Exploring information practices of ethnic minorities with small populations in poverty alleviation resettlement areas in China
Peng Jing, and Zhu Ming
Introduction: This study explored the everyday information practices of ethnic minorities with small populations in resettlement poverty alleviation areas of Yunnan, China, to determine the conditions affecting their information practices.
Method: A qualitative approach was conducted, and data were collected through comprehensive interviews involving forty-eight participants.
Analysis: This study applied information practices as a conceptual tool to understand these ethnic minorities’ information needs, acquisition and sharing. The data were statistically analysed and processed using three qualitative data coding analysis levels to identify the conditions that affected their everyday information practices.
Results: The research findings demonstrated that with the change in living space and social communication relationship, the information practice of the minorities changed considerably. In addition, their ethnic identity, spatial conversion and social integration were the main conditions that could influence everyday information practices after moving into a new environment.
Conclusion: The results promoted the understanding of ethnic characteristics as conditions that could influence everyday information practices after the spatial and social environment changes of ethnic minorities with small populations.
Information technologies play a critical role in the social inclusion of marginalised and minority populations in modern society. Subsequently, library and information science researchers have investigated how information practices can offset the digital divide of marginalised social groups (Gordon et al., 2003; Jin and Liang, 2015 Du and Haines, 2017; Dankasa, 2017; Zhu and Liao, 2020).
China is a multi-ethnic country with one majority (the Hans) and fifty-five minorities. Minority populations in China include indigenous populations and people who emigrated from other regions. Among the ethnic minorities in China, the Ethnic Minorities with Small Populations is a special classification. These ethnic minority populations include indigenous populations and migrants from other regions. Ethnic populations below 300,000 (small populations) account for approximately 1.9 million, nearly 0.1% of the total Chinese population. Most such groups live in isolated environments and maintain a relatively independent culture that may constrain their exchange of information with the outside world (China State Council, 2017).
As a landmark project for China’s poverty alleviation, poverty-stricken people living in areas with a poor environment (low resource and environmental carrying capacity, extremely fragile ecology and lack of infrastructure) were resettled to new areas. The resettlement project for poverty alleviation is organised by the Chinese government and is designed by government officials, experts and scholars using rational spatial planning and urbanisation layouts. The project intends to move poor people living in the depths of the mountains, with inconvenient water access, inconvenient transportation and a fragile ecological environment, so that they can obtain a long-term and better livelihood in new resettlement areas and reduce poverty. At the end of 2020, more than 23 million people have been resettled (China State Council, 2021). Nu Jiang Prefecture is in the northwest of Yunnan Province in China, and more than 98% of its area consists of high mountains and valleys. Ethnic minorities account for 93.2% of its total population, and it has the largest number of small minorities in China (Guo, 2009). After eight years of substantial and continuous efforts by the Chinese government, nearly 100,000 people have been relocated to Nujiang Prefecture, and 67 relocation and resettlement sites for poverty alleviation have been built. During this period, many people moved to new settlement areas as newcomers to start a new life.
Information research has focused on newcomer populations such as migrant workers, immigrants, international students, urban immigrants and refugees (Caidi et al., 2010; Sin and Kim, 2013); Allard, 2015; Khoir et al., 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Allard and Caidi, 2018; Caidi et al., 2020). However, research on the settlement of these newcomers in a new environment is scarce. The migration of members of small minorities has its idiosyncrasies. First, as special new urban immigrants, they are both ethnic minorities and new residents, and they have traditional customs and lifestyles formed in their original long-term living environments. They now face a new life of urbanisation in their own country rather than overseas. Secondly, although they still live in China, they have relocated to a new location where they must coexist with other ethnic minorities or Han people because of the government’s poverty alleviation project.
Like other immigrant groups, they face substantial obstacles in their information practices after entering the new environment. The lack of critical information may lead to emotional depression and social isolation (Shuva, 2021). Several studies have demonstrated that relevant, authoritative information encountered at the point of need can aid in settlement and, in turn, support social inclusion (Caidi et al., 2010; Ndumu, 2020; Allard, 2021). Hence, without understanding how the unique ethnic characteristics of EMSPs are related to their information practice in the new environment, it is difficult for government agencies, foundations and social organisations to understand the challenges of the settlement process. Current information research focusing on immigrants primarily examines skilled workers, refugees, international students and internationally educated professionals (Allard, 2015; Allard and Caidi, 2018; Sayyad et al., 2019; Allard, 2021). To date, a study about the everyday information practices of members of small minorities as newcomer populations with settlement experiences in the Chinese context is yet to be undertaken. No studies in the immigration context have explored how ethnic minorities in the Chinese context view the conditions that influence their choices on how they seek, use and handle information.
