve a positive and distinct social identity through four assumptions: social categorization, social identity, social comparison, and psychological group distinctiveness. These assumptions are required to protect and maintain individuals’ self-esteem as group members.

According to Tajfel(1982), identification with two different groups can be problematic because ethnic group members can have conflicts in attitudes, values, and behaviors between their own group and the majority group. If an individual tries to participate both in the in-group and the out-group (e.g., mainstream and ethnocultural), one may fail to have a sense of belonging and in turn lose self-esteem. Ethnocentrism is accepted as inevitable and seen as functional, as a means of enhancing self-esteem (Tajfel, 1982). From this perspective, acquiring a second culture is subtractive because individuals should make their cultural identity distinct from others and must choose one. SIT represents a rather pessimistic view of intergroup relations. Since SIT focuses on the distinction between groups in terms of cognition and motivation level, there is no room for individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures and establish their dual or multiple identities on their own terms. Therefore, SIT highlights the outcome of acculturation with mainstream group’s perception.


The notion of marginality is similar with that of SIT because both approaches are concerned with how mainstream or in-groups categorize the ethnocultural or out-groups with the mainstream’s stereotypical perception. When the members of mainstream cultures receive new members, they often attempt to categorize who they are. In this case, the new member may face the dilemma of which cultural identity they should choose to be a part of in the new cultures. Since it is important for immigrants to adjust to a new culture, especially in the United States, there has been a large body of studies related to cultural adaptation. This approach implied that the welfare of new members would depend on their decision to accept mainstream cultures and adjust themselves accordingly. If a new member of society refuses to or avoids adapting, this individual emerges as a “marginal man” (Park, 1928). The negative connotations of this term can be easily grasped with words such as ‘apple,’ ‘banana,’ ‘coconut,’ and ‘oreo’, words that have described the marginal man. The classic statement by Du Bois (1903/1989) mirrored this notion of how marginality negatively affects individuals’ identities: “One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (p. 5).

The concept of the “marginal man” came from Park in 1920s. Park (1928) argues that individuals who live on the cultural borders between two cultures can have psychological clashes, a divided self. Stonequist (1937) says a marginal individual is a man positioned in psychological uncertainty: “reflecting in his soul the discords and harmonies, repulsions and attractions of these worlds” (p.8). He describes the negative effects of cultural marginality. From this perspective, marginals are not parts of “us” and are deficient in a sense of belonging and self-esteem. The label of “Marginal man” can include negative implications and diminish the status of those who incline to partially claim on belonging within a local and national context. In the USA, for example, one is either ‘proud to be American’ or one risks being stigmatized as ‘anti-American.’ In this case, connection to dual or multiple cultures may be considered as potentially damaging and unnatural, needing to be resolved through ‘nationalization’ (De Korne et al., 2007). Thus, the trend that categorizes who these marginals are may provide sufficient evidence to lead members of the mainstream culture to have biased or limited views of new members. As a result, new members may ironically find themselves in perilous situations where they lose self-esteem in their ethnic identities when they acquire second cultures.

Since Social Identity Theory and the notion of marginality focuses on the distinctive characteristics of biculturals or multiculturals based on dominant groups’ perceptions, these approaches historically implied negative connotations toward people who internalize more than one culture in the context of intercultural communication. These two approaches tend to place biculturals or multiculturals at risk for being marginalized unless they adapt their cultural beliefs and values to those of the dominant culture. As biculturals or multiculturals have been negatively portrayed in the history of black–white relations in the United States, outcome-oriented frameworks imply that biculturals or multiculturals may encounter many communicative constraints when interacting with members of majority groups.

