Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Janet S. de Merode completes dissertation in the School of Psychology

Two Halves Make A Whole: Evidence of Integration in Bicultural Adults' Chosen Visual Symbols of Self-identity -- Janet de Merode, PhD

Janet came to Fielding after a 25-year career as an economist, working in low income countries to address problems of poverty. She wanted to explore how new media technologies could help provide access to health and education services for disenfranchised populations. Now she uses her training as a media psychologist to consult with international organizations and non-profits on this. She also teaches in the Chicago School for Professional Psychology's new PhD program in International Psychology, and in Fielding's master's program in Media and Social Change. Janet can be reached by email at jdemerode@fielding.edu.

The lived experience and identity architecture of bicultural individuals is largely absent from research. Unlike biracial individuals whose physical appearance may expose a blended heritage, many bicultural individuals live their dual heritage within, positioning themselves at their own discretion – an experience that is intrapsychic and more difficult to assess. Consequently, this study employed a methodology enabling 10 bicultural females (mean age = 36) to illustrate their sense of self through narration about personal objects representing their identity, filmed using a self-operated video camera without a researcher present. The bicultural consciousness expressed by these respondents was thus explicit and authentic. Bicultural identity appears as an agentic choice rather than reactive shifts in response to contextual change. Further, the findings in this qualitative and phenomenological study suggest bicultural heritage need not, by definition, exert a negative or confounding impact on the sense of self. On the contrary, even when bicultural individuals grow up in a lifestyle of constant change – change of home, school, community, and social circle, either during childhood or adolescence – they nevertheless can experience bicultural identity as a rich and dynamic self, not only because of superior linguistic ability (mean = 3.3) but also because of a strong attachment to family, a resilience to external change, and a deep respect for social diversity. In addition to the videos created by participants, an online background survey and post-video telephone interview provided supplementary information. Common themes and a case study for each of the bicultural women were corroborated with a separate coding analysis of the chosen objects (N=104). Bicultural identity is mediated by close family relationships and emerges as dynamic, evolutionary, and malleable, rather than as an end-state to be achieved. Seeking identity coherence may entail denying some aspects of self, at least temporarily, making the management process as complex as the choices. Yet high geographic mobility and language proficiency may indicate that identity clarification is obtained through travel and multilingualism. In sum, this study concludes that biculturalism imparts benefits and a worldview well beyond the two halves of birth.

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