On this basis, the research questions for this study were: 1) What were the significant changes in the everyday information practices of members of small minorities after moving to the settlement site? 2) What conditions influenced their everyday information practices after arriving at the settlement site? To answer these questions, this study identified everyday information practices in daily settings and the influence of the conditions of these everyday information practices.
This study’s findings may be relevant to information professionals who customise information services according to the ethnic characteristics and traditions of groups of information users with the same settlement conditions. Additionally, the results may assist government agencies, funding agencies and social organisations in effectively identifying the major obstacles and challenges that ethnic minorities face when they leave their familiar living environment and arrive at the resettlement site, based on their specific ethnic traditions and lifestyles. It also emphasises that the Chinese government should not only improve the information literacy of members of small minorities and integrate them into their new environment but also ensure the effective inheritance of their traditional culture (e.g., language and customs).
Context of information practices
Human information behaviour research is supported by various theories, such as the theory of information behaviour (Wilson, 1997), the sense-making method (Dervin, 1998) and models such as the framework for information-seeking processes (Kuhlthau, 1991). Furthermore, the term information practice is used to describe how people find, use and share information, and information practices are embodied and connected to participants’ social and cultural contexts (Savolainen, 2006).
Numerous attempts have been made to characterise different contexts by considering varied information activities and providing a different conceptualisation of individuals’ engagement with information (Case, 2016). Courtright (2007) provided a recent overview that explained the importance of contextual elements in shaping the information practices of people. Such conceptualisations assume that context is a type of time-space container where phenomena reside and activities occur, constrained by the boundaries of the context (Savolainen, 2009).
Traditionally, information practices may be defined as an umbrella concept in people’s everyday life contexts (Savolainen, 2008). Information practices shift over time, respond to migrants’ shifting social and cultural contexts and are situated at the heart of the migration experience and settlement. This study applied information practices as a conceptual tool to understand ethnic minorities’ information needs, acquisition and sharing and find the contextual conditions of their everyday information practices.
Information practices of ethnic minorities
The contextual conditions of ethnic minorities could be the everyday life environment where they live or work. These conditions result in the relative lack of access to information or subordinate elements within the context (Zhu and Liao, 2020); Wu et al., 2022). For example, Du and Haines (2017) found that the information seeking of ethnic minorities in Australia was affected by their geographical condition. Petr’s study (2004) suggested that the everyday information practices of Romany ethnic minorities in Eastern Croatia were affected by the unbalanced distribution of information in the social structure and ethnic characteristics.
Information practices of ethnic minorities may be influenced by barriers to cross-language communication, cross-cultural traditions, low educational level and limited language capability (Chowdhury et al., 2021; Cibangu, 2020; Dlamini and Ocholla, 2018). In addition, researchers have found that personal factors, such as ethnic networks and trust in external information (Larson and Lewis,2017), values and belief systems (Meyer, 2009), attitudes and identity (Spencer, 2012) and traditions and habits (Yeh, 2007), may affect everyday information practices.
In this study, before their relocation, the small minorities were groups of ethnic minorities with their own traditions, customs and lifestyles, which may affect their everyday information practices. Hence, to a great extent, these ethnic characteristics might have further affected their information practices after their relocation.
Information practices of newcomers settling into a new environment
In the process of life adaptation and social integration, information plays a considerable role in newcomers’ settlement in a new environment (Caidi et al., 2010; Sin and Kim, 2013; Khoir et al., 2015; Allard, 2015; Johnston, 2016; Lloyd, 2017; Allard and Caidi, 2018; Caidi et al., 2020; Ndumu, 2020; Allard, 2021; Shuva, 2022)). However, they struggle to find information in new information environments and accumulate social capital (Caidi et al., 2010; Beretta et al., 2018; Adkins and Moulaison, 2019). Within information studies, a growing body of research has examined the information practices of migrants, identifying information as the most crucial settlement need (Kennan et al., 2011; Allard, 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Allard and Caidi, 2018; Beretta et al., 2018; Benson Marshall et al., 2020). This diverse research has examined the information practices of different newcomers by considering the gap between information resource allocation and service supply, the degree of information technology innovation diffusion, the difference between information acquisition and absorption capacity and the degree of exclusion and inclusion in the information society (Khoir et al. 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Ndumu, 2020).
