«The third generation of Indians in Britain Cultural identity and cultural change Vorgelegt von: Abgabedatum: 16.10.2008 Judith Frübing 1. Gutachter: ...»
Being a much debated political and cultural construction, ethnicity is a social category into which one is born and of which one is part because of shared experiences, characteristics and common social practices. These are ascribed, meaning that the individual cannot freely decide on his ethnicity, and function to differentiate outsiders and insiders. Ethnicity is grounded on an idea of community based on any combination of race12, religion, culture, language, ideology, class, heritage, history and myth as a constructed version of a common past. Through the group’s belief in common heritage ethnic divisions from the subcontinent continue in the diaspora. The different ethnic groups have divergent interpretations of their history. These are group-constituting. Thus, ethnic groups and communities offer a range of meanings to the individual: a sense of belonging, loyalty to place, a shared background and values, shared social and geographic boundaries and distinctiveness. On the basis of these meanings ethnicity also influences social and personal identities as ethnic identity. (Hutnyk 1997: 9) However, ethnicity and ethnic identity must be separated because they do not necessarily coincide (Schnell 1990: 45). Further, ethnicity and its meanings are usually highly ambiguous and often mythical. Neither ethnicity nor ethnic identity is fixed; like culture they are flexible and constantly changing.
Further, “ethnicity is positional, involving multiple possible identities”:
This is important to people as individuals and groups, because it is a way of imagined peoplehood that conveniently ignores almost everything that makes them ‘individuals’ or ‘people’ – by asserting a boundary they also assert uniqueness. The form this uniqueness takes then becomes contextually dependent and historically generated. Neither, the meaning or the collectivities it encompasses remain fixed and constant; each is derived both from the relation between a set and its subsets.
(Lyon 1997: 11) Hence, it is possible to belong to different ethnicities or ethnic sub-groups at the same time (Lyon 1997: 11).
Generally, pan-South Asian or even pan-Asian ethnicities do not exist. The internal differences are too great and such groups appear to be rather artificial. Nevertheless, Asians or rather South Asians may unite against a common “other”. This has been the case in the 1980s when under the influence of British nationalism and racism Asians even identified Frübing, 23 with blacks (Lyon 1997: 10-11). In general, ethnicity rather focuses on boundaries than on cultural aspects. These boundaries need to be constructed because cultural differences are usually not very obvious. In this “process *…+ one group seeks to distinguish itself and mark its own distinctiveness from another” by using various criteria (Brah 1996: 237).
Constructions and criteria depend on the current social, economical and political conditions and are translated into “cultural narratives”. The exclusion of others, who do not share the same characteristics, feelings and experiences, defines ethnicity. Therefore, “ethnicity is understood as a mode of narrativising the everyday life world in and through processes of boundary formation.” (Brah 1996: 238, 241) There is a strong consciousness of membership which ensures group cohesion and re-establishes and redefines group boundaries (Rosenthal 1987: 159-160).
Nowadays, despite – or because of – cultural mixture, ethnicity has become politically and economically important. In an increasingly divers world ethnicity provides a sense of belonging and collective (Lyon 1997: 11). Some authors also point to the strength of ethnic identities referring to the rise in ethnic conflicts in the 21st century showing that ethnicity has a great potential for mobilization. Worldwide ethnic networks on the one hand are powerful forces of social, economical and psychological support but on the other are potent agents for controlling and directing the activities of individuals. Though cutting the individual’s freedom of choice, this has stabilizing effects for the community (Lyon 1997: 10, Stopes-Roe 1991: 134).
In the light of cultural mixture and hybridity discussed above “new ethnicities” develop which include at least two cultures, languages and identities (Gillespie 1995: 19). This is particularly important for the younger generations of the Indian diaspora to whom the diasporic community does not play such an important role and who do not share the same “sense of solidarity and belonging” as the generation of migration. As every ethnic group has its own frame of reference and its own communicational conventions, the young people inherit those of two or more ethnic groups. In daily interaction with each other they redefine their ethnicities, drawing on influences and narratives from both backgrounds and defining their identity, past and future on the basis of contact to different ethnic groups (Gillespie 1995: 165, 205, Heller 1987: 184, Abramson 1979: 9-10).) Finally, it is important to keep in mind that neither ethnic groups nor ethnic subgroups are homogeneous. Gender, race and class influence the experiences of young people and their parents in Britain as well as their identities (Brah 1997: 129).
