A Narrative Approach to the Role of Others in Ethnic Identity Formation

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Objectives: The aim of the present study was to explore the role of others in ethnic identity development. Three questions were asked: to what extent others are involved in these processes, what roles they play, and whether the roles differed between participant who identified with a majority, minority or mixed ethnic identity. Method: An exploratory, narrative approach was used, and written narratives were analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. The analytic sample consisted of 191 participants (78% female, Mage = 20.39, SD = 5.31), of which 64% identified as Swedish, 11% as another ethnicity, and 25% as Swedish/other ethnicity. Results: Results showed that others were present in most of the ethnicity-defining experiences and most participants expressed a self-defined ethnic identity. A thematic analysis of the role of others resulted in 6 themes; others as contrast, as reference, raising awareness, accepting, ascribing, and denying. Most commonly, others functioned as a contrast and/or a reference point that the narrators could position themselves against. Participants with mixed majority/minority identities more often experienced that others ascribed or denied them their ethnic identities. Conclusions: The current findings lend empirical support for ethnic identity formation as an interactive process and for the role of others in these processes. A power imbalance was prevalent throughout the results, where the degree of looking and acting “Swedish enough” limited the power of choosing an identity. In multicultural societies, for people to have the power to define and have their ethnic identities accepted is a necessary condition for integration.

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