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An intergenerational conceptualisation of Italian-Australian ethnic identity through Bourdieu and Heidegger

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This paper provides a phenomenological reconceptualisation of ethnic identity. Drawing upon a case study of a family originating in Calabria, Italy, and living in Adelaide, South Australia, I consider the way in which the three generations perceive their ‘being ethnic’ across time and space. The first-generation participants were born in Italy and migrated to Australia during the 1950s; the second generation are their children; and the third generation are the children of the second generation. The findings show a widespread intergenerational identification of ethnicity as ‘being Italian’, which, however, has different meanings across the three generations. This depends on the participants’ phenomenological perceptions of being thrown into the world [Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. (J. Macquarie & E. Robinson, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper]. Some 40 years after Huber’s [(1977). From pasta to Pavlova: A comparative study of Italian settlers in Sydney and Griffith. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press] study about the assimilation of Italian-Australians published in her book From Pasta to Pavlova, the present paper shows a movement from pavlova to pasta, especially by the third-generation participants, who experience a sense of ethnic revival. Essential in such a shift of ethnic identity is what I refer to as institutional positionality; that is, one’s perceptions of the position of one’s ‘ethnic being in the world’. This is investigated by combining with the sociology of migration, including the Bourdieusian conceptual apparatus of capital [Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research in the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press], a Heideggerian existential theory [Heidegger, 1962]. Such a juxtaposition provides further reflexivity through a reconceptualisation that considers the role of ontology in the sociology of migration.
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Keywords: Italian-Australians; ethnic identity; institutional positionality; migration; social identities

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Publication date: January 2, 2020

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