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“spatial relations mirror the social relations of society” Robert E. Park (1926) “Ethnic residential segregation reflects larger processes of social change and economic development” Douglas Massey (1985). The term Œassimilation¹ is widely used to describe the variety of processes which lead to a state of homogenisation of society. A precise definition is very difficult to define and in the first section of this essay I hope to reach an acceptable general definition of assimilation. The second section of this essay will deal with the more controversial question as to the existence of a spatial dimension of assimilation. I shall be considering a broad range of literature and hope finally to determine whether assimilation has a so called, Œspatial dimension¹. Milton M Gordon¹s Assimilation in American Life (1964) dedicates an entire chapter to the definition of assimilation, quoting from a great variety of sources, all of which attempt a precise, formal definition of assimilation. Broadly speaking assimilation is a both a term identifying the processes which occur when an ethnic immigrant population interacts with a host or Œcore society¹, and a descriptive word describing the state of that interactive process. It would be prudent also at this stage to identify the main components of ethnicity itself. The three major sources of ethnicity are found in the American ethic “regardless of race, creed, or national origin”. The Harvard Encyclopaedia of American Ethnic Groups identifies six components of ethnicity. An ethnic population would consist of a group of people sharing a common historical origin, with some conception of cultural and social distinctiveness from the core society. They would play a role as a unit in a larger and diverse system of social relations, and possess a manifest or latent network of associations beyond kinship and locality. Furthermore they would acknowledge of their own diversity in different settings and would have some form of attachment to a set of historically derived group symbols. Today in the USA, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics are examples of ethnic groups. The white anglo-saxon protestant population can be thought of as being the core society. Returning to assimilation, the problem of definition arises as different individuals stress different aspects of the same process. Robert E Park and Ernest W Burgess define assimilation as “…a process of interpenetration and fusion in which persons and groups acquire the memories, sentiments and attitudes of other persons or groups, and, by sharing their experience and history, are incorporated with them in a common cultural life” The Harvard Encyclopaedia of American Ethnic Groups defines assimilation simply as the “process that leads to greater homogeneity in society”. Yet the most comprehensive definition in my opinion is that of Gordon. He identifies several subprocesses which function within the framework of the assimilation process. By considering the process in this way I feel one comes to a clear understanding of the term. Each of these subprocesses may be thought of as constituting a particular stage or aspect of the assimilation process. These subprocesses can be achieved at different times and to different degrees by the group in question. 1) Cultural Assimilation – This is the change of the immigrant groups cultural pattern to that of the host society. Involving the change in ethnic values, customs and cultural forms. It might also be termed Acculturation. 2) Structural Assimilation – This is the entrance of the immigrants into the social network of groups and institutions of the host society. It constituted a change in primary and institutional relationships. 3) Marital Assimilation – Might also be termed Amalgamation. This refers to the intermarriage between the immigrant group and the core society. 4) Identificational Assimilation – This refers to the development of a sense of peoplehood by the immigrants, based exclusively on the core society. 5) Attitudinal Receptional Assimilation – This being the absence of prejudice toward either group in the population as a whole. 6) Behavioural Receptional Assimilation – This being the absence of discrimination toward either group in the population as a whole. 7) Civic Assimilation – This is the absence of value and power conflict between the immigrant group and core society. Milton Gordon was indeed the first person to distinguish between different types of assimilation. He identified the two most important forms to be Cultural assimilation and structural assimilation, the latter being the key to successful complete assimilation. It is also debatable as to when complete assimilation is said to have occurred. Some suggest total assimilation to exist when the immigrant group experiences no discrimination or prejudice in the core society and the ethnic group is able to participate in all spheres of society. Indeed in this instance it would be difficult to differentiate between the ethnic group and the core society on the basis of socioeconomic status or other indicators of assimilation. Others argue assimilation is complete when groups “achieve a cultural solidarity sufficient at least to sustain a national existence”. I personally see the process of assimilation as ongoing and one which is very difficult to identify as having stopped. There are a variety of factors