“Youth, media and migration” At home in two worlds

Immigrant youths are surprisingly savvy when it comes to the many forms of media they use.
Immigrant youths are surprisingly savvy when it comes to the many forms of media they use. | Photo (detail): Chris-Schmidt © iStockphoto

Scientists and students involved in the research project “Youth, media and migration” took a closer look at the media habits of immigrant youths. The study revealed that they are savvy when it comes to the many forms of media they use.

When Pinar Erdemir was born to Turkish parents in Heilbronn 30 years ago, mobile phones were a rarity and online social networks weren’t even an idea yet. As a kid, she spent a lot of time with her parents and siblings in a nearby video store stocking up on Turkish films before the family finally bought a TV that could receive Turkish programs via satellite. Erdemir had the impression even back then that private news stations from Turkey portrayed events in a totally different way than she was accustomed to from the German ones.

As a student she registered on Facebook, where she was exposed to a wide range of Turkish videos, poems and expressions that her German-Turkish friends had posted on their pages. Erdemir became curious how much influence the media and social networks had on the general public and, in particular, on immigrant youths in Germany. She decided to dedicate her thesis to the subject.

Student researchers

Erdemir’s interest in research was greeted with enthusiasm by professors Matthias Rath (philosophy in Ludwigsburg) and Gudrun Marci-Boehncke (German studies in Dortmund), whose interdisciplinary research project Youth, media and migration focused on very similar issues. The team hoped that collaborating with immigrant students like Erdemir would help draw more immigrant youths into their own project.

“We simply don’t have access to a lot of immigrant youths because of language barriers or social reasons,” explains Marci-Boehncke. “The immigrant students we have can switch between languages easily and are willing to recruit extended family and friends for the study. That brings a high level of trust as well, which is good for the results.” The situation also offers students the chance to carry out small case studies while applying their own unique knowledge and experience.

The Facebook challenge

Erdemir sent her questionnaires out on Facebook and at the university, primarily to friends and acquaintances, before carrying out detailed discussions with groups of Turkish immigrant youths and young adults. The qualitative analysis of her research clearly showed that the participants come into contact with media in both languages, cultures and value systems. A quick look at Facebook usage reveals the challenge that social media outlets present. “The photos that get posted publicly, for example, depend on the cultural context, i.e., what is acceptable in that social situation or family,” explains Erdemir. “An aunt in Turkey may have a much different cultural understanding of a photo than a friend in Germany.” The youth who took part in the survey are very aware of these differences. In her opinion, that awareness represents a potential that they are very rarely given credit for.

Catalysts for public discussion

Project leaders Matthias Rath and Gudrun Marci-Boehncke, who are responsible for the comparative evaluation of the various elements of the study, feel that youths are indeed underestimated in that regard. Take the example of TV viewing behavior, which clearly indicates that most young people don’t live in a parallel media universe, as perhaps feared, but rather in two media worlds simultaneously. According to the results of the study, many immigrant youths will watch Turkish TV with their parents at home – for example because the mother’s German isn’t good enough to keep up with German news shows and because the Turkish programs possess higher levels of familiarity and even an emotional connection. On the other hand, when watching with siblings or fathers, they typically watch in German if the mother is not there. This showed Rath that the youth have a high overall level of media savvy that enables them to bounce between the two media milieus.