Studies on the settlement information practices of newcomers have treated immigration as a dynamic process, focusing on how information is acquired, transformed and used by newcomers (Lingel, 2015). Most studies have also focused on immigrant information needs and the barriers of a particular region. They have demonstrated that newcomers heavily utilise their informal networks, improve their individual ability to understand information and obtain and use it in meeting various information needs. These include their everyday life information needs, which play a vital role in effectively developing their daily information practices in the context of their cross-cultural background (Atiso et al., 2018; Krtalic, 2021).
In summary, previous studies have found that in the new settlement environment, the improvement of information practices plays a critical role for newcomers to integrate into society, improve their lives effectively and put forward different improvement measures in different situations and backgrounds. Therefore, before relocation, the information practices of ethnic minorities are closely related to their ethnic characteristics and traditional cultures. After relocation, understanding the relationship between the settlement of information practices of members of small minorities and how they adapt to their new environment may be the key to assisting with settlement and improving future information service delivery by the Chinese government.
We adopted an information practice approach, which assumed that the processes of information seeking, use and sharing were constituted socially and dialogically (Savolainen, 2008). Three major aspects of information practices were revealed: identifying information sources, accessing information and giving information to others, while data from comprehensive interviews were used to identify conditions influencing the everyday information practices of members of small minorities after relocation.
There are twenty-eight small ethnic minority groups in China, and eight are in Yunnan Province, which has the largest such population in China. They include the Dulong, Deang, Jino, Nu, Achang, Pumi, Blang and Jingpo, with a total population of 450,000 (Government of the PRC, 2015). The data were collected with the participants’ consent, and we adopted a face-to-face technique. Since 2015, we have been carrying out targeted assistance projects in the villages where the participants live, such as information technology training and literacy education. As we had established trust with the participants, we invited participants who participated in our previous research projects to participate in our current research. Hence, the Pumi and Nu ethnic groups in Fugong and Lanping County, Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan province, were selected as the target population.
Before relocation, the participants selected for this study lived in remote mountainous areas along the border; most have their own common law and are typically led by a prominent leader. The common laws in their villages govern each group’s behaviour and take the form of folk proverbs, songs and ancient sayings. They are used to manage people and affairs, standards for judging right and wrong, and mediating laws for internal conflicts. They depend largely on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods and sell surplus production to the outside world. Except for sacrificial ceremonies or festivals, they have no recreational activities and perceive their current life as peaceful, comfortable and less complicated than life in the outside world. They seldom communicate with people from the outside world because they believe outsiders may not understand their common law or respect their culture and customs. They are far from the central town, and although the government provides some public services, such as medical facilities and technical training, there are no public facilities, such as hospitals, schools, libraries or public transport. They visit the nearest township to sell agricultural goods, send their children to school or receive medical treatment. They travel by hitchhiking or using a shared vehicle belonging to their group, as few own cars. The nearest primary school is approximately 70 kilometres away, so children board at school from six years old. Families with cars bring their children home once a week, but families without cars wait a month or more to be reunited. Although most residents own mobile phones, their function is limited to interfamily contact. Only a few youths know how to use other functionalities, such as social media or watching videos.
Nujiang Prefecture, with a total population of 557,000, is in the longitudinal valley of the Hengduan Mountains. It has high mountains and steep slopes, and the reclamation coefficient is less than 4%. Furthermore, 76.6% of the cultivated land has a slope of more than 25° (Government of the PRC, 2018). By December 2020, Nujiang Prefecture had sixty-seven resettlement sites for poverty alleviation, with nearly 100,000 people, and most participants in our study had lived in the resettlement site for nearly one year. The location of the resettlement site is closer to the town and relatively closer to public facilities, such as schools, public transportation and hospitals. The resettlement site has fixed buildings for accommodation and enterprises and factories around it.