Transitional Framework

Since Park coined the “marginal man” in 1920s, the theory of ethnic group relationships has evolved. Park proposed four stages in the development of ethnic group relations: competition, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation (1928). According to his theory, immigrants or members of ethnic minority groups should be required to assimilate their cultures into the mainstream cultures of dominant groups (e.g., whites in the US). Since the US Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated the national origins quota system in 1960s, the US has received a great number of immigrants from Mediterranean Europe, Latin America and Asia (McDermott & Andrade, 2011). As immigrants in the US are extremely diverse, scholars have become aware of individual differences in the process of acculturation across ethnic groups. The multidimensional acculturation model reflects an increasing interest in how cultural beliefs and values shape individuals’ attitudes toward identification of biculturals or multiculturals.

Multidimensional Acculturation Model

While SIT highlights group-based categorization of biculturals with dominant groups’ perception, acculturation theory (Berry & Kim, 1988) highlights individual-based identification with an ethnocultural member’s acculturation attitude. The focus of this acculturation theory is on an individual’s attitudes depending on one’s willingness to retain one’s heritage culture while interacting with the host culture. This model includes the process how individual adapt to new cultures. Thus, this model can be a transitional framework on biculturalism because it bridges outcome-oriented researchers into the next group of researchers who focus on the processes of forming bicultural identity.

Specifically, previous researchers mainly categorize individuals who identify with more than one culture as marginals in a mainstream culture whereas acculturation theorists have concentrated on identification for this new type of individuals from a different perspective. For example, Social Identity Theory posits that self-esteem is positioned and defined as a dependent variable, which is the outcome of intergroup bias and in-group favoritism in empirical research. In constrast, Berry suggests an alternative view to reframe self-esteem as an independent variable and to examine it as a predictor of out-group attitudes and perceptions (Ward, 2004). This has been the approach underlying the multicultural hypothesis that posits that high self-esteem is predictive of greater out-group acceptance and tolerance.

Over 30 years, different dimensional models of second-culture acquisition have been recognized and discussed in psychology. In acculturation literature, there are two distinct models in terms of dimensionality: the unilinear model and the multilinear model. In the unilinear model, ethnic identity has been conceptualized along a single dimension from strong ethnic connections at one extreme to strong host connections at the other (Berry, 2003). This polar opposite assumption implies a strengthening of one connection should go with a weakening of the other. That is a “zero-sum game”; a strong ethnic identity is not possible among those who become involved in the mainstream society. Acculturation is inevitably accompanied by a weakness of ethnic identity. SIT is based on this subtractive model. Conversely, in another model, individuals process their second-culture acquisition in multi dimensions. The relationship between the new or mainstream cultures and traditional or ethnic cultures must be considered, and these two relationships may be separate but independent (Phinney, 1990). Thus, a strong sense of identity and belonging in one culture does not necessarily equate to a weaker sense of belonging in the other culture.

Based on this multidimensionality, Berry (1980) argues that individuals can acquire the second cultural identities depending on their acculturation attitudes. He conceptualizes these attitudes depending on two orientations: to what extent individuals keep the belief and values of the original culture; to what extent individuals maintain connections with the mainstream culture. There are four measurable attitudes assessing the preferences along the two orientations: assimilation, where individuals identify themselves mostly with the second culture; integration, where individuals highly identify themselves with both cultures; separation, where individuals indentify themselves mostly with the culture of origin; and marginalization, where individuals possess a low degree of identification with both cultures. Based on the statements suggested by Redfield et al. (1936, as cited in Berry, 2003), assimilation is not the only form of acculturation. In 1970s, Berry first distinguished between assimilation and integration and later between separation and marginalization. Obviously, the integration strategy can be ideal in a multicultural society. Integration strategies are based on the ideal assumption that new cultural groups and their individual members have a freedom of choice in second culture acquisition and that at the same time the mainstream group must be prepared to adapt its national institutions (e.g., education, health, labor) to fill the new cultural groups’ needs (Berry 2003). In accordance with this pluralistic aspect of integration strategies, individuals who adopt the integration strategy tend to be biculturals, who endorse both their ethnocultures and second-acquired cultures (Berry & Kim, 1988; van de Vijver & Phalet, 2004, as cited in Chen et al., 2008) and do not internalize the potential conflict between these two intersecting cultures (Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005).

