Conference Panels

IMAGINING AND NEGOTIATING TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITIES

Co-convenor: Danau Tanu (contact person), Social and Cultural Studies, UWA
E-mail: tanud01@student.uwa.edu.au
Co-convenor: Gabrielle Désilets, Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU
E-mail: Gabrielle.desilets@anu.edu.au

Transnational flows of images, ideas, goods and people are affecting social dynamics and identities in increasingly multifaceted ways. In a world marked by flux, cultural imaginaries play an important role in making meaning out of fragmented experiences and identities (Appadurai 1996; Hall 1996; Hannerz 1996). These cultural imaginaries may take new forms, to give one example, as in the use of the term ‘Third Culture Kids’ (Pollock and Van Reken 2009) to give meaning to the identities of those who spend a significant part of their childhood and adolescence outside their passport country.

This panel seeks contributions that engage with transnational interactions and identities. We welcome papers that explore the impact of (repeated) global mobility and the negotiation of boundaries in the everyday lives of transnational and translocal actors, including (though not limited to) that of the ‘global elite’. The dynamics at work in these interactions imply a negotiation of boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, nationality and class among others, as well as the construction of new affinities across difference. The interactions are neither neutral nor are they necessarily dichotomous (i.e. transnational and national, foreigner and local, or rootless and rooted, etc). They are fraught with tensions and contradictions, which at times affirm, and at others shift or challenge the notion of cosmopolitanism and transnational imaginaries (Hannerz 1990; Vertovec and Cohen 2002; Werbner 2008). We thus invite papers that address issues relating to, whether directly or indirectly, globally mobile actors (including reflections on the researcher as a transnational actor).

  • SESSION 1     Room: G61 ARTS     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 11.00-12.30     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: “Here everyone looks different!” Cosmopolitan Homogeneity meets Parochial Multiculturalism
      • Gabrielle Désilets, The Australian National University
    • Paper 2: Colourblind cosmopolitans: The (in)visibility of ‘race’ and ‘culture’ at an international school in Indonesia
      • Danau Tanu, The University of Western Australia
    • Paper 3: Cultural imaginaries and everyday negotiations: study abroad programs in Italy as transnational encounters
      • Loretta Baldassar and Jane Mulcock, The University of Western Australia
  • SESSION 2     Room: G61 ARTS     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 13.30-15.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Forced Transnationalism: Sending Migrants’ Children ‘Home’
      • Helen Lee, La Trobe University
    • Paper 2: Transnational Practices Through the Life Cycle – Second Generation German Transnationalism in Melbourne, Australia
      • Cathrin Vesna Bernhardt, La Trobe University
    • Paper 3: Vietnamese Diasporic Imaginings in the midst of transnational-cultural flows: exilic archetype, visual hegemony and limitations of hybridity
      • Kelly Lanphuong Le, The Australian National University
  • SESSION 3     Room: G61 ARTS     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 15.30-17.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Migration Identity Processes: Transformation towards Authentic and Cosmopolitan Selves
      • Petra T. Buergelt, University of Western Australia
    • Paper 2: Being proper and professional: Social relations of Filipino expatriates in New Delhi
      • Jozon Lorenzana, University of Western Australia
    • Paper 3: Lifestyle migration to lifestyle magazine: British migrants in Australia
      • Gillian Abel, The University of Western Australia

SESSION 1 (90 mins)

Chair: Cathrin Vesna Bernhardt, La Trobe University

Paper 1: “Here everyone looks different!” Cosmopolitan Homogeneity meets Parochial Multiculturalism