The target populations for this research were the Nu (57.8%) and Pumi (42.2%) ethnic groups. Data were collected through in-depth interviews of forty-eight participants from two relocation resettlement sites for poverty alleviation in Nujiang Prefecture, namely Tuoping of Fugong County and Yongan of Lanping County, in January 2021. The participants ranged from 18 to 87 years old, comprising 56.4% males and 43.6% females. A total of 54.7% understood Mandarin, the official Chinese language, and 33.8% were able to write in Chinese.
Comprehensive interview data collection was conducted in two stages from 2 January 2021 to 22 January 2021. In the first stage, we mainly contacted the participants who had previously participated in our previous research and familiarised the research team with the resettlement sites. During the second stage, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted. Each interview session took approximately 60–90 minutes. All the interviews were conducted in a natural setting (in the participants’ homes), and all participants (coded P1-P48) provided consent to be interviewed. Where the participants were illiterate, verbal consent was obtained, which was witnessed and recorded. The participants were also informed that the data we collected would be anonymised and only used for research. Each interviewee was given a small gift of soap and toothpaste to show appreciation before the interviews. Some participants did not wish to be audio-recorded in the research process, although they consented to note-taking. To establish trusting relationships, the research team stayed among the participants and participated in their daily activities. A few participants could not understand or speak Mandarin; therefore, the researchers had to hire local translators as additional team members for the research. All interview recordings and observation notes were electronically converted for transcription. Each interview transcript was sent to the individual participants for review, feedback on the content and key aspects of the transcription and their final approval of the transcript’s accuracy.
Three levels of qualitative data coding analysis were used (Creswell, 2014), and three people undertook the coding work for this study. Before coding commenced, the coders were trained on the overall work of the study.
The first level of coding was to create labels to categorise what the participants were saying. For example, the statement,
After we moved here, the school was near where we lived, and the children’s education was becoming increasingly important; most people have gradually begun to try to learn their children’s situation in school with the help of the teacher by mobile phone.
was labelled as ‘education and training’, information acquisition was labelled as ‘use a mobile phone’, and the source of information sharing was labelled as ‘teacher’, with the frequency of their occurrence in the text counted.
The second level of coding was used to outline themes related to the everyday information practices of the participants from the data. For example, the statement 'Before moving here, our village was like a big family, and we have all felt that outside society is very complex, even dangerous.' was context-specific, labelled as ‘traditional ideas’ with the frequency of its occurrence in the text counted.
In the third level of coding, similar themes were combined into subcategories to explain the everyday information practices. For example, according to the relationship between nodes, the nodes of ‘original lifestyles’, ‘traditional ideas’ and ‘ethnic knowledge’ were all classified as ‘ethnic identity’. Table 1 presents the themes of the second-level coding and the subcategories of the third-level coding.
|Themes of the second level of coding||Subcategories of the third level of coding|
|‘Original lifestyles’, ’traditional ideas’ and ‘ethnic knowledge’||Ethnic identity|
|‘Adverse experience’, ’environment comparison’ and ‘ground perception’||Spatial conversion|
|‘Emotion attachment’, ’trust connection’ and ’value inclusive’||Social integration|
Everyday information practices before and after the relocation of the small minorities
Before relocation, the information needs of the members of small minorities came from their traditional village lives, independent livelihoods and customs. After the relocation, with the change of living space and social communication relationship, the order of information needs also changed considerably. The independent pastoral life transformed into well-regulated urban life. Because of the relative scarcity of cultivated land resources and breeding areas around the resettlement site, their original agricultural and aquaculture activities were limited. Their production space changed into factories and service sites from fields, fish ponds and woodlands. Moreover, owing to the constraints of various conditions of the public activity space in the centralised resettlement area, the original public space changed from village roads and courtyards to public living spaces—shared, occupied and dominated by other relocated households—such as squares, parks and markets.
Further, owing to the changes in their daily work and livelihood activities, they need to pay more attention to the information practice related to ‘Work related’, ‘Technical skills’ and ‘Government policies’. Compared to before relocation, they now had higher demand for public services in urbanised life, such as ‘entertainment and news’, ‘health and medical treatment’, ‘education and training’ and ‘consumption and sales’ (see Table 2).
|Information needs||Number of participants (n = 45)||Percentage|
|Education and training||27||60%|
|Shopping and consuming||25||55%|
|Entertainment and news||20||44%|
|Traffic and transportation||18||40%|
|Health and medical||13||29%|
|Tradition and religion||11||24%|
Before their relocation, the participants had lived in a relatively closed information environment, and their living, production and public communication spaces were intertwined. Therefore, they could relatively frequently use interpersonal communication and traditional resources to obtain rich information. After their relocation, these spaces were separated, and the role of information in meeting their needs, the accessibility of information sources and the cost of obtaining information in the new information environment also changed. After the relocation, the original differential order pattern and kinship were primarily weakened by the standardised and quota community arrangement.
