Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ecotones, Boundaries, and Culture: Intersections of Korean American and Other Communities in Howard County, Maryland

Pearl Seidman, School of Human and Organizational Development

This research is positioned at the interface between ecological and social systems. In both, how and where we draw boundaries is consequential, as are the relationships in the space between. Do findings from ecology about the nature of ecotones and boundaries apply to social systems at a community level, in particular to individuals who play a bridging role between Korean Americans and their counterparts from Other cultural communities in Howard County, Maryland? The term “Other” is capitalized to denote the plurality of heritages other than Korean that comprise the diverse cultural landscape of Howard County.

In ecology, an ecotone is an intermediary, or transition zone, between two adjacent ecosystems where species from both communities co-mingle. The nexus between distinct communities is typically characterized by greater diversity, tension, adaptive capacity, and resilience. Interstitial spaces cannot be defined without understanding the boundaries that create and maintain them. An ecological boundary classification system (Strayer, Power, Fagan, Pickett, & Belnap, 2003) is contrasted with frameworks in the social sciences, acting as a discursive bridge to increase translatability between disciplines.

Group and individual interviews involved sixteen cultural connectors and leaders of note in the community. Relational research methods acknowledged the interdependent and intersubjective construction of meaning. Thematic analysis was used to organize data.

The cultural ecotone was brought to life through voices that evoked the sources of boundaries and the nuances of diversity and tension. Necessity fueled adaptive capacity, not only for the Korean American community, but for the larger community. Community adaptive capacity was enacted in many examples by the corridor creation functions of cultural connectors. Change is more likely to occur at the intersection of differences. The processes of change dynamics created the environment in which differences unfolded. Findings failed to confirm evidence of community resilience given the definition used.

As migration is an ever increasing area of importance, this additional lens may be of value to researchers and practitioners. This study also creates a more permeable boundary for increased flow across ecological and social disciplines. Ecological and cultural humility or ecohumility is an appropriate stance in this space between.

Key Words: ecotones, cultural ecotones, Korean Americans, boundaries, diversity, tension, adaptive capacity, group interviews, ecological and cultural humility, ecohumility.

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