This pluralistic approach shifted the academic perspectives from stressing between-culture differences based on dichotomous distinctions of culture (e.g., Collectivism vs. Individualism) to stressing within-culture diversity and cultural change over time. Furthermore, this approach to biculturalism gives a plenty of rooms for biculturals or multiculturals to choose their communication strategies in the context of intercultural interaction. Thus, this cornerstone multidimensional acculturation theory has contributed to the development of process-oriented frameworks on biculturalism.

Process-Oriented Frameworks

In line with multidimensional acculturation theory, researchers have become more aware of the dynamic aspect of culture and its impact on the process of ethnic identity formation. In the dynamic paradigm, biculturals or multiculturals are not viewed as individuals who are stuck in the cultural borderline. Process-oriented frameworks can help us understand how individuals who internalize more than one culture negotiate, embrace and transfer their cultural identities during intercultural interactions.

Ethnic Identity Formation Model

Identifying an individual’s cultural identity at one time or in one place is not possible under today’s interconnectedness between nations. Ethnic identity is a dynamic variable to predict and measure, especially when second generation immigrants are in adolescence. Phinney (1990) contends that ethnic identities involve a sense of belonging to a group and a process of learning about one’s group as well. In other words, the process of ethnic identity formation can be constructed over time of one’s sense of self as a group member and of one’s attitudes and understandings associated with group membership (Phinney & Ong, 2007). Thus, Phinney’s developmental perspective may be a starting point to focus on how individuals process their complicated cultural identities in intercultural contacts.

Drawing inspiration from Erikson’s theory of ego identity formation in 1968, Phinney (1990) conceptualizes three stages of Ethnic Identity Formation: the unexamined stage; the moratorium stage; and the achieved identity stage. According to this model, individuals who have not explored their ethnic identity are in the unexamined stage. They may lack interest in or concern with ethnicity (i.e. diffusion) or think of ethnicity as being based off the opinions of others (i.e. foreclosure). In the second stage, individuals explore their identities through their own experiences and the influence of the media. Through this exploration, individuals deeply understand their ethnic identities and internalize them. Individuals who have achieved identities firmly commit to their ethnicity based on this exploration that has led to a clear understanding of ethnicity.

Seven years later, Phinney and Devich-Navarro (1997) researched bicultural identification among ethnic minority adolescents. They found three patterns of bicultural identification and categorized them as follows: blended, alternating, and separated. While blended biculturals describe themselves as a combination of American and ethnic identities, alternating biculturals describe themselves as more ethnic than American. Adolescents who fit in the latter model frequently mention their identities shift dependent on situational differences; at school they usually feel more American, while at home and with friends they feel more ethnic. These results are consistent with those of the constructivists’ research on the cultural frame switching. Phinney and Devich-Navarro (1997) assert that alternating biculturals are strongly rooted in their ethnic identities but function comfortably in both cultural settings. Separated individuals who have strong ethnic identification and a weak or nonexistent identification with the larger society cannot be considered biculturals.

Obviously, Phinney seems to shift the gravity of cross-cultural studies on biculturalism from outcome-oriented to process-oriented. More developmental and pluralistic perspectives began to emerge in 1990s. J. Bennett (1993a) examines the possible benefits of being bicultural, redefining biculturals as “constructive marginals.” She tries to get rid of a negative connotation of the term “marginality.” She redefines the term as encapsulated (trapped) marginality and constructive marginality. The encapsulated marginal is stuck on the margins of two or more cultures without conscious choice. Therefore, he or she is unable to construct a unified identity. In contrast, the constructive marginal has conscious choices that allow him or her to select cultural identities and construct his or her own identities. By defining the particular characteristics of both marginalities, J. Bennett sets up the basic strategies for intercultural trainers towards constructive marginality. M. Bennett (1993b) similarly argues that these marginals, who have reached the final stage of development in his model of intercultural sensitivity, decide to be insiders or outsiders depending on different situations. Yoshikawa (1987) coins the evocative term “dynamic in-betweeness” to point out multifaceted aspects of biculturals and multiculturals.