Therefore, the new life and social space made them adopt more information utilisation methods of ‘answering or making calls’ to eliminate the spatial barrier in the new information environment. Owing to the physical space limitation and the transformation of neighbourhood relations, their original leisure activities were difficult to effectively carry out in the new resettlement site. The information utilisation mode of ‘watching TV programmes’ at home became the main information utilisation activity after their relocation. Moreover, in the unfamiliar life field and alienated social space, some EMSPs tried to bridge the alienation between the life field and social relations by contacting cyberspace (Table 3).
|Information acquisition||Number of participants (n = 45)||Percentage|
|Communicate through mobile phone||38||84%|
|Surf the Internet (on the computer or mobile phone)||22||49%|
|Consult or chat with people (face to face)||19||42%|
|Read paper literature||12||27%|
|Listen to radio||7||16%|
Before relocation, the participants focused on internal blood relationships and kinship for information sharing. After their relocation, the alienation and heterogeneity of social relations led to the transformation of space-time layout, interpersonal communication and social network in their information field. The original information communication space changed into elevator aisles, community squares and service centres from fields, garden paths and home courtyards. The basis of the information-sharing relationship changed. Rather than being based on blood and kinship before the relocation, it became industry- and geography-based. The alienation of social relations further intensified the heterogeneity of action logic in information sharing. The original ethnic relations were replaced by new community building management and public service supply. Although family members were still the main objects of information sharing after relocation, they were weakened compared with the past. In the new resettlement sites, it was no longer realistic to expect to meet information needs by relying on ‘family members’, ‘relatives’, ‘ethnic people’, ‘friends’ and ‘neighbours’. The new living space required them to seek more sharing objects that fit the current information environment, including ‘government staff’, ‘teachers’, ‘doctors’, ‘professional technicians’ and ‘businesspeople’ (Table 4).
|Information sharing||Number of participants (n = 45)||Percentage|
|Similar ethnicities (e.g., friends and neighbours)||14||31%|
Conditions that affect participants’ everyday information practices after relocation
In this study, data from the interviews highlighted three main conditions that could influence everyday information practices, namely, ethnic identity, spatial conversion and social integration. Table 5 lists the specific reasons or conditions for everyday information practices in ranked order.
|Main conditions||Specific reasons or conditions||Frequency||Percentage|
|Ethnic identity||Original lifestyles||32||15%|
|Spatial conversion||Adverse experience||30||14%|
|Social integration||Emotion attachment||26||12%|
Ethnic identity refers to the shared values and norms of customs, traditions and lifestyles accumulated and inherited in the long term. This was internalised in their cognitive structure and living habits and impacted their everyday information practice. Ethnic identity was the most important characteristic before they moved to the new resettlement environment. It involved the rituals and customs followed by the group, interpersonal relationships and reliable resources. For example, participant P4 said:
Before moving here, our village was like a big family, we could meet each other every day, and we all felt that outside society is very complex, even dangerous. After moving here, everything has changed since, although our material conditions are good, we feel our life pre-relocation was simple and peaceful.
In the urban modernisation process, their lifestyle and ethnic characteristics still preserved a certain degree of integrity, and they were more closely combined with their original living space and way of life. While the village structure of the participants differed, their blood and kinship were more closely combined and maintained a certain degree of integrity. However, the information sources they could perceive and obtain in the new information environment were relatively limited. This made them rely more on the original experience, which inevitably complicated how they judged the information sources and information needs in the new information environment. For example, participant P20 said:
I have been ill several times since I came here, but it is difficult for me to see a doctor due to the strange environment, strange people and different lifestyle, and because the disease comes suddenly and I can't find a solution at once. I can't understand what Han doctors say, and I don't speak Mandarin very well. I have to ask others to help me with a lot of information they send me. In fact, it was easy to treat these diseases in our original village, but now I don't know what to do. In contrast, I'm still willing to deal with these problems in our original way.
