Identity and self-construction through intercultural experiences: an IPA study of Japanese and Chinese immigrants in Australia.

  • Julia Kraven

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Identity has become the subject of widespread academic interest in the last several decades. This thesis aims to contribute to identity research by offering an in-depth analysis of individuals’ identity transformations as a result of their intercultural experience. It shows the influence of intercultural experience on the primary cultural identity of an individual, as well as other identities, such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and professional occupation. One of the focal research questions addressed in the thesis is whether adult Asian migrants become bicultural when they stay in Australia for a prolonged period of time. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) framework applied to the study made it possible to give voice to the Japanese and Chinese interviewees and create their ‘linguistic portraits’ that are vital for understanding their identities in the Australian cultural context. In accordance with the chosen methodology, the participants of the study were encouraged not only to describe their lived experiences in Australia but also to interpret them. The final analysis, thus, represents a joint interpretation of the interviewee (self-interpretation) and the researcher.

The results gained from this research explain how adult Asian immigrants perceive themselves in the Australian cultural context. Their narratives were expected to shed light on the mechanism of identity negotiations and construction of bicultural identities (as a result of intercultural experience), extensively discussed in the existing literature. However, this expectation was not realised as biculturalism did not become manifest in the respondents’ cultural self-identification. None of the individuals who took part in the study said that they see themselves culturally as Australian or Chinese Australian and Japanese Australian. Although they are socially well integrated into Australian society, they continue to identify as Japanese or Chinese. The feeling of Australian-ness comes mainly from Australian citizenship for those who hold it, which is a newly acquired national identity but not a cultural identity. They are also seen as Japanese or Chinese by their compatriots, by nascent Australians and by other foreigners and Australian immigrants, who, for example, often approach them to ask questions about Japan or China. Their English language ability remains distinctly non-native. These findings challenge the long-established equation in the existing literature between Berry’s (1997) integration strategy of acculturation and biculturalism. The current study did not find evidence to demonstrate that the adoption of a new cultural identity by adult Asian migrants in Australia takes place. The identity transformations that have been identified in the current study are related to the changes in the individuals’ mindsets and sense of self. Thanks to the freedom from the social expectations of their home countries reported by the respondents, they can consider a broader range of life choices such as changing career midlife, dating at an older age (as opposed to being married and staying with the same person for the entire life), changing some cultural patterns of relationships with parents, raising their children differently, or even joining a church to make friends. The study shows that while some identities (social categories), such as age and gender, remain on the surface unchanged, intercultural experience can alter the individual’s perception of oneself as somebody who, for example, feels younger at a certain age or more empowered as a female. Despite the fact that such changes caused by the Australian cultural environment can have a profound impact on identity as a self-narrative, they do not result in a complete cultural transformation of Asian migrants or adoption of a new Australian identity.
Date of Award16 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMarie-Claire Patron (Supervisor), Oliver Baumann (Supervisor) & Raoul Mortley (Supervisor)

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