Recently, cognitive constructivists have examined how being bicultural has positive benefits (Benet-Martinez & Haritatos, 2005; Hong, Morris, Chiu, & Benet-Martínez, 2000). By positioning marginality in a positive light, this approach becomes a “conceptual affirmative action” against the imbalance of the past, in which such “deviance” was uniformly viewed as undesirable (Bennett, 1993a, p.113). As interest in individuals’ psychological processes in cultural contacts grows among researchers, researchers develop increasingly positive views of marginality and possess a greater interest in biculturalism.


Constructivism provides several positive theoretical frameworks on biculturalism, focusing on the process of becoming biculturals. Constructivists believe individuals can improve their intellectual abilities to acquire knowledge and form worldviews through the interaction between personal experiences and social circumstances. There are two categories in constructivism: social constructivism and cognitive constructivism. The former is that social interaction helps individuals develop intellectual abilities and obtain knowledge (Vygotsky, 1986). The latter is that individual interaction is the main factor for cognitive developments. Cognitive constructivists argue that the individual forms the mental frame that he or she develops and expands it by experience. Kelly (1963) contends that experience is a function of how one construes “events” (as cited in Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003). According to Hammer et al. (2003), the “event” is associated with the experience of cultural differences in intercultural relations. The complexity of individual cognition depends on the degree of the experienced event of cultural difference. As individuals experience more cultural differences, their cognitive constructs become increasingly complex.

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

Using a constructivism as his base, M. Bennett (1993b) develops his model of intercultural sensitivity. Even though Phinney’s approach illuminates how individuals develop their ethnic identity, her model is more related to immigrants and adolescents, rather than globalized individuals of any ages. However, in the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), M. Bennett (1993b) proposes a more universal model that can be applied to all types of cultural marginals, including global nomads and adults who have already formed their cultural identities in adolescence. Though intercultural encounters are not peaceful processes, M. Bennett argues that individuals should overcome a negative connotation of marginality. In his DMIS, M. Bennett explains how people construe cultural difference and develop sensitivity to cultural relativity.

In order to facilitate intercultural sensitivity, M. Bennett offers a progressive development from ethnocentric stages to ethnorelative stages. In the ethnocentric stage, the particular culture of the individual is perceived as dominant and central to all other cultures. In the ethnorelative stage, the individual in a particular cultural context understands and accepts cultural differences. Furthermore, at the final stage of integration in ethnorelativism, the individual may synthesize two or more cultures into a coherent new identity. Under ethnorelative stages of development, different cultures are neither good nor bad. Each culture is just different. The reasoning behind this model is that as individuals progress through the successive stages of ethnocentrism and advance to ethnorelativism, individuals acquire a greater awareness of their own and other cultures, as well as the skills required for communicating effectively without psychological stress or conflict. Thus, individuals at the ethnorelativism stage can express their alternative cultural experience in a culturally appropriate manner.

Developing intercultural sensitivity can change one’s worldview structure, rather than change attitudes and behaviors (Hammer et al., 2003). The DMIS assumes that construing cultural difference can become a dynamic aspect of one’s worldview, expanding understanding of one’s own and other cultures in cross-cultural contacts. Once habitualized under the ethnorelativism stage, the process of cultural frame switching becomes the basis of biculturalism or multiculturalism. The assumption underlying this particular model is that as one’s experience of cultural difference becomes more complex and sophisticated, one’s potential competence in intercultural encounters increases as well.