The resistance to the unknown in the new information environment further amplified their sense of exclusion and alienation. This sudden restriction and fracture further aggravated the obstruction and isolation of their daily information practice. When they felt the difference in information practice scenes in the new information environment, they could deal with the difficulties and challenges in the information acquisition process in their own inherent way. For example, participant P32 said:
We don't usually go to see Han doctors because many of their treatment methods and techniques are contrary to our traditions. For example, I was pregnant when I moved here, the local government encouraged us to take some medicine before giving birth and make relevant appointments on time, but we have our own methods for the birth of children, and these methods have proved useful since our ancestors. Later, for a long time, I seldom went to the hospital to see a doctor. Generally, I ask my mother to find some solutions.
Spatial conversion refers to the change in the social environment and psychological space of EMSPs caused by the transformation of material space after relocation. This resulted in the rupture of the original relationship between the individual, information and information environment.
Government officials, experts and scholars in the relocation plan for poverty alleviation believed that the regional space where the ethnic minorities lived was relatively closed. They assumed there were potential safety hazards and hoped to replace the original fragile living spaces through rational space planning and urbanisation layout. However, the participants believed that their original living environment and rhythm were relatively stable, and the village structure and interpersonal relationships within the ethnic group could form a relatively stable adaptation state. This could also make their everyday information practices and social life space relatively coordinated. For example, participant P38 said:
In fact, a long time ago, we all heard about the relocation, and some village cadres have done a lot of guiding work for us, they tell us that life in the settlement will be much better than before, but we are still not ready. All changes are relatively sudden, although the place where we used to live is not better than here, I still don't adapt to it. A year has passed since we planted our own land and sold some things. Now there's no land to plant. We have to go out to work every day, during this period of time, I've changed several factories.
After the relocation, the everyday information practices of the participants were separated from the social life space that they were originally attached to, and this imbalance considerably affected their subjective will and the emotional attitude toward their information needs and limited the scope of their everyday information practices. The resource distribution and service supply in the new information environment could give them more choices and utilities in their daily information practices. However, the obstacles presented in the process of multi-dimensional space reconstruction increased their dependence on the resources, paths and relationships in the original information space. These made them more dependent on the familiar ways, conditions and paths to meet their information needs. For example, participant P16 said:
Since coming here, we basically can't live by planting and breeding as before. Most people can only work for the factory and restaurant. Our family basically can't do anything here and can't read. My husband goes to work in the wood factory in the town. I clean up in the community. Now I'm very busy every day, not only making money, but also getting familiar with all kinds of things. In addition, I have to buy a lot of things outside, and it's also very expensive. Then we have to pay all kinds of fees that we never had before. We used to only pay electricity bills. Now we have to pay not only electricity bills, but also water bills, gas bills, property fees and so on.
The participants faced different information sources and accessed and used methods from their original everyday information practices after the relocation. They also encountered many obstacles and difficulties in perceiving, identifying, using and sharing information. The choices taken by their information practices in information access opportunities, capabilities and paths were restrained and guided by their recognition of social psychological spaces in the new information environment after the relocation. The new information environment after the relocation was difficult to be understood and constructed by their original cognition. Therefore, they tried to selectively break through the existing resource collection and community relationship according to the conditions, methods and characteristics to meet their information needs. For example, participant P28 said:
There is no school in the village where we used to live, our children go far away when they go to primary school. Our children go back home once a week, so we seldom pay attention to the situation of children in school. After we moved here, the school is near where we live, and children's education is becoming more and more important, most people have gradually begun to try to learn the situation of their children in school with the help of the teacher.
Social integration refers to the lack of ethnic consciousness, the rupture of subject culture and the dissolution of community relations derived from the superposition of living space isolation and social structure changes after relocation. This made participants carry out subject consciousness adjustment actions and social relationship reconstruction activities according to the compatibility between their information practices and the new information environment.
After the relocation, the participants needed to experience meaningful social engagement. Their social integration was a dynamic interactive process of mutual adaptation and penetration between themselves and the social structure of the resettlement site. The efficiency and effect of their everyday information practices were improved with their continuous accumulation of social capital in the relocated community to enhance their motivation and willingness to obtain information and strengthen their conditions and ability to use information. For example, participant P11 said:
Our beliefs and traditions emphasize that we can only marry people of our own ethnic group, but there are also some very special situations. For example, my brother was almost 30 years old, he had never married. Later, my brother met my sister-in-law, who is not in our ethnic group, at their workplace. The next year, they got married and my sister-in-law became pregnant, but my brother dared not tell my parents about this, and he would not let me mention it to other people in our ethnic group, but I think one day, everyone will know about it.