Culture, ethnicity and identity are closely related theoretical concepts which interact and influence one another. However, they do not necessarily coincide nor demand or cause each other. Further, it is helpful to distinguish between personal and social identities. While the individual’s identification is designated as personal identity, ethnic, cultural, national and class identity are collective identifications held by groups. Of course, personal and collective identities are not independent from one another. The individual’s identity contains a social identity, meaning the knowledge to belong to a certain group, as well as the value the group membership has to the individual (Tajfel 1982: 102). Thus, speaking of identity we are faced with complex interrelated processes. While identity, like ethnicity, is influenced by numerous factors, it also affects the views and reactions of the individual to its surrounding social world and shapes these factors. For reasons of clarity I will however try to consider personal and collective identity individually.
In contrast to the migrated generation, which is firmly rooted in the ethnicity and culture of their place of origin, the following generations who inherit at least two cultures are not so sure of their identity (Ghuman 1994: 22). Their identity is influenced by their relation to and experiences with the various communities that surround them as well as by their individual attitudes and feelings. Further, values and preferences concerning culture, religion, social contacts, and cultural habits are important (Stopes-Roe 1991: 156). In the construction and definition of identities the media and consumption also play an important role in shaping images and opinions (Gillespie 1995: 10). When talking about identity and ethnicity it is important to keep in mind that these affiliations have an influence on behaviour and action.
Nevertheless, strong identification with the ethnic group must not automatically imply that a person also participates in the distinctive cultural practices of the group, as we shall see later (Modood 1997: 355).
1.5.1 Collective identities
Despite – or because of – globalization life is still shaped by national, regional and local traditions and affiliations. Cultural, historical, economical, social and political experiences influence the self-definition of groups and their identification (Bausinger 1999: 11-12). Like ethnicities identities are located in symbolic spaces and times. They are also connected to “invented traditions” and constructed narratives. (Gillespie 1995: 16) Defined through the ethnic group, ethnic identity is developed following the experience of difference. It is Frübing, 25 constructed in two processes: either through “problematization”, when behaviour perceived as normal suddenly becomes an option, or through “reconstruction”, when specific ethnic patterns of behaviour must be acquired in order to build boundaries. “Problematization” generally leads to growing identification and classification as ethnic. This process takes place in the first generation when immigrants become aware of their difference for the first time.
In the following generations “reconstruction” is more important. “Reconstruction” requires the ability to refer to existing habits and ethnic markers. The young generations acquire these markers and habits thereby reproducing and reconstructing ethnicity and ethnic identity. (Schnell 1990: 51-54) As described in the previous chapter, ethnic identity like any collective identity follows the idea of a common group membership based on shared feelings and understandings, the socalled “imagined community”13 (Rosenthal 1987: 159, Bronfen 1997: 2).
It is the subjective identification with an ethnic group, assimilating into one’s selfconcept ethnic characteristics and feelings of belonging that leads to the development of a social identity based on ethnic group membership (Rosenthal 1987: 159).
Ethnic identity offers young people a sense of belonging and roots through group-specific knowledge, belief and experience. However, this does not mean that ethnic identity is fixed.
Rather, it is reinvented and reinterpreted in each generation, thus being dynamic and responsive to social or political circumstances. (Gillespie 1995: 9, Rosenthal 1987: 160) Therefore, ethnic identities change in the diaspora.
Radhakrishnan shows how ethnic identity of Indians in the USA has been modified over time.
In the beginning, Indians tried to assimilate, hiding their distinct ethnicity until in the light of economic betterment they started to redefine and reassert their ethnicity. Later American national identity was more and more incorporated into the ethnic identity until it has become hyphenated. But this means that both identities do not have the same power and
status so that one part of the hyphen is subordinated to the other. (Radhakrishnan 1996:
204-205, 211) The same process took place in Britain: The Indian communities feel attached to the British state. Their members are British citizen, take part in national events and identify with political and civic life in Britain. However, this exhibits universality and assimilation into equality as well as difference, meaning the right to be different and the recognition of this difference by the majority. In contrast to Radhakrishnan research in Britain shows that the Frübing, 26 Indian minorities have a strong sense of citizenship while at the same time feeling proud of their difference. (Mukadam 2006: 113-114, 116) This may be the consequence of different ideas of multiculturalism 14 in Britain and the United States.
In general however, collective identities are more durable than individual identities. Still, they undergo constant transformations as they are subject to the course of history and politics. They also lack origin and essence but exist in permanent positioning (Hall 2003: 112The strength of ethnic identities depends on the degree of institutionalization of ethnic structures and the ethnic community’s ability to serve the needs of its members (Rosenthal 1987: 167, 168). The contents of ethnic identities are often designated by powerful minorities within the ethnic group or by outside forces, thereby trying to gain or maintain control over people (Bausinger 1999: 17, Jalan 1997: 111). Ethnic groups’ differences in power and structures of domination and privilege further influence ethnic identities (Werbner 1997: 6). Hereby, several inter-group and intra-group processes play a role.