Cognitive Constructivist Approach

Similar with DMIS, cognitive constructivists contends that their approach provides insights about how individuals incorporate multiple cultures and how their cultural knowledge operates to guide individuals’ construction of meaning (Hong et al., 2000). In other words, their approach can supplement the traditional acculturation models by highlighting the process of internalizing a new culture and by illuminating frame switching that individuals experience in intercultural contacts. According to Benet - Martínez et al. (2002), biculturals may be independent in some situations, and interdependent in other situations; they are individualistic at certain times and collectivistic at other times. This perspective reflects an individual is a malleable entity so the individual’s identity may dynamically interact with cultures across and within national boundaries.

For example, empirical research conducted by Hong et al. (2000) shows that Hong Kong and Chinese American biculturals exhibit characteristically Western behaviors when primed with Western cultural cues. The biculturals also exhibit characteristically East Asian behaviors when primed with East Asian cues. This less monolithic interpretation towards the relationship between culture and mind deeply focuses on the process of acculturation: People have access to multiple cultural meaning systems and switch between different culturally appropriate behaviors depending on the context. Biculturals and monoculturals differ in the level of cognitive complexity about the two cultures. Biculturals have richer, more complex knowledge about what it means to be a member of each of the two cultures (Benet-Martinez et al., 2006). That is, biculturals have two distinct and complete sets of knowledge structures, one for each culture. Monoculturals have one set of such structures, for their own culture, and then have secondhand knowledge about the other culture. Thus, cognitive constructivists attempt to illustrate how biculturals dynamically switch their cultural constructs depending on situations and partners.

Cultural Hybridization

Given globalization, several researchers argue that transformative identities such as bicultural or hybrid identities have emerged (Arnett, 2002; Herman & Kempen, 1998). As the world is shrinking, individuals have more chances to contact global cultures without migration. Particularly, many children and adolescents in non-Western society tend to have “a global consciousness” (Arnett, 2002, p777). Young generations develop global identities that give them a sense of belonging to a cosmopolitan culture and include an awareness of the global culture. In this case, they often do not need to move to other places to experience cultural differences since there are many ways to contact the global culture such as through media, email, messenger, and video-transmitting program (e.g. Skype). This phenomenon goes with the trend that the study of acculturation has broadened beyond North America (Berry et al., 2006).

Specifically, Arnett (2002) states that how people relate and react to the world is the core psychological consequence of globalization. He describes three aspects of cultural identity under the globalization trend. First, most people in the world develop a “bicultural identity,” combining their local identity with an identity linked to the global cultures. Second, many young people may increasingly experience “identity confusion,” having difficulty adapting to changes when the local identity adjusts in response to globalization. They may not find themselves at home in either the local culture or the global culture. This pattern comes from the notion of marginalization suggested by Berry (2003). Third, others may have “self-selected cultures,” which are not tainted by the global culture and its value. Even though Arnett’s three patterns of globalization-based acculturation are similar with those of the previous acculturation models, the process that individuals experience is not similar. In the globalization-based acculturation, an individual may incorporate the selective elements of culture from the various cultural experiences to which the individual has been exposed to during his or her life (Chen et al., 2008). Biculturals influenced by globalization-based acculturation are different from ones influenced by immigration-based acculturation in terms of the characteristics of the new culture which individuals acculturate in intercultural encounters. The new culture represents the global culture for the bicultural under the former situations, while representing the mainstream culture for the bicultural under the latter. Thus, this recent theoretical model illustrates how individuals process bicultural identities based on globalization-based acculturation no matter where they live.

