Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 1999 v5 i1 p13(1)
Children in-between: constructing identities in the bicultural family.
Michael P. Anderson.
Author\'s Abstract: COPYRIGHT 1999 Royal Anthropological Institute
While transnational movement and migrancy are not new fields of inquiry for
anthropology, the experiences of children from inter-cultural marriage, as
a part of these processes, have rarely been discussed. In this context,
competing cultural ideas of childhood and child-raising are tackled in the
intimacy of the domestic home and family life. Ethnographic evidence from
families where there is a parent of each nationality (British and Greek)
resident in Greece, demonstrates that although \'flux\' and \'flow\' are
compelling theoretical metaphors for transnational movements, they gloss
over the intra-familial \'edges\' in which parents and grandparents
experience and express their particular Greekness and Britishness with
regard to children. It is argued that the children of these families
generate their own conceptual spaces and identities \'in-between\' culturally
differentiated adult thoughts and actions through certain identificatory
media and thereby effect not merely a role of cultural brokering but
hybridized identities in their own right.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1999 Royal Anthropological Institute
Mass movements of individuals around the world have increased throughout
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Between 1800 and 1914, net
migration from Europe was estimated to be somewhere in the region of 50
million (Standing 1984: 15). In 1984 alone, more than half a million legal
immigrants went to the United States from Mexico, the Philippines and
Vietnam. European countries have also seen a large increase in foreign-born
immigrants, particularly in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the
Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, more than one in eight people is foreign-
born. In Germany there are over 600,000 Italians, well over 100,000
Portuguese and nearly 700,000 Greeks.(1) Such figures have consequences
beyond the political and economic.
Such movements around the world have generated a new body of literature,
from the detailed journeyings of particular individuals to those of forced
movements of entire populations, adding an even greater impetus to the
sense of cultural fluidity. Such fluidity has also stimulated the fusion of
the themes of identity and movement in anthropological writings over recent
years (Chambers 1994; Hannerz 1996; Rapport 1997: 64-79). Central to this
interest has been the question of how individuals interpret, construct and
reconstruct themselves and the cultures of which they are a part. Recent
writing within other disciplines (e.g. Bammer 1994; Robertson et al. 1994)
has highlighted the same themes and issues in an attempt to articulate the
consequences of social movement as seen from the perspective of the
travelling individual, and it demonstrates the wide appeal and relevance of
transnational and transcultural movements beyond the limits of a single
The movement and displacement of myths, languages, music, imagery, cuisine,
decor, costume, furnishings and, above all, persons (Geertz 1986: 120-1)
have changed even the most isolated geographical areas and rendered them
spaces of global, socio-cultural interaction. Clifford (1986: 22) is
prompted to comment: \'All is situated and moving\'. Berger (1984: 55)
maintains that movement is \'the quintessential experience of our time\'.
Such images are not just depictions of a mobile world, they are
descriptions of how movement affects imaginations, personal mythologies and
the everyday lives that are lived. Be it from culture to culture, nation to
nation or context to context, individual, social and cultural movement is
intrinsic to identity. Social and cultural difference (as in language,
values, dress, gesture, and so on) between one place and another, however,
places limits upon what Hannerz (1993: 68) calls \'cultural flows in space
... a global ecumene\', a \'new diversity of interrelations, fluid and
without edges\' as an alternative to \'a global mosaic of cultures; bounded,
separate, and distinct\'.
The situation of bicultural families, as I shall attempt to show,
demonstrates this challenge, albeit in the intimate context of family life.
Cultural flows and pluralisms are also displacements and misplacements,
where the movement of individuals across distinct cultural boundaries,
within their own domestic space, can be painful, exclusionary, hostile and
volatile. And it is within this context, and within what I have loosely
termed \'bicultural families\' (Anderson 1997), that I wish to raise the
issue of child identities.
Families, childhood and culture
Transnational movement correlates with the increasing number of
transnational and transcultural marriages and poses questions about the
children of such unions. What sense of identity do the children inherit?
How does the child learn a sense of cultural belonging in a family context
where his or her parents are of different nationalities and possess diverse
cultural socializing traditions?
Recently, the theoretical study of childhood has turned away from the
socialization theory of children as passive receptacles of adult teaching
and culture, towards a more dynamic model of the child as participant in