Media Anthropology – Introduction

Media & Visual Anthropology

Media appropriation among migrants in Berlin

Lisa Freudlsperger and Phung Vuong

What is the first thing we put into our pocket when we leave the house? The most important thing to accompany us on our holidays or even a longer stay abroad? How do we keep track of people and events back home and in the world around us? Exactly! With a little help from the media of our everyday life: cell phones, computers, magazines, or TV, to name just a few examples.

what media

Our main question in this short article is thus if and how media appropriation might or might not change when people do not only travel but actually migrate to another country. And we are not alone with that question as we quickly noticed. Three researchers who already tried to classify different forms in which media is appropriated by migrants are Andreas Hepp, Cigdem Bozdag and Laura Suna, whose article is our main reference point and the base for our own research.


Hepp et al.´s concept of media appropriation and the three ways to do it

According to Hepp et al.´s findings, three typical forms of media appropriation can be found among migrants: the so called origin-orientated way to use media, the bicultural or ethno-orientated one and the world-orientated one. Now, what do those terms seek to describe? Who is likely to form part of which group and why? And more importantly: What can we learn from Hepp´s central concepts and in which way can such a classification of informants be helpful in our own research? Before trying to answer these questions, let us first take a look at Hepp et al.´s central terms.

The first group in this classification are the origin-orientated migrants, who are mainly connected to their country of origin and transport their feelings of belonging to their new country of residence. They remain in close contact both to the media and news from their homeland and to the people who still live there.

In comparison to this first group, the second group of migrants is part of a bicultural network. The authors call them ethno-orientated as they are in between two regions – which can be enriching and problematic at the same time as they have strong ties to both their countries of origin and residence.

The last group which is mentioned are migrants who form part of a transcultural networks of communication and are therefore called world-orientated. This basically means that those people use a variety of media to communicate with friends and family around the world, usually speak at least two or three languages fluently and, according to our findings, also contribute to a transcultural produsage of media.


Evaluating migrants’ media usage in all of its variety

By conducting our own research we wanted to check out how useful Hepp et al.´s classification of informants is and if our results from two semi-structured interviews with two quite contrary informants were going to confirm or refute it. We therefore kept on comparing our results to theirs and found significant similarities but also encountered some weaknesses. When choosing our questions for the interviews, we mainly focused on Hepp et al.´s main topics of interest, like language skills, media usage, the role of age, education and profession, but also topics like possible limitations of the usage and ideas of produsage among migrants.



Our very first interview was conducted with Isabella, who is 26 years old and describes herself as ‘addicted to everything that´s got something to do with media and technology’. Even her career fits perfectly with this statement as she studied media and communication science. Isabella decided to migrate from Caracas to Berlin and thus from one capital to the other, which makes her a really good example for the intercity links that Hepp et al. mention. Throughout the interview, Isabella described her variate digital world and mentioned a lot of international as well as German media such as Flux FM, Netflix, Eyeem, online magazines and twitter. She also stressed the importance of her mobile phone and the fact, that she herself is contributing to her digital world by writing her own blog and sharing photos via Eyeem and Instagram. Another aspect of great significance were the languages in which this digital world is accessible and useable. Isabella pointed out that she mainly uses her mother tongue Spanish for private use and apart from that completely ‘switched to English because it is just more international and accessible for more people’. Apart from that, she also emphasized that media is a helpful tool for her to improve both her English and her German as she listens to German radio stations to practice her listening skills and be informed about the news in Berlin. Her focus of interest and the languages she needs in her everyday appropriation of media hence shifted. So did the way she sees herself in the digital world as an active contributor.


She told us that ‘back in Venezuela I shared political contents but now I leave that out and post articles about social media stuff that is related to my career because now I understand what I should write and what I shouldn’t.’ Apart from that, she also makes use of the internet as a place to publish and sell her photos. Besides inter-city links and transnational networks, acts of produsage played an important role in Isabella´s narrative. She definitely matches the category of world-orientated migrants.



Our second case study was conducted with the 66-year-old Thi who is a retired vendor and migrated from Vietnam to Berlin. Interesting in this case is the shift of media usage and consumption which could be divided into three phases. Back home in Vietnam, Thi only used her television to watch movies as a form of entertainment and to be informed about national news. As soon as there was somebody in the house, the television was turned on to have at least something that made some noise in the background. After moving to Berlin, the radio channel ‘Radio MultiKulti’ (further reading) was her favourite source to receive current news about Vietnam (Sundays 19:30-20:00). Besides the radio, communication with family members and friends via letters and phone calls were the only ways to have ties to her country of origin within those first years. Whereas the television and VHS cassettes in particular remained the most important media for entertainment. She used to watch movies and shows, such as a show called ‘Paris by Night‘ (show example). All of these media were consumed in Vietnamese, either because they are of Vietnamese origin or dubbed in Vietnamese language. In Berlin nowadays, her usage of media has changed. Almost everything has been relocated to the personal computer and the internet. Video calls and chats with friends and family members have replaced handwritten letters and phone calls. Instead of the television and VHS or DVDs, she finds a lot of her favourite entertainmaint via youtube. The only thing that remained the same throughout the years is the television reporting the news in the background.

When Thi was asked about media she would like to use but is not able to, she answered that she would like to have Vietnamese channels on TV in order to watch the same movies and get the same news as erveryone else in Vietnam. But as she is not able to afford the satellite providing these kinds of channels, she only has a limited access.

Conclusively, you can say that due to language skills and technical limitations our second case could be neither categorized as origin-orientated nor as ethno-orientated.


Conclusion, critique and further research

To sum it up in one sentence, we could say that our results generally conform with Hepp et al.´s central concepts regarding the importance of migrant´s/ media user´s different socio-cultural backgrounds, the significance of urban life – especially for transcultural community networks as they often represent inter-city links – and language skills as the form of media appropriation depends mainly on age, profession and language skills.

However, it was not always possible to clearly relate our informants to Hepp´s categories. Furthermore, we encountered some weaknesses that shall thus be mentioned: In our own findings we noticed the importance of media in forming migrant´s identities in a new context and realized how media appropriation is actually a very active form of empowerment in a new surrounding. Hepp et al. widely leave this aspect of active produsage out, which can and should be critized. A second point of criticism is the fact that (at least we had the impression that) the authors neglect the inaccessibility of media for certain migrants. In our opinion it would be important to stress whether informants´access to certain media is somehow restricted or limited and explain this a bit further if it is the case. What do you think?




Hepp, Andreas/ Bozdag, Cigdem and Laura Suna. 2010. Herkunfts-, Ethno- und Weltorientierte: Aneignungstypen der kulturellen Identität und kommunikativen Vernetzung in der Diaspora. In: Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, Vol. 58, No. 3, pp. 320-342.

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