Perceptions of Australian Cultural Identity among Asian Australians

By Clark, Juliet | Australian Journal of Social Issues, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Perceptions of Australian Cultural Identity among Asian Australians

Clark, Juliet, Australian Journal of Social Issues


An area of long-standing interest in studies of national identity has been the implications of wider cross-border movements of people from diverse social, cultural and political backgrounds for national identity (McAllister & Moore, 1991; Phillips & Holton, 2004; Robertson, 1992; Tololyan, 1991). This study raises the issue about the role of transnationalism which incorporates the dual processes of globalisation and localisation in determining attitudes towards national identity, among transnational migrants. For instance, it is suggested that the emergence of transnationalism and transnational communities are likely to challenge the normative character of the politically and culturally bounded nation state (Appadurai, 1996a, 1996b; Castles & Davidson, 2000; Cohen, 1996; Wong, 2002).

The research is set a time when perceptions of disloyalty to the nation state among transnational citizens has led to a fear of internal disintegration and a climate of global insecurity (Joppke, 2004; Kofman, 2005). Governments have responded to the rise in transnationalism and cultural diversity, through reasserting their authority, in shaping national identity and national citizenship (Holton, 1998; Kofman, 2005). As an example, the Howard government in Australia has proposed new citizenship tests which incorporate tests relating to Australian cultural/historical values and English competence. In light of these contemporary, theoretical and policy issues, drawing on a representative sample of Asian Australian migrants, (1) this paper examines whether transnational migrants feel a sense of connection or belonging to cultural conceptions of Australian national identity. Furthermore, I examine whether different social background experiences have a causal effect on views towards national identity.

The paper is divided into four main sections. In the first section, I discuss theories of transnationalism and how they are applied in the local Australian context. Second, I draw on the pre-existing literature in the social sciences on dimensions of Australian national identity, and focus specifically on the cultural aspects of national identity. I briefly mention contemporary, social and political debates about the issues of national identity and social cohesion in a country of increasing cultural diversity. Third, I examine the role of social background in determining attitudes towards cultural conceptions of national identity. Finally, using the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, I analyse whether different groups of Asian Australians feel a sense of connection to cultural conceptions of national identity. In the discussion, I demonstrate that finding out about the views of different subgroups of Asian Australians as representative of other transnational migrants has important policy implications for Australian multiculturalism and citizenship.

Transnational Belonging and National Identity

There are two conflicting points of view about how transnationalism shapes feelings towards national identity in the local and global context.

1) The first is the view that the rise in expressions of transnationalism is weakening national feelings. For example, according to the glocalisation hypothesis, with increasing cultural diversity, local and global identities are strengthening while at the same time national identities are weakening (Dijkstra, Geuijen, & de Ruijter, 2001; Hall, 1991). Eriksen for example, argues that as nation states become more diverse, a shared national identity will become less important (Eriksen, 1997). The phenomenon of belonging to a local and global identity but not a national identity is otherwise expressed in terms of hybridisation (Bhabha, 1990b; Hall, 1996), creolisation (Hannerz, 1990, 1996) and cosmopolitanism (Beck, 2002; Cheah & Robbins, 1998). In the Australian context, studies of Asian Australian transnational communities show that Asian Australians feel a sense of detachment from the 'national community'.

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