which influence the rate of assimilation. One of the classic examples is the comparison between Hispanic or Italian and Negro assimilation in the USA. This stems from work done by Taeuber and Taeuber (1964/74). Their findings indicated an unusual observation. It was noted that levels of segregation for blacks in Chicago remained high over periods when segregation indices for other ethnic groups dropped substantially. The reason for the maintenance of segregation of Negro communities was due to their obvious ethnicity. The core society sees a radically different skin colour as a radically different ethnicity, irrespective of the fact that the cultural values, beliefs and traditions of that individual might be far more similar to those of the core society than those of another individual, perceived as being of closer ethnicity to the core society on the basis of colour. In this way the length of time it takes for assimilation of the negro is far longer than that for the hispanic for example. Another crucial factor determining the rate of assimilation, and one which leads me to the second section of this essay is the spatial dimension. Consider an isolated community, such as the white Appalachian migrant neighbourhoods of Uptown Chicago. In maintaining a degree of geographical isolation, that is spatial distance, ethnic traditionalism is the mode of cultural existence. Assimilation is a process involving the interaction of individuals. If it is not possible for individuals of two different ethnic backgrounds to interact in everyday life, assimilation is unlikely to occur. Assimilation involves learning, sharing and adapting to alternate, different cultures, values and lifestyles, and is a two way process. The minority cannot assimilate if the majority are either unwilling or geographically unable to integrate. Douglas Massey is an advocate of the so called spatial school of thought. In his paper Ethnic Residential Segregation (1985), he re-evaluates a theory based on human ecology using techniques of social area analysis and factorial ecology. Massey suggests ethnic residential segregation to reflect larger processes of social change and economic development. He argues that social and residential differentiation are a function of societal development which in turn is reflected spatially. Residential space is defined by the intersection of social, family and ethnic status. Spatial organisation is therefore achieved as individuals seek out their own kind (Berry 1977). Massey argues social status to be sectorally distributed in the manner described by Hoyt (1939). Family status to be concentrically distributed in the manner of Burgess (1925). And ethnic clusters to be superimposed on this spatial map to create an urban mosaic, characteristic of the modern metropolis (Timms 1971). Ethnic segregation is determined by the interplay of two opposing spatial forces: Concentration and Dispersion. Concentration of ethnic groups is determined by the spatial differentiation of the urban economy and reinforced by the nature of immigrants and immigration. Dispersion of ethnic groups is determined by socioeconomic mobility and acculturation. These two forces are dependent upon the differentiated urban economy as resources and opportunities are distributed unevenly in space, thereby encouraging immigrants to move in order to improve their position in society. This desire is in itself a product of assimilation as immigrant groups adopt the western values of self improvement and achievement. The spatial analysis of assimilation is based upon the relationship between the social interaction and the spatial distribution of participants. It is indisputable that people tend to interact more with those who are within close proximity; and people interact more with those more like them. Segregation produces a distribution whereby those who are closest in distance are also most alike. It is however important to note here that actual distance may occasionally be misleading as in areas of Northern Ireland where predominantly Catholic areas border with predominantly protestant residential areas. When considered as a general overview however, the first statement is valid. Park summarises these observations in his claim that “spatial relations mirror the social relations of a society”. Given these basic propositions, Massey formulates the Model of Ecological Succession. This model of succession creates ethnic segregation which gradually dissipates over time via the opposing force of assimilation. This model was evaluated using comparative data from six different countries. The model is based upon the ecological principles of invasion and succession. As immigrants move into a new city they are forced to seek work, cheap accommodation and a proximity to the centre of the city, the likely location of their workplace, given that is probably manual unskilled, or semi skilled work. As a result the zone of transition is targeted and ethnic groups move in. Via a process of chain migration and channelling the region will gradually increase in ethnic density and, fed by immigration, a critical mass of people will be reached (Fisher 1975/82). At this point enclave institutionalisation occurs and residential segregation is reinforced. This process is then countered via a process of residential succession. Structural differentiation therefore leads not only to segregation, but also to its opposing