To summarize, process-oriented frameworks can offer fresh insights into how biculturals or multiculturals probe intercultural communication strategies. In the review of biculturals in organizations, Brannen and Thomas (2010) pointed out that researchers theorized and found positive benefits for biculturals or multiculturals. Biculturals or multiculturals tend to be more systematic and careful in processing cues from cultural situations because they need to engage in more complex sense-making and higher levels of cognitive thinking. Unlike outcome-oriented frameworks, process-oriented frameworks suggest that conflicting cultural identities can lead to bicultural competence that spans the boundaries of roles and mediates conflicts in organizations. Fang (2012) also argued that biculturals experience the harmonious coexistence of paradoxical cultural identities within the same societies, organizations, and individuals based on the Yin Yang perspective that stresses a holistic, dynamic, and dialectical paradigm to study culture. Thus, process-oriented frameworks place the positive aspects of biculturalism or multiculturalism, and imply active processing of communication strategy within the context of intercultural communications.



While individuals today are increasingly internalizing more than one culture, the study of biculturalism is still in its infancy. Around twenty years ago, J. Bennett (1993a) described Barack Obama’s election as the first “black” president of the 102-year-old Harvard Law Review as the good example of prevalence of multiculturalism. She wrote that Obama seems to “claim for himself an identity that is beyond any single cultural perspectives” (p.110). Even though Obama now penetrates mainstream society, rising as far as to become the public face of the U.S., the label of being the first African American president is still the primary way to identify him. A multicultural or bicultural president, however, might be a better identification of him because it goes beyond merely representing his biological heritage, capturing how he represents the dynamic social and psychological changes in the United States. One out of four individuals in the U.S. have lived in another country before moving to the U.S. and have probably experienced more than one culture (U.S. Census, 2002).In addition, Arnett (2002) argues that most individuals worldwide now develop a bicultural identity with globalization. Thus, there are inevitable needs to examine various ways to become bicultural and its psychological impact in individuals’ daily lives.

With respect to the identification of biculturalism, there are historical shifts, from viewing biculturals as marginals to viewing them as biculturals. Previous concept, “marginal man” and Social Identity Theory are in the similar track because both frameworks are concerned with how mainstream groups or in-groups see the ethnocultural or out-groups. While SIT highlights dominant groups’ categorization, acculturation theory highlights individuals’ attitudes on adapting to new cultures. Thus, this model serves as a cornerstone of theoretical frameworks on biculturalism because it bridges outcome-oriented researcher groups to process-oriented groups in intercultural relations.

The model of Ethnic Identity Formation serves as a starting frame for exploring the process how individuals develop their bicultural identities. While the model of Ethnic Identity Formation is more associated with immigrants and adolescents, the developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (DMIS) proposes a more universal model that can be applied to adults and global nomads. The DMIS based on constructivism assumes that as one’s experience of cultural difference becomes more complex and sophisticated, one’s potential competence in intercultural encounters also increases. In this model, the notion of “constructive marginality” emerged. The thread of constructivist views weaves itself into much of the more recent research on biculturalism, examining how individuals posses dual or multiple cultural identities and engage in active cultural frame switching. Finally, some researchers contend that transformative identities such as bicultural or hybrid identities have emerged due to globalization. In this framework, biculturals are individuals who combine local culture with global culture, rather than the majority culture.

Implications for Intercultural Communication

Few studies have examined how the psychological impacts of biculturalism affect communication strategies. A myriad of cross-cultural communication researchers have typically investigated the variation of psychological processes, relying on cross-cultural designs that compare the differences of communication strategies between Westerners and East Asians. This approach encourages a conceptualization of cultural meaning systems as being stereotypical, unchanging, and internalized worldviews that individuals of color experience in a continuous way (Segall, Lonner, & Berry, 1998).

In a world where the populations of most countries are increasingly diverse, both ethnically and racially, researchers should examine the psychological impact of such diversity. Although attitudes of the majority toward minority cultural groups have received most attention, we must also focus our efforts on understanding how people deal with cultural challenges and subsequent changes in communication patterns. Currently, scholars can offer few answers to these questions because of widely differing approaches to the study of cultural identity and bicultural communication competence, including lack of agreement on what constitutes its essential components (Kim, 2002).

