Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Making of Cosmopolitan Selves: the Construction of Identity of Russian-Speaking Immigrants in New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-10, 04:09 authored by Maydell, Elena

According to the 2006 Census (Statistics New Zealand, 2007), more than one-fifth of the New Zealand population is born overseas. Immigrants play an active role in New Zealand economic and demographic growth, with more new arrivals choosing to settle in New Zealand every year. While research into migrant issues is on the rise, the impact of growing cultural diversity on national identity requires further investigation, especially in relation to many ethnic groups underrepresented in social sciences. This thesis presents the research into the issues of identity construction among Russian-speaking immigrants, a group never investigated before in New Zealand and only infrequently elsewhere. The objective of this work is to fill the knowledge gap in this area by providing information on the socio-cultural context of immigration experiences of Russians in New Zealand and investigating the way their identity is constructed through mainstream discourses and in the personal accounts of 21 participants from Wellington. The nature of this thesis is qualitative and interdisciplinary. The theoretical foundation draws on social constructionism (Burr, 1995; Gergen, 1991) and discourse theory (Foucault, 1972; Howarth, 2000). Socio-historically, this scholarship may be located within the broader frames of the postmodern critique of globalization and transnationalism (Bauman, 1998; el-Ojeili & Hayden, 2006). One of the objectives of this research was to apply and evaluate different qualitative frameworks and paradigms in order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the issue under investigation. The combination of different analytical methods and techniques included: thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1989; Wodak, 1996), positioning theory (Harre & Van Langenhove, 1999), ethnography and narrative analysis (Merriam, 2002). The first study presents a critical discourse analysis of identity constructions of Russian-speaking immigrants articulated by New Zealand mainstream print media. Consistent with international and New Zealand research on media portrayals of immigrants, the overall representation of this migrant group in New Zealand media follows the general trends of criminalization, homogenization and commodification of immigrants, with the dominant construction of them as a 'problem' to New Zealand society. Two other studies use in-depth ethnographic interviews as the data collection method. The first interview presents a narrative analysis of a case study of a Russian Jewish woman who has experienced double migration from Russia to Israel and then to New Zealand. Lara's story vividly illustrates the process of social construction in relation to her sense of self in three different cultures. It reveals the interaction between the power of social forces in dictating rules for identity formation and the role of agency in an individual's striving for a coherent sense of self. The analysis of 20 in-depth interviews with Russian-speaking immigrants in Wellington identifies the most common and salient patterns of identity construction in this group. Many participants report the feelings of identity loss and exclusion, based on their understanding of negative attitudes and wide-spread stereotypes among the host population. While some participants try to negotiate inferior identity constructions assigned to them on the basis of their 'outsider' status, others strive for constructing a new type of identity - cosmopolitan identity - which they locate within the global, rather than any local, context. These findings contribute to the recent developments in social science research in such areas as identity studies, discourse, globalisation, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Liu, James; Wilson, Marc