Chapter I. Theory

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I have assembled an interdisciplinary framework that integrates theories from media studies, sociology, anthropology, communication, and new literacy studies. This framework allows me to examine the problems of assimilation and digital inequalities, with a media practice approach that recognizes youths as social actors and creative agents. In the sections below I introduce the theories that compose the general foundational framework of this dissertation. However, in each of the body chapters I expand this foundational framework with a more comprehensive literature review according to the specific context of analysis (family/home, after-school, and social media networked sites).

Assimilation Theory

"Assimilation is not a static or unchanging concept; its definition and specifications have evolved steadily as American society has changed in its more than several-century experience of immigration" (Alba and Nee 2003)

Researchers, politicians, and the general public have used the concept of assimilation to describe the processes of incorporation of foreign immigrants into a host society, or in other words, the process in which people of different ethnicities and races negotiate and adapt to a new social environment. This concept, however, is contested. Due to particular historical contexts and the complexity of the process of incorporation and ethnic interaction, social scientists in the twentieth century have conceptualized assimilation differently. As the U.S. has become more culturally and ethnically diverse, as well as with changes in the economy, researchers have developed theories of assimilation that consider more dimensions of the complex process. While some researchers have considered the host society as homogenous, others have assumed it to be heterogeneous and highly stratified, while some have tried to address multiple dimensions (e.g. socioeconomic, educational, civic, identity, psychology), others have focused only on two dimensions of the process (e.g. culture and economy).

Classic and Alternative Assimilation Theories

What is known in the social science literature as classic assimilation theory (e.g. Warer and Strole 1945; Blay and Duncan 1967; Gordon 1978) assumed a single and unified U.S culture and society where immigrants became incorporated progressively and inevitably. Although classic assimilation studies described the process of immigrant adaptation, identified different dimensions, and operationalized several indicators to measure the extent of incorporation of individuals and groups to the U.S., their theories were often ethnocentric and idealized conformity in a homogeneous white Anglo middle-class culture and society. Given the racial and ethnic characteristics of the European migration that took place at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as the historical and economical context of massive industrialization, a "straight-line" process of incorporation into a core white Anglo mainstream seemed to describe the experience of many of the white European immigrants and their children in the U.S. However, as the immigrant population became more ethnically and racially diverse after the new wave of massive immigration post-1965, and as the economic context changed entering a post-industrial era, such assumptions of Anglo conformity and assimilation into a unified white middle-class could not accurately describe the uneven experiences of the "new immigrants" and their children in the U.S. In order to better understand the variety of outcomes and complexity of the assimilation process in contemporary U.S. stratified post-industrial context, researchers developed alternative theories. While some scholars theorized about the possibility of positive assimilation into a new melting pot that is heterogeneous and in which the mainstream majority is diverse (Alva and Nee 2003); others have conceptualized the assimilation process as mixed, with both positive and pessimistic outcomes depending of the segments of the society in which immigrants assimilate (Portes & Zhou 1993; Rumbaut 1996; Zhou 1997; Portes & Rumbaut 2001).