Acculturation from Below:
Immigrant Children Brokering Culture in Two Neighbourhoods of Athens
This comparative study aims to offer a deeper understanding of the multiple roles and forms of agency that immigrant children assume in the mutual acculturation of their social milieu in two contrasting neighbourhoods of Athens, assuming a practice theory approach and an ecological perspective.
Evidence was gathered through qualitative, ethnographic and participatory methods, designed to capitalize upon children‟s skills and gain complementary insights and understandings that would otherwise be difficult to access if this study relied on a single data collection method. Research methods included informal, semi-structured and in-depth interviews with immigrant children, their families, peers and teachers; focus groups; participant observation at school and at home; as well as creative methodologies like drawing, sociograms, photography, doing activities and taking walks together. Data was processed with NVivo and SPSS.
Immigrant youth, despite being embedded in their immediate physical and sociocultural environment, are not constricted to the resources that are directly available to them. From a very young age, and under the effect of a host of contextual factors, they engage in a process of “sensemaking” of the host vis-à-vis their heritage culture in their day-to-day lives, drawing cultural elements from both. Children forge complex transcultural identities and create multiply determined and overlapping social spaces and networks in order to accomplish their tasks and fulfill their aspirations. As children‟s mediating role gets filtered through a web of systemic, environmental and personal opportunities and obstacles they create a unique amalgamation of resources which they later on diffuse, deliberately or spontaneously, to their social environment: their families and the larger host society. In this way, children‟s actions can establish and strengthen missing or weak ties between the two groups. By interpenetrating both worlds with cultural elements belonging to the „other‟ one, culture brokering children are able to significantly facilitate transcultural contact and interethnic understanding. Culture brokering has the capacity to supplement the daily function of institutions such as families, schools and other services in ways that can sustain or change them and has a variety of cognitive, developmental, emotional and social implications for children, both positive and negative
Discussion / Conclusions
In an effort to support themselves and their families in the adaptation and orientation process in the new country, immigrant children create and maintain transversal spatial and social relations. Geographical and educational contexts create or withhold opportunities for the accumulation and enactment of social and cultural resources for children, which results in the unequal development of their childhoods. The organization of physical space and the opportunities for its appropriation, paired with school culture and the local patterns of social interaction, affect the way in which immigrant children live their lives, acquire various forms of capital and examine their possibilities for belonging and sociocultural participation. Schools and institutions within communities of immigrant settlement should reach out to them, adapting their approach and function and fostering their unique sets of skills and knowledge and the effective strategies that they already practice for accessing, accumulating and mediating social and cultural resources. The accruements of children‟s multiplying role as cultural mediators, however incremental, can have gradual and cumulative effect on attitudes towards diversity and social change for individuals, groups and institutions
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