Xenophobia, Ethnic Community, and Immigrant Youths' Friendship Network Formation

By Tsai, Jenny Hsin-Chun | Adolescence, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview
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Xenophobia, Ethnic Community, and Immigrant Youths' Friendship Network Formation


Tsai, Jenny Hsin-Chun, Adolescence


Xenophobia, ethnic community, and immigrant youths' friendship network formation are associated with the provision of social support, access to support, physiological responses, psychosocial development, health behaviors, and health status across the life span (Berman & Syme, 1979; Kuo & Tsai, 1986; Levy-Storms & Wallace, 2003; Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, Bates, & The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2000; Seeman & Berkman, 1988). Children who have peer relationship difficulties are at risk of behavioral, emotional, and academic problems, and even adult psychopathology (Parker & Asher, 1987). Immigrant youth leave their relatives, friends, and other social ties behind in their home countries during their immigration processes (Aronowitz, 1984). In new countries, they face the challenges of rebuilding friendship and other social networks at school and in the community. A difficult transition in forming new friendship networks is likely to threaten immigrant youths' optimal psychosocial development and promote vulnerability to being marginalized. The purpose of this paper is to examine how sociocultural context enables immigrant youth to rebuild their friendship networks.

BACKGROUND

The Concept of Social Network

Social network, as an analytic concept, describes the complex interpersonal linkages in a social system and is generally divided into structural and interactional dimensions. Size or range, density, proximity, type of relationship, homogeneity, and reachability are components of the structural dimension. Characteristics of individual ties such as frequency of contact, intimacy, multiplexity, duration, reciprocity, and durability, are considered as the interactional dimension (Berkman, Glass, Brissette, & Seeman, 2000; Mueller, 1980; O'Reilly, 1988).

There are three types of networks: first order, second order, and extended (Mueller, 1980). Most studies have focused on the first order network, which consists of direct connections that individuals have with others (O'Reilly, 1988). Family, relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are generally considered as members of the first order network. The second order network refers to indirect linkages that individuals develop through members of their first order network. The extended network is the connection individuals have with larger populations through the second order network.

How do people form social networks? Psychologists have identified several factors: physical proximity or propinquity, probability of interaction, frequency of exposure, reciprocity of liking and self-disclosure, individual judgement of the other person's characteristics (e.g., physical features, social skills, academic achievement, similarity), and developmental stages (Berndt & Ladd, 1989; Fehr, 1996; Furman, 1989; Hallinan & Williams, 1989). Anthropologists and sociologists have taught us that lives are structured by meanings, rules, conventions, or habits we adhere to as social beings. We draws on our cultural knowledge to organize our behavior, understand others and ourselves, and make sense of the world. In other words, formation of a social network is a sociocultural experience. For example, studies from the United States showed that children younger than five are already aware of language, food, skin color, hair differences, and facial characteristics as culturally defined "racial" markers. They use these markers to define their social boundaries and obtain control in their interactions with other children (Ramsey & Myers, 1990; Van Ausdale & Feagin, 1996). With age, "racial" attitudes become more crystallized and consistent across the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components and play an important role in shaping older children's cross-race relationships (Semons, 1991). In order to better understand youths' formation of their friendship networks, it is necessary to examine that experience in the macro sociocultural context that shapes the making and breaking of social networks.

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