The Masala mosaic : constructing an identity as a mixed parentage child and adolescent
Britain has recently seen substantial increases in the mixed ethnicity population.
(ONS, 2004, Population Trends, 2001). Those of a mixed parentage background now
account for 0.8% of the total population and form the 6th largest overall group (ONS,
2004). Black mixed groups have increased by 50% and South Asians by over 27%.
Whilst black and white mixed parentage individuals have been studied, previous
research has not sought to explore how being of mixed parentage might impact upon
children who have one white and one South Asian origin parents.
Historically social psychologists did not view identity formation as a matter of
individual choice or negotiation. However, in today's society human beings are
confronted with high levels of choice in their lives, including in personal issues.
Within this context, this PhD offers an insight into the processes of forming an ethnic
identity - with a specific focus on individuals of a mixed parentage background. The
thesis provides an understanding into the processes of such individuals and society's
high level of emphasis on choice. The ideas of Mead, Goffman, Moscovici, Tajfel
and Turner and more recently Weinreich have been particularly influential in shaping
this PhD. The model of identity used is a socio-psychological one that seeks to
understand the psychological and socio-cultural processes of identity.
The topic was approached in three stages. First, semi-structured interviews were
conducted with three groups: mixed parentage (Asian/white adolescents), non-mixed
parentage (Asian and white adolescents) and their parents. Factors such as language,
culture and physical appearance were central themes that emerged from the analysis.
The aim of the second study was to further investigate and develop findings from the
first. This follow-up study was based on 16 mixed parentage participants. They
completed retrospective diaries on their experiences of being of mixed parentage;
these were followed up with interviews. Analysis revealed a number of interpretative
repertoires used in the process of negotiating ethnic identity. The third study involved
a questionnaire administered to 87 participants of different mixed parentage background. Many of the findings from the two qualitative studies were supported by
the data from this questionnaire, for example, ideas concerning choice and
perceptions of being mixed parentage.
In taking this multi-method approach this thesis makes three important contributions.
First, it researches and discusses the experiences and ethnic identity construction of
south Asian and white mixed parentage adolescents; a group previously neglected in
social sciences literature. Second, it documents the importance that mixed parentage
participants, not just of South Asian and white background, place on exercising choice
and autonomy over presentation of ethnic identity. It was found that mixed parentage
individuals feel they have a greater ability to adopt a situational/chameleon identity
than other individuals because of their dual ethnic backgrounds. However, it is
argued that the amount of choice they really have is limited because of a range of
psychological and sociological factors.