The worldview built by their original experience accumulation and intergenerational inheritance also affected their absorption of new ideas in the process of social integration. Their information practices gradually expanded their information interaction methods and social network resources after a period of social integration and feedback. This formed information exchange networks with higher self-identity, wider communication range and closer trust. For example, participant P43 said:
Since moving here, the biggest change is that now we are all crowded in one building, and there are not many people in our village who live in this building and we don't know each other, so we basically don't go out. We don't like to deal with each other very much. We used to sleep very early, but now we can't go to bed as early as before, as we come home late after work every day. Once, my son ran upstairs to play with his neighbour’s children. When I went to pick him up, I found that our neighbour and me work in the same factory, after that, he introduced many people in this community to me, some of them moved from places not too far from where we used to live, and we began to get to know a lot of people we didn't know before in our community.
After relocation, the government’s relevant policies often determined the applicability of the configuration structure and service supply of information sources in the new information environment to the everyday information practices of the participants. Once closely combined with other influencing factors, the enabling role of the implementation regulation, publicity and supervision of relevant assistance policies in the new information environment continuously improved the initiative and creativity of their everyday information practices based on applicability. This enabled them to overcome the obstacles caused by living space isolation and social relationship attachment in their everyday information practices. More precisely, they could actively explore and apply corresponding skills and strategies and try to break through the ability constraints and cognitive limitations of current daily information practices. For example, participant P21 said:
My cousin told me that the policy of their resettlement site should be more flexible and in line with their actual situation. It seems that they don't charge utilities and property fees in the first year, and many activities have been organized in the community. He also participated in the management of their community. Then with the help of the government, they organized a group of people to open a tea factory directly near the community. I don't think they are like us. They seem to adapt to the current life. They live directly near the tea factory and have their own yard. They can farm land and raise chickens. It seems that they have returned to their original life.
As the literature suggests, many immigrants face various maladjustments and obstacles in their daily information practices when they arrive in new immigrant areas. Moreover, the living environment and habits of the original living environment affect their choice and access to information sources after arriving in the new immigrant area (Caidi et al., 2010; Sin and Kim, 2013; Khoir et al., 2015; Allard, 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Allard and Caidi, 2018; Caidi et al., 2020; Ndumu, 2020; Allard, 2021; Shuva, 2021)). In this study, the difficulties of members of small minorities included two aspects. First, they needed to adapt to the resource distribution and interpersonal relationships in the new environment promptly. Second, they were substantially affected by their original ethnic identity and lifestyle, which complicated quick adaption to the new living environment.
Members of small minorities faced considerable difficulties and obstacles in their daily information practices in the information environment. Before the relocation, their information needs were relatively centralised and affected by their geographical location and environment because they relied more on their natural environment and accumulated life experiences over a long period within the ethnic group. After the relocation, with the change in the living space, workplace and social communication relationships, the logical order of information demand disposal also changed substantially. This was consistent with the conclusions of previous studies (Lingel, 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Shuva, 2021)). Further, life at the resettlement site tended to be more urbanised after the relocation. They needed to adapt to the new lifestyle, and their career changes necessitated that they relearn new work skills. All these led to the corresponding changes in their information needs. From this perspective, they were extremely contradictory. They were still nostalgic and reluctant to give up their original pastoral life, and their daily information practices had various negative factors. Nevertheless, they were curious about the new environment, tried to change themselves and looked forward to the future.
Previous studies have suggested that, although immigrants do not adapt to the new immigrant environment in many respects, they must still strive to change themselves to do it (Lingel, 2015; Caidi et al., 2020; Shuva, 2021)). This study focused more on the internal blood and kinship relied on for information sharing by members of the small minorities before the relocation. The external information exchange could only occur if it were considered reliable, available and authoritative, including their trusted contact circle and familiar information sources. After the relocation, the living environment, living space and social communication relationship changed substantially. Moreover, the role of information in meeting needs, the accessibility of information sources, and the cost of searching and obtaining information in the new information environment also changed. Facing these changes, the members of small minorities aimed to regain a sense of control over life, and they needed to significantly reconstruct their living space and lifestyle.