Gabrielle Désilets, The Australian National University

Transnational professionals (business, diplomatic, army, NGO, etc.) who opt for an international career often raise their children in varied and constantly changing cultural and geographical environments. Outside of the Western industrialised nations, these children evolve in the peculiar microcosm of international schools where “coming from somewhere else” is accepted as the norm. They commonly see themselves as open-minded cosmopolitans, belonging to an international tribe and embracing the world as their home. The bulk of research on migration tends to focus on the movements of the less privileged towards the centres of the immigration-receiving countries, while research on privileged migration generally recounts the experience of expatriates in the resources-driven economies of the developing world. In contrast, the data presented in this paper emerges from a year of ethnographic fieldwork in and around the community of an elite “international” school in Melbourne’s inner city, situated in the context of multicultural Australia. Looking specifically at Melbourne’s expatriates’ lifestyles and experiences has given rise to notable findings concerning modes of socialisation. Many informants explain that since ‘everyone looks different here’, it is much harder to find peers and establish relationships. As a result, many are experiencing in Melbourne something new for them, the need and desire to adopt the host culture. Surprisingly, considering their extensive international experience, some of them mingle with people of diverse cultural, professional, institutional, etc. backgrounds in their daily activities for the first time. This transnational capitalist class imagines and creates its own categories of difference. They perform a cosmopolitanism adapted to wide macro-social dynamics influenced by neoliberal forces in which ephemerality, versatility and the accumulation of ‘international experience’ is making its place as the dominant mindset.

Paper 2: Colourblind cosmopolitans: The (in)visibility of ‘race’ and ‘culture’ at an international school in Indonesia

Danau Tanu, The University of Western Australia

In 2009, I carried out a yearlong ethnographic research on high school students (grades 9 to 12) at an ‘international school’ in Jakarta, Indonesia. International schools cater to expatriate communities in different parts of the world and often claim to educate ‘global citizens’. They hail the number of nationalities represented in the student body and teaching staff as their mark of diversity, and celebrate it with a parade of colourful flags on United Nations Day. Their students have been variously referred to as ‘internationally mobile children’, ‘global nomads’ and ‘Third Culture Kids (TCKs)’, reflecting their international upbringing. Yet, concerns over nationality-based student cliques in the school indicate a web of social power dynamics at play in the pursuit of the cosmopolitan ideal. This paper explores how “issues of power and cultural dominance in international microcultures” intrude upon the international school’s construction of the ideal ‘cosmopolitan’ student (Schaetti, 2000, p. 74). This in turn influences the social dynamics on campus. Borrowing Hage’s (1998) concept of ‘white cosmo-multiculturalism’, I argue that factors such as ‘race’, ethnicity, nationality and culture become (in)visible at different times depending on what is at stake: status or ‘being international’. The dominant cosmopolitan imaginary contributes to segregation and cultural hierarchies among student ranks, and the use of cosmopolitan cultural capital to gain leverage in social status. I consider the implications in view of the rising popularity of ‘international education’ in the Asian context.

Paper 3: Cultural imaginaries and everyday negotiations: study abroad programs in Italy as transnational encounters

Loretta Baldassar and Jane Mulcock, The University of Western Australia

International experience is increasingly promoted as an important part of contemporary tertiary education. Many universities now strive to facilitate a wide selection of study abroad opportunities to meet the needs of a diverse range of students, often with claims that such experiences will enhance a sense of global citizenship for graduates. This paper reports on ethnographic research undertaken with a cohort of Melbourne-based law students who study for one semester at the Monash University Prato Centre (MUPC) in Tuscany, Italy. Recent qualitative research clearly indicates that interactions with the local community have implications for the outcomes of such study abroad experiences. Local tensions around the presence of migrant populations in Prato have begun to impact on MUPC students. As such, Prato is an especially valuable site for exploring the diverse ways in which contemporary social issues can shape student experience, sometimes leading to difficult cross-cultural encounters that do not necessarily reflect student or staff preconceptions about widely romanticised locations such as Tuscany. We explore some of the implications of global mobility in the tertiary education sector against the historical backdrop of the 19th Century European Grand Tour model, contemporary ‘cultural imaginaries’ of Italy in popular culture and wider socio-political realities. We focus on expectations and opportunities for intercultural learning and consider the implications for cross-cultural dialogue and negotiation in this context.

