Year

1998

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Centre for Multicultural Studies

Abstract

During the past two decades the notion of ethnic identity has been discussed vigorously from a range of perspectives in much of the literature in the social sciences. This thesis continues this discussion by examining the ways in which the stories of ethnicity have been and are being told at both the theoretical and everyday levels. Making connections between the life narratives of people from a number of generations in six 'ethnic minority' families in Australia, theoretical insights on ethnicity, and the researcher's own engagement with issues of identity, the thesis highlights (following Butler 1991 on gender identity) the 'performative' nature of ethnic identities or identifications. It argues that while the different ethnicities examined in the study have specific individual and social genealogies, it is in the telling of the life stories that these ethnicities come into being in ways that cannot be reduced to what Bottomley (1997) critically refers to as 'celebratory pluralisms'. Engaging with contemporary writings in the area, the study contributes to a 'non-foundationalist' reading of the ethnic self.

Moreover, the thesis suggests that such a reconfigured notion of ethnicity raises important issues for theorists working around concepts such as 'multicultural citizenship' or 'post-multiculturalism'. Consequently, in the final stage of the study some proposals are made about the possible futures for ulticulturalism in Australia, including the need to support the further development of past initiatives in the areas of languages. education and employment. As well as this, it is suggested that 'post-multiculturalisms' will involve, among other things, a continuing response to racism at all levels of society, a connecting up of different social and cultural histories with key social institutions and a recognition of the way in which the new technologies are impacting on established social identitites, as well as an engagement with some critical strands in contemporary social theory.

In looking back across the entire text the author of the thesis finds that the idea of the 'looking glass phase' or the 'mirror-stage' as proposed by Jacques Lacan (1977b) comes to mind. This is because, it is suggested, that in narrating the self or the stories of others, whether it be around ethnicities or some other identifications, we are in some ways returning to that original moment when we as infants, in an attempt 'to find a way around certain inescapable factors of lack, absence and incompleteness' (Samp 1992: 65), tried to touch the specular image in the 'looking glass'. However, in contrast to the onedimensional mirror which Lacan formulated, the writer of this thesis concludes by suggesting that in engaging with other ethnicities, he is looking into a three-dimensional mirror in which the image of himself is unpinned by the reflections of his significant others, while images of other people who do not share his ethnicity, such as those whose stories are retold in this text, provide another merging layer in the 'looking glass'. It is subsequently argued that any exploration of the self or the 'Autobiographical I' in the Australian context cannot escape acknowledging that difference has 'entered inalterably' (see Hall in Terry 1995a) into our lives and that such a recognition provides us with a starting point for developing forms of post-multiculturalism which above all are open and reflective.

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