Academic journal article Sociolinguistic Studies

Empowering a Migrant Identity: Agency in Narratives of a Work Experience in Norway

Academic journal article Sociolinguistic Studies

Empowering a Migrant Identity: Agency in Narratives of a Work Experience in Norway

Article excerpt


Narratives of personal experience provide insight into how speakers utilize their linguistic resources to negotiate agency and power in their presentation and positioning of the self in social experiences. In this article, a focus is on identity construction in narratives about quests for employment in a migration context. The data consist of audio-recorded interactions in an interview situation in which a woman presents an autobiographical presentation of her migration to Norway and her search for work. The analysis first critically evaluates the use of interview data for investigating personal narratives and then focuses on a particular linguistic resource used for negotiating agency in discourse, the constructed dialogue. Furthermore, the co-construction of agency in interaction is also highlighted in the analysis. Narratives of the quest for employment are compelling sites for investigating agency and power, and for studying how the speaker orients herself to both the local interactional discourse at hand and the larger societal discourse. In conclusion, the implications of the results for the study of narrative and agency are discussed, particularly in light of immigrant discourse.


1 Introduction

Migrants' narratives provide insight into conceptions of the self and the other within a cultural context. As De Fina (2003) points out, the relationship between narrative and identity can be perceived as operating at various levels, including the use of narrative resources identifying the speaker as a member of a specific community, the use of stories through which social roles are negotiable, as well as the negotiation of membership into communities that share common beliefs and values. In this article, the focus will be on identity construction that occurs in the presentation and positioning of the self in social experiences related to migration, particularly in regards to quests for employment. As De Fina (2003:93) states, 'Particular kinds of identities can be seen as stemming from ways of talking about the self in action', hence the notion of agency. Narratives of work experience among migrants are privileged sites for investigating agency as they involve action. Agency has been defined by Ahearn (2001:133) as 'the socioculturally mediated capacity to act', while Al Zidjaly (2009:179) points out that 'agency and power are interconnected, for agency is a major basis for claiming power...'. Agency is related to voice in narrative, the polyphony of characters' voices in storytelling (Bakhtin, 1981). These voices are linked to the story world created by the narrator yet they may also be voices linked to ideologies in society (Pietikäinen and Dufva, 2006). In analyses of migrant narratives, attention is given to the interactional work in narrating, yet there is a need to anchor the discourse in relation to the larger context - the discourse of immigration and immigrants in society at large.

In her work on narratives of undocumented Mexican immigrants' bordercrossing into the U.S., De Fina (2003) illustrates how speakers exploit linguistic resources to negotiate an identity of diminished agency in interaction. How can speakers exploit linguistic resources to negotiate higher degrees of agency in interaction? And although the dialogic component is implicit in many analyses in the literature, there still remains a mere focus on the narrator's contribution to the interaction. The question remains: How then do both speaker and listener contribute to the negotiation of an identity that is empowered or diminished in regards to agency, specifically an empowered one? In this article, I will first discuss the notion of identity and how this may be investigated in narrative discourse. Then I will present the context of the data, Norwegian society in general and more specifically Filipinos in Oslo, a migrant group that forms a diaspora on a global scale. …

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