Discussants: Loretta Baldassar & Gabrielle Désilets

SESSION 2 (90 mins)

Chair: Gabrielle Désilets, The Australian National University

Paper 1: Forced Transnationalism: Sending Migrants’ Children ‘Home’

Helen Lee, La Trobe University

Through my research with second generation Tongans in Australia I have developed the concept of ‘forced transnationalism’ which includes practices such as demanding adult children contribute money towards remittances and sending children and youth to Tonga against their will. My paper focuses on adolescents who are sent to live with kin and attend high school in Tonga as a form of punishment for ‘bad’ behaviour so they can be ‘straightened out’. Their experiences are compared with other overseas born youth who choose to spend one or more terms at a Tongan school, usually ‘to learn the culture’. The impact of this time in Tonga is explored in relation to young people’s relationships with family and peers in Tonga and in their country of birth; the implications for the negotiation of cultural identity and ideas of ‘authenticity’; and the potential for influencing ongoing transnational ties.

Paper 2: Transnational Practices Through the Life Cycle – Second Generation German Transnationalism in Melbourne, Australia

Cathrin Vesna Bernhardt, La Trobe University

Research on second generation transnationalism has often concurred that the second generation’s transnational ties are weaker than in the first migrant generation (Lee 2008, 11); however, I argue that the children of German migrants in Melbourne still maintain symbolic and emotional ties to their parents’ homeland (Wolf 2002). In this presentation I like to explore how the children of German migrants in Melbourne participate in transnational practices at different stages of their life cycle (Jones-Correra 2002). By doing so, I take a look at interview data conducted during my fieldwork in Melbourne in 2010. Using excerpts of these interviews and combining it with theoretical approaches like Diane Wolf’s concept of “emotional transnationalism” and Peggy Levitt’s identification of different levels of transnational involvement of the second generation at different stages of the life cycle, my presentation investigates how the second generation’s transnational practices that involve symbolic consumption that reconnects the children of German migrants to their parents’ homeland and emotional ties such as a feeling of nostalgia and travels to Germany play into their negotiation of cultural identity and sense of belonging.

Paper 3: Vietnamese Diasporic Imaginings in the midst of transnational-cultural flows: exilic archetype, visual hegemony and limitations of hybridity

Kelly Lanphuong Le, The Australian National University

Vietnamese diasporic media is a rare production that facilitates the imagining of identity, not only in the absence of the homeland, but also in the “unofficial” denial of the homeland (Carruthers, 2008). Though bearing similarities to the relatively more sophisticated Iranian-American media (Cunningham, 2001:139-40), the Vietnamese aesthetics and forms are unique. In particular, the video-audio format serves as an important vehicle for investigating how representation enables the overseas community to devise a series of ethno-specific identities, and emphasizing the importance of imagination as a ‘social practice of agency’ (Appadurai, 1996: 31). This paper investigates the most prolific of these identities, the refugee archetype. The case study is the Thuy Nga Production’s three variety-show specials, honoring the diasporic songwriter Lam Phuong. Spanning the course of fourteen years, these Paris By Night videos exemplify the variety of commercial and rhetorical strategies used to streamline an elitist refugee narrative. As a representative structure, this narrative provides space for exilic bodies to be commemorated; at the same time, it submerges other forms of imaginings. In particular, I argue that hydrid forms found in the variety-show series function as the binary opposites of the refugee narrative within this hegemony, and are curtailed from becoming autonomous. Thus, I suggest turning our attention to the transnational subjectivities found in overseas Vietnamese ‘hypernated’ punk and rap culture. While far from being established visual outlets, they engage directly with the homeland, and for the first time, openly celebrate global cultural flows between the diaspora and Vietnam.