force, assimilation. Due to the uneven distribution of resources and opportunities mobility is the key to ethnic improvement and assimilation occurs. This spatial assimilation is driven by acculturation and socioeconomic mobility. Mobility and acculturation in turn reduce social distance, the key to residential segregation, and this results in movement into new residential zones. Instead of leading to the cycle of invasion and succession, spatial assimilation and dispersion are seen. This model is based upon six basic propositions and four structural conditions, which determine the precise nature of the process. The extent of segregation between groups rests upon the social, cultural and economic distance between them. Massey notes that these findings are inconsistent with Gordon¹s (1964) theory, the high degree of segregation between so-called Œethclasses¹, groups formed by the intersection of ethnicity and social class. Gordon therefore argues that segregation of ethnicities is maintained irrespective of class, yet dissimilarity indexes show declines in ethnic segregation as socioeconomic status rises. The conclusions of Massey¹s article are most interesting. He concludes that ethnic groups do not exist a priori, indeed they are created by structural conditions in society. The concept of ethnicity arises when people with similar characteristics share a common structural position, one defined by the intersection of basic dimensions of economic and structural organisation. The structure of society is then transformed and as groups move between structural locations, ethnicity itself changes. We see therefore that the concepts of assimilation and its spatial dimension, both in terms of physical distance and perceived social, or more aptly Œpsychological distance¹, are inextricably entwined in this model of ethnic succession. Further support for the principle that assimilation has a spatial dimension is provided by Duncan and Lieberson in their classic study, Ethnic Segregation and Assimilation (1959). They showed this by correlating a series of behavioural variables to the degree of residential segregation for eleven groups in Chicago. They based their study on two basic hypothesis. The first that the degree of residential segregation, of any group, at any point in time, was inversely related to the socioeconomic status and the degree of assimilation of that group. In other words, segregation was directly proportional to the groups social distance from the core population. Secondly, they suggested changes in residential segregation to be in accordance with those anticipated on the basis of a positive correlation between assimilation and the length of time that the group had been resident in the USA. They were able to show that groups resident in the US for only a short period of time were more segregated than those which had settled earlier. Furthermore they showed that Œnewer¹ groups were also more internally segregated than those Œolder¹ groups. It was also shown that the second generation was more segregated than the first. These three observations imply that spatial dispersion occurred gradually over time, in conjunction with increased levels of assimilation. Two other hypothesis which link assimilation to desegregation and thus spatial proximity were also proven. Firstly groups with high intermarriage had low levels of segregation, and vice versa. For example, 52.6% of the English and Welsh group were married to the native whites, and their segregation index was 9.4. In contrast, the Italian group were only 16.4% intermarried with native whites and the resulting segregation index was a high 51.4. The correlation between segregation and intermarriage was significant at -0.92. Similar conclusions were found in their investigation of the hypothesis that segregation was inversely related to the percentage of the group which spoke English. Speaking English is another behavioural variable which is an important aspect of assimilation into American society. The correlation between the two factors was -0.83. Evidence of this relationship is evident if one considers the levels of residential segregation between two different ethnic groups, of similar outward appearance and culture, and the core society. The English and Welsh immigrants had an index of dissimilarity of 19 with the native stock, both in 1930 and 1950. The Lithuanians, not radically different visibly, nor in culture from the English and Welsh, yet whose native tongue is not English, had an index of dissimilarity of 57 in 1930 and 51.5 in 1950. The data supports the hypothesis and furthermore the argument that assimilation does have a spatial dimension. In review of the evidence I have put forward in this essay, I feel it difficult to disagree with the hypothesis that assimilation has a spatial dimension. Not only is there a spatial dimension in terms of physical distance and related segregation indices, there is also a more abstract spatial dimension in terms of social and socioeconomic distance and assimilation. Indeed, isolation and total segregation, with indices of dissimilarity of 100 will result in very slow rates of assimilation, and conversely, segregation indices of 0 and total spatial residential mixture would undoubtedly result in more rapid rates of ethnic assimilation. I therefore conclude that assimilation does have an important spatial dimension.


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