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El-Ghorba: A Media Ethnography of Transnationalism among Arab Immigrant Families in Canada
Unformatted Document Text:  Integral to the understanding of cultural change and acculturation is the complex process of assimilation. In cultural anthropology the term refers to the time-sensitive process of incorporative integration into a particular group. Banton (1981) describes it as the process of becoming “more alike.” He explains that the sociological definition describes a far more forceful cultural reaction, where a group, a minority or immigrant population, is absorbed into another culture. Yet, Banton argues that assimilation is best seen as “the reduction of cultural distance between specified groups with respect to particular aspects of behavior.” Television, in particular, has always been believed to possess a great influence on the way audiences view social reality. For almost twenty years, communication scholars have considered the effect of television exposure on the viewers’ construction of reality under the rubric of the cultivation hypothesis (Gerbner & Gross 1976). These studies are rooted in the concept of incidental learning, which posits that television provides viewers with information on which they unwittingly base judgments. The majority of communication-acculturation studies were not concerned with the media effect on the acculturation process. Instead, they tended to focus on the effect of acculturation or ethnic identity on media-use patterns and other forms of consumer behavior. As such, these studies may satisfactorily serve the media practitioner as a form of market research, but they do not necessarily answer the questions raised by a theoretician of media effects. One cannot discuss acculturation without addressing acculturation stress – more commonly referred to as culture shock. Acculturation research has supported the vital role that communication plays in the acculturation process and in reducing the stress caused by changes in values, culture, and lifestyle. Kim (1988) noted, “strangers are faced with high degrees of uncertainty. The are unfamiliar with various aspects of the new cultural environment, particularly the ‘mentality’ of the natives” (p. 87). She stated that people have inherent drives to maintain equilibrium and that people adapt in order to regain internal equilibrium and reduce stress. They accomplish this through communication (p. 50). Immigrants who find themselves psychologically at odds with their environment will try to reduce dissonance and achieve internal harmony. Some uses and gratifications studies have found that audience members use television in times of stress (Bryant & Zillman, 1984). It can be predicted that if immigrants find their role inappropriate in their surroundings, they would find ways of achieving consonance. They may use communication, as Kim suggested, to increase their abilities to change their acculturation levels, thus alleviating stress, or they may use communication to reinforce their current cultural norms, thereby reducing stress. Acculturation research points to the role of communication in the process, and uses and gratifications theory suggests they would turn to mass media communication. Why media ethnography? The primary question that begged an answer was; what value does ethnographic fieldwork have in illuminating unexplored narratives of media-audience communication? In an area of research where empirical positivism is the norm, mass communication has only rarely been studied using ethnographic methodology. Namely because interactions between the medium and its audience has been difficult to both conceptualize and articulate in any comprehensible fashion. Researchers in the past have either treated the medium (e.g. TV) as an interpersonal counterpart in a communication process, or as an external factor. Where the communication process is a reciprocal one, the medium obviously falls short. Personally, I am

Authors: Iskandar Farag, Adel.
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Integral to the understanding of cultural change and acculturation is the complex process
of assimilation. In cultural anthropology the term refers to the time-sensitive process of
incorporative integration into a particular group. Banton (1981) describes it as the process of
becoming “more alike.” He explains that the sociological definition describes a far more forceful
cultural reaction, where a group, a minority or immigrant population, is absorbed into another
culture. Yet, Banton argues that assimilation is best seen as “the reduction of cultural distance
between specified groups with respect to particular aspects of behavior.”
Television, in particular, has always been believed to possess a great influence on the
way audiences view social reality. For almost twenty years, communication scholars have
considered the effect of television exposure on the viewers’ construction of reality under the
rubric of the cultivation hypothesis (Gerbner & Gross 1976). These studies are rooted in the
concept of incidental learning, which posits that television provides viewers with information on
which they unwittingly base judgments.
The majority of communication-acculturation studies were not concerned with the media
effect on the acculturation process. Instead, they tended to focus on the effect of acculturation or
ethnic identity on media-use patterns and other forms of consumer behavior. As such, these
studies may satisfactorily serve the media practitioner as a form of market research, but they do
not necessarily answer the questions raised by a theoretician of media effects.
One cannot discuss acculturation without addressing acculturation stress – more
commonly referred to as culture shock. Acculturation research has supported the vital role that
communication plays in the acculturation process and in reducing the stress caused by changes in
values, culture, and lifestyle. Kim (1988) noted, “strangers are faced with high degrees of
uncertainty. The are unfamiliar with various aspects of the new cultural environment, particularly
the ‘mentality’ of the natives” (p. 87). She stated that people have inherent drives to maintain
equilibrium and that people adapt in order to regain internal equilibrium and reduce stress. They
accomplish this through communication (p. 50).
Immigrants who find themselves psychologically at odds with their environment will try
to reduce dissonance and achieve internal harmony. Some uses and gratifications studies have
found that audience members use television in times of stress (Bryant & Zillman, 1984).
It can be predicted that if immigrants find their role inappropriate in their surroundings,
they would find ways of achieving consonance. They may use communication, as Kim
suggested, to increase their abilities to change their acculturation levels, thus alleviating stress, or
they may use communication to reinforce their current cultural norms, thereby reducing stress.
Acculturation research points to the role of communication in the process, and uses and
gratifications theory suggests they would turn to mass media communication.
Why media ethnography?
The primary question that begged an answer was; what value does ethnographic
fieldwork have in illuminating unexplored narratives of media-audience communication? In an
area of research where empirical positivism is the norm, mass communication has only rarely
been studied using ethnographic methodology. Namely because interactions between the
medium and its audience has been difficult to both conceptualize and articulate in any
comprehensible fashion. Researchers in the past have either treated the medium (e.g. TV) as an
interpersonal counterpart in a communication process, or as an external factor. Where the
communication process is a reciprocal one, the medium obviously falls short. Personally, I am


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