Monday, October 5, 2009

When The Mind Is Somewhere Else

“The concept of ‘geo-ethnicity’ was first introduced by Kim and associates (Kim et al., 2003b), who contended that ethnicity or geographic location alone was not a sufficient factor to explain some distinctive communication patterns in a multicultural setting. Rather, the interaction between ethnicity and location, or geo-ethnicity, produces a unique effect on immigrants’ communication behavior and neighborhood engagement.”

This was Lin and Song’s introduction to the idea of “geo-ethnicity” in their article on geo-ethnic storytelling in contemporary ethnic media. Based on this explanation, I expected the article to deal with a topic we’ve touched upon in a previous classes: how immigrant groups relate to their ethnic identity and its relationship to a home country in an age when communication technology and the media have eroded traditional time-space boundaries and given people the option of imagining their own community in unprecedented ways. “In essence, geo-ethnicity highlights the contextual factor and allows us to move beyond simply looking at ethnicity as a single independent variable to explain the contemporary social environment,” they wrote. “Geo-ethnicity has thus proved to be a better predictor than ethnicity or geography alone to explain immigrants’ community participation."

Instead, the article took this idea of actively formulating one's idea of community and community participation and associated solely with one's current geographic locality. The researchers explored the characteristics of ethnic media in four distinctive ethnic communities in the greater Los Angeles area, including details about the circulation, target audiences, and content of the local publications. One of their primary interests in this study was examining the focus on geo-ethnic storytelling-- content that dealt with local community issues and encouraged community participation-- and it's impact on actual civic participation in the communities being examined.

What the study found, however, was that the majority of the coverage in the publications had to do with the “home country.” While the article did not romanticize this finding, avoiding the suggestion that people stayed abreast of political, economic, and entertainment news from the home countries primarily for reasons of nostalgia, it did draw a correlation between the focus of an ethnic group’s publications on the home country and that group’s difficulty in integrating into the host society. In such a case, the press is less the idealized “tool of democracy” and more a conduit for staying in touch with the home country. This in of itself is not a bad thing; but it can enable a reluctance to expand one’s horizons and explore the possibilities for engagement in an individual’s current local community.

Based on my reading of this article, if an organization interested in promoting civic interest wanted to engage an immigrant community, I would suggest contacting local ethnic publications and offering to submit articles and events for the community calenders (aka. bulletin boards). The articles could overtly or tacitly encourage community participation and convey the ways in which such behaviors would be economically and/or socially beneficial to the group in question. Some people remain insular because they are afraid of change, while others are just indifferent; and these can be attitudes groomed by home country culture or second-generation upbringing as well. According to this article, most ethnic news publications are geared towards first-generation, bilingual or non-English speaking immigrants. This media outlet could be a powerful tool for influencing people with the biggest language and cultural barriers to take advantage of the opportunities to improve or enrich their experience in the U.S. by taking an interest in their local community.


  1. "The articles could overtly or tacitly encourage community participation and convey the ways in which such behaviors would be economically and/or socially beneficial to the group in question" - wouldn't this be propaganda?

    I agree with you of course, I just find that the word propaganda has become so negative, that the actual potential has been reduced to accusations of brainwashing. Propaganda is designed to engender support for policies - so if the policies are for a good cause, why should it not be used?

  2. I'm in a COMM class called "Propaganda and the Media," and the course has spent a lot of time exploring how basically every form of intentionally persuasive communication is a kind of propaganda, even if it doesn't fall into the traditional negative format that the word immediately brings to mind for most people. No matter how broadly people want to stretch the term though, I still agree with you that intent is what separates the "classic" propaganda from a well-meaning effort to persuade. That does not mean the person advocating a certain behavior or opinion always knows best for the target audience; but I think there is a difference between knowingly convincing people to do something that's bad for themselves and/or others around them and using persuasion to get them to do something that's good instead.