Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Placeless Identity

Culture is a great many things. It is not surprising that there is no determined definition of culture, especially in an age where we acknowledge that cultures as determined by national boundaries is too simplistic.

Our cultural identity is a fan of roles that we can pick from and express - roles determined by our relation to the family, professionally, nationally. Cultural identity in my thesis however, will mainly be referred to in terms of one's relationship to nations - determined through one's ethnic background, citizenship and surroundings, the learned patterns of values and behaviour that one especially acquires throughout childhood.

Although this may be a simplistic way of seeing things, it seems that there is still a social expectation that all individuals should assume a nationality as part of one's identity. As Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen asks, why is it necessary to have an identity? (Skal vi tvinges til å ha en identitet?, 1994. Eng: Must we have an identity?) He notes that there seems to be a common belief, that an individual has a psychological need to belong to a nation or religion, however unexplained. Agreeing with Hylland Eriksen, Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (link in Danish)observes and adds that while the UN professes the right to assume any nationality, it does not mention the right not to assume any (Kunsten at Navigere i Kaos, 1995. Eng: The art of navigating in chaos).

This then approaches one of the core problematics in the lives of Third Culture Kids, in which the idea of a physical place being somewhere that they can call home and always feel that they belong can seem very obscure (hence the other term, "Global Nomads" seems very relevant). Probably this is why they often feel a sense of relief when they are posed with the option of identifying themselves merely as children who have grown up in a third culture, thereby being given a label to their missing link.

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