Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections

Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections

Michael Veith (University of Siegen, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch008
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Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this subject and a single academic discipline provides no proper methodological approaches to the field. An inter-cultural computer club in an urban multi-cultural neighbourhood illustrates these phenomena: appropriate argumentations and models can only be found in a theoretical net of scientific disciplines. Categories in a complex socio-cultural field have to be uncovered. These categories can be explained with the help of the theoretical net. We develop a three-dimensional model combining empirical tools with the research strategy of participatory action research and grounded theory as a guide to theorizing the field. This model is introduced here as a means of socio-technical design and development.
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Migration is not a novel phenomenon in history. It has happened all the time and may have numerous reasons and causes. Each society as well as each generation is confronted with social and cultural changes which accompany migration. Those societies which lose people face different challenges than those which allow migrant groups to enter. Though migration movements out of a society are another interesting and important phenomenon to investigate from a socio-technical point of view, we are focusing here on the consequences following the integration of migrant groups into a society. With regard to the existing literature we can differentiate between four possible realisations of the analytic category of integration, i.e. assimilation, inclusion, exclusion, and segregation (cf. Berry 1992). Due to its various social circumstances, integration turns out to be (a) a very complex social phenomenon, (b) more an on-going process than a stable condition, and (c) subjected by continuous changes. Furthermore, it is bound to individuals and groups and is thus closely related to questions of socio-cultural identity.

Commonly recognized as necessities for on-going and successful integration is contact and communication among migrant communities and member communities of the reference society1. Especially schools appear to be a common place for these two prepositions, at least contact between all ethnic communities is an inescapable institutional factor (due to compulsory school attendance). Following this underlying condition—besides other motivational factors—we founded the intercultural computer club come_IN in cooperation with the elementary school Marienschule in Bonn, Germany. Here, parents are invited to accompany their children to the club and to work with them on hands-on projects which are relevant to all participants, i.e. these projects are negotiated in advance. All necessary work and all content is worked out and collected with the help of information and communication technology (ICT), mobile devices provide good support in documenting activities which take place outside the club room. By doing so, a commonly shared practice is motivated which leads to a heterogeneous community, spanning from multiple ethnicities, generations, and roles. A mixed cultural spirit is negotiated which mutually influences the socio-cultural nuance of participants’ identity—integration is fostered.

In Stevens et al. (2004 and 2005) we tried to find evidence for a couple of these assumptions in a rather broad manner. These papers, however, make the attempt to set our undertaking on a methodological fundament. By doing so, we developed a three dimensional model of combining empirical tools with the research strategy of participatory action research and grounded theory as a guide to theorizing the field. This chapter is a mostly theoretical discussion about dealing with communities and technologies in practice. Its main contribution is to position the project come_IN in a theoretical as well as methodological framework. A rigorous participatory action research (PAR) approach established a firm basis for further research strategies within come_IN (for an overview on PAR, cf. Greenwood et al. 1993, or Kemmis and McTaggart 2004). As this further strategy we chose grounded theory (cf. Strauss and Corbin 1998). We will show how first steps of a more wide-spanned grounded theory (GT) within come_IN has been realized, how theory plays an important role within this undertaking, and how consequences are derived from the emerging complex net of concepts and categories. First results and empirical findings about come_IN can be found in Veith et al. (2007), where we focus on identity and role affiliation mediated by the club.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community Of Practice: A community of practice refers to a process of social learning that occurs, as well as shared sociocultural practices that emerge and evolve when people with similar or common goals interact as they strive towards those goals. One of our assumptions is, that an intercultural computer club like come_IN is a community of practice. In the club, one of our roles as ‘researchers’ is just one kind of legitimate peripheral participation within the community of practice of come_IN.

Learning: In our context we define learning as the sustainable process of acquiring abilities and knowledge regarding technical as well as social skills. It is always a sociocultural phenomenon which can be observed in different types of qualities, such as in Communities of Practice, Constructionism, Over the Shoulder Learning, or Learning by Doing. The ongoing gathering and interpretation of experience almost always accompanies the learning process.

Action Research: As action researchers we collaborate with practitioners to intervene in practice in order to solve concrete problems while expanding scientific knowledge. In the literature, action research represents an overarching class of research approaches, rather than a single monolithic research method. Action research is usually split into a reflective phase where problems and opportunities are analyzed and an intervention is planned, and a phase of action where the intervention is carried out.

Neighborhood: Urban Informatics for us apply on the local level of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods are fascinating as sociality in this context is not a matter of anonymity but of acquaintance. Place making as the socio-geographical process of local public interaction can be conducted by conflicts, which can only lead to a sustainable consensus if social integration is fostered on all levels within the socio-technical infrastructure.

Social Integration: We take a more holistic and even normative view on social integration in our study. For a society, it is crucial to follow the ideal of providing equal opportunities for as many of its members as possible. Therefore, social integration on the one hand means to overcome the technical and the social digital divide, and on the other hand, has to include all generations, all ethnic communities, and people from all socioeconomic backgrounds in this process.

Participation: As one measure of contact, the gradual weight of public as well as institutional participation is of further interest to us. Participation is the main quantitative parameter within come_IN. Commonly shared practice within the club has to pay tribute to all different kinds of participation and learning scenarios (e.g. working with, playing on, and respectively gazing at ICT). Using theoretical sampling helps to clarify the dependence between manner of use and participation.

Migration: In our context, migration is a key discriminant which divides our club members into two groups, that is, those with a migration background and those without. However, despite stereotyical belief, there is obviously no clear connection between ethnicity and migration. Only a few people may be considered pure locals, which raises the strong need for localization of support and the negotiation of cultural belonging.

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