Recently, many researchers have sought to conceptualize identity while utilizing a more culturally sensitive perspective. Biculturalism and consequent bicultural communication competence place little emphasis on assimilating, and more emphasis on making choices between two or more cultures or groups and their communication patterns (Kim, 2012).

For instance, several researchers investigated how individuals who endorse both independent and interdependent self-construals use different communication strategies within as well as between cultures (Kim et al., 1996). With respect to the relationship between biculturals and communicative behaviors, Kim et al. found that biculturals tend to be more adaptive than independent or marginal individuals in intercultural settings.

This result is consistent with the other researchers’ conceptualization of the benefits of biculturals and the results of empirical research in terms of the positive outcomes of biculturalism. Much research shows that biculturals may dynamically detect society, proceed with psychological adaptation, and react to interpersonal relationships depending on various situations and times. De Korne et al. (2007) argue that biculturals can have both insider and outsider perspectives. They assert that belonging is not singular but plural, and encompasses affection for a culture as well as the ability to perceive it more objectively and critically than monoculturals generally do. In the Cultural Identity Model proposed by Sussman (2002), cultural identity is dynamic, and can be additive (gaining identification with a new culture) without being subtractive (losing cultural identification). According to Lafromboise et al. (1993), individuals who can alternate their cultural identities fluidly depending on the different cultural situations have less stress when adjusting to the second cultures.

Individuals of bicultural or multicultural orientations may be well aware of “appropriate” communication styles in different cultural contexts, showing a high flexibility for behavioral adaptation. This vision of people as multi-faceted also seem to coincide with such concepts as the "universal person" (Walsh, 1973), "multicultural person" (Adler, 1998), and "international person" (Lutzker, 1960). Adler (1998), for example, explains the unique characteristics of the multicultural person as neither totally a part of nor totally apart from her/his culture. For instance, such people may be capable of reconciling the conflicts posed by competing conflict management styles and achieving a high level of communication competence. They may be better able to make deliberate choices in specific situations and to maintain a dynamic balance between avoidance and confrontation rather than being bound by the culturally imposed emphases on communicative behaviors. The main focus of this alternation model is that individuals have multiple options for conceptualizing their cultural identity. Thus, this process-oriented perspective sheds light on how and why biculturals use different communication strategies in intercultural settings.

In conclusion, the study of biculturalism has evolved through many researchers’ perspectives. There is no final theory to fully explain the multifaceted nature of biculturalism. In relation to social and psychological changes, researchers’ lens have chronologically changed, being modified by better ones. Previous researchers have concentrated on categorizing a bicultural individual through the receiving group’s stereotypes. However, researchers have become increasingly interested in the various ways to be a bicultural individual in different cultural settings. These changes of perspectives, transitioning from outcome-oriented to process-oriented frameworks in acculturation reflects the complex interplay among biculturals and contextual situations. Thus, a positive understanding of biculturals’ identifications has naturally emerged through viewing biculturals from dynamic and interactive perspectives rather than dichotomous perspectives.


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About the Authors

Hyun-Hee Heo is a doctoral student in Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Min‑Sun Kim is a professor of Communicology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Authors’ Address

Correspondence to:
Hyun-Hee Heo
Department of Public Health Sciences
John A. Burns School of Medicine
University of Hawaii at Manoa
1960 East West Rd. D210
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: 1-808-454-3050
Fax: 808-956-6041
E-mail: hyunheeh@hawaii.edu

[i] Graham Spry was a co-founder of the Canadian Radio League, which is a grassroots organization advocating public controls of the airwaves in 1930s.

[ii] According to the Dutch National News (January 27, 2009), the government of the Netherlands appears to have adopted the term “bicultural” for the people from ethnic minorities. The organization Inspiration for Integration (IVI) launched a media campaign in February 2008 to introduce the term “bicultural” and the cabinet accepted this term one year later through using it in official documents. IVI claimed that the usual term for immigrants, ‘allochtonen’, had acquired too many negative implications.