In addition to reconstructing their living space, they also needed to reconstruct their psychological space, which meant they needed to obtain more ways and means of social integration. After the relocation, the interpersonal communication and social networks changed, and members needed to rebuild their social networks according to the changes in their living space. As the improvement of modern lifestyles and multi-ethnic inclusion needs to be considered in the new relocation sites, it is difficult for the government to consider the ethnic characteristics and living habits of each person. However, their psychological space is entirely based on their original information communication space and information-sharing relationship. In the new information environment, although the information development level is more developed than before, and technology facilities and information resources are more abundant, it is very difficult to build an information exchange network with higher self-identity, wider communication range and closer trust in a short time if they do not build an effective social interaction relationship. In other words, only when the new living space is closely combined with their new psychological space can the information resources in the new information environment play a corresponding role.
Studies in library and information science by Lingel (2015), Allard2015, Khoir (2015) and Shuva (2021) have also reported that most immigrants rely heavily on their informal networks for their settlement and everyday life information needs. Newcomers receive numerous settlement benefits, including help related to finding shelter and accommodation, getting jobs, educational systems and others. In this study, EMSPs habitually used interpersonal communication in their relatively sheltered new information environment where they could obtain rich information from people within their group. However, the role of informal social networks (e.g., relatives, friends, ethnic group members) was minimal. As they all moved from their original place of life together, the information resources were relatively limited. In this case, the strategies of information practices adopted by different minorities were different. Some chose to continue obtaining and sharing information through informal social networks as their ethnic identities could cause them to avoid information that contradicted their traditions and lifestyles (although some information is likely to mislead or even deceive them). This could lead to the everyday information practices, in some situations, involving information overload or selective filtering, or even covert deception, as reported in existing information behaviour research (Ndumu, 2020). However, there were also a few who tried to obtain and share relevant information with the help of formal social networks; for example, they sought the help of relevant professionals or government agencies. When they benefit from it, they can quickly integrate into the new information environment and obtain relatively effective information resources and further enhance their willingness to actively contact external resources and contacts.
Future studies may analyse the difficulties the relocated minorities face in the new information environment. They can be alleviated by the following aspects. First, they can actively absorb information assets and social capital from cyberspace because it is difficult to reconstruct the physical space and social space after relocation in a short time. However, cyberspace is a new form independent of the space mentioned above. Its decentralised resource distribution and diversified community participation can promote the adaptability of relocated minorities and accelerate the reconstruction of their physical and social spaces.
This study collected empirical data on different contextual elements regarding the everyday information practices of members of ethnic minorities in relocated poverty alleviation areas. The findings of this study may present a unique perspective in the research of information practice among varying cultures and ethnic groups. Specifically, this study reports that the ethnic identity, spatial conversion and social integration of these groups are the principal conditions that may influence everyday information practices. This leads to their relatively restricted information needs, fixed access to information and inhibition in seeking information from a new environment. Hence, government agencies, foundations, libraries and other social organisations can design information systems and services that respond to the unique ways that members of relocated minorities function to help them strengthen their economic growth while preserving their language and culture.
This study serves as the foundation for future research to re-examine the unique obstacles and severe challenges faced by marginalised ethnic groups, endangered cultures and remote and rural communities. Thus, future research could help these groups integrate better into a more equal society when they move into a new environment. For cultures and communities with great ethnic diversity, this study opens a channel for further research on education access and training, information and communication technologies, and reducing language barriers for better information exchange and social integration.
The limitations of this study were the relatively small sample size and the lack of a more comprehensive analysis regarding the phased investigation of the relocation process of ethnic minorities. This should be considered when generalising the findings. Further studies are necessary to explore the reasons behind ethnic identity adherence among groups and how this persistence shapes their information needs after they move into a new environment.
This research was supported by the China National Social Science Fund (No. 21BTQ052) and the project of “China (Yunnan) Rural Social Survey”.
About the authors
Peng Jing is a PhD candidate in the School of History and Archive, Yunnan University, China. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zhu Ming is Associate Researcher in School of History and Archive, Yunnan University, China. He received his Ph.D. from Nankai University and his research interests are in human information behaviour, particularly the information practice of the marginalized groups in society. He can be contacted at email@example.com. ORCID No.orcid.org/0000-0002-7711-7149.
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