Discussants: Helen Lee, La Trobe University & Danau Tanu, UWA

SESSION 3 (90 mins)

Chair: Danau Tanu, University of Western Australia

Paper 1: Migration Identity Processes: Transformation towards Authentic and Cosmopolitan Selves

Petra T. Buergelt, University of Western Australia

In this presentation I report on research gathered over two years, during which I accompanied 17 potential and actual German migrants with diverse personal and migration backgrounds throughout their migration journey to Australia or New Zealand. I traveled to Germany and lived with them in their homes for up to 7 days. I observed them, participated in their lives, and listened to the experiences and interpretations they shared in multiple episodic interviews. Those who migrated, I visited in Australia or New Zealand 6 and 18 months after migrating. Those who did not migrate, I visited after two years in Germany. Throughout the study, participants reported their experiences and interpretations in email or phone dairies. I analysed the unusually thick data using grounded theory and narrative analysis strategies.
Based on the findings, this presentation argues that migration is a lifetime process that starts in childhood and is influenced by the subjective interpretations of the continuous interaction between self and the world. Participants already imagined and negotiated transnational identities during their childhood and youth. Throughout their lives four intertwined imagining and negotiation processes played out and ultimately resulted in migrating: becoming conscious of self and the world, detaching from cultural roots, gaining confidence and capabilities, and ‘living in the gap’. The interaction of these processes led increasingly to characteristics typical of people who are at more advanced stages of self-actualisation and moral development, and who are cosmopolitans. The findings make a case for using holistic research designs. They also suggest intriguing synergies between the assumptions of symbolic interactionism and existentialism as epistemological frameworks.

Paper 2: Being proper and professional: Social relations of Filipino expatriates in New Delhi

Jozon Lorenzana, University of Western Australia

Contemporary India’s expanding markets and infrastructure have created the need to recruit foreign workers with specialised skills. Filipino professionals or expatriates find opportunities to work in construction, retail, service and manufacturing companies based in Indian cities. While the experiences of Filipino migrants in countries of the Global North are well documented, we know little of those who work in the Global South. This study aims to increase our understanding of the Global South-South migration route by focussing on the social relations of Filipino professionals in New Delhi, India's capital city. I participated in the everyday life and work of this migrant group; listened to their anxieties, frustrations, disappointments and aspirations; and learned about how they relate to each other, their work colleagues, the locals and their domestic workers. By using the concept of boundary (Lamont and Molnar 2002) as an analytical tool, I identify the ways Filipino expatriates distinguish themselves (or form ‘closeness’) in their social relations. In this paper I provide details about the social practices of a transnational class that tends to be preoccupied, in varying degrees, with being ‘proper’ and ‘professional’. I describe the tensions that arise from participants’ (both Filipinos and Indians) varying notions and performances of propriety and professionalism (or ways closeness could be achieved). This ethnography of Filipino expatriates in Delhi aims not only to point out the possible tensions and contradictions in this South-South migration route but also adds to the variety of views about migrant life and work in this historic city at the cusp of change.

Paper 3: Lifestyle migration to lifestyle magazine: British migrants in Australia

Gillian Abel, The University of Western Australia

In 2008 a magazine titled The Whingeing Pom, which takes a light hearted look at being British in Australia, was launched in Western Australia and has since become a national publication. This paper takes as its departure point a column in the first edition of the magazine entitled ‘I Possie’ in which journalist Ian Gerrard discusses his ideas on the contemporary reality of being a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Australia or both a ‘Pom’ and an ‘Aussie’ simultaneously. In keeping with the tone of the magazine as a whole Gerrard’s column takes a ‘best of both worlds’ attitude. Far from eschewing the whingeing Pom stereotype, alluded to in the title, both the publication and column take what could be described as a proactive view. Complaints are justified as constructive criticism, declaring affection for Australia but also a desire that it should not end up in the same way as the United Kingdom, which they left behind. This desire for a better way of life as the main factor in migration decision-making is increasingly being investigated under the mantle of ‘lifestyle migration’. To date, however, there is little or no discussion of British migration to Australia amongst that literature. With reference to the magazine and column discussed above and drawing upon fieldwork with British migrant women in Western Australia I will argue that ‘lifestyle migration’ is a useful analytical tool in the study of recent British migration to Australia and how the British see themselves in Australia.

Discussants: Gabrielle Désilets & Danau Tanu