Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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"Thank you, your English is very good also": Asian Panethnicity and its Performance in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-08, 08:44 authored by Edwards, Sophia

Existing studies suggest that Asian panethnicity is the political mobilisation of diverse groups of people under a new name, to oppose racism and discrimination. Asian panethnicity is shaped by social forces, including those that exclude. As such, it is inherently political. However, it is limiting to think of it only as a kind of intentional, collective action bent towards achieving a predetermined group goal. This thesis expands this understanding of panethnicity, by considering how “Asiannness” is experienced on an intersubjective level and asks what “Asian” means to and for the Asian individual.  Lingering Orientalism perpetuates a sense of Asian people as not quite belonging in the West. Though by now cliché, this narrative of non-belonging continues to determine ideas of Asianness and set the parameters of appropriate Asian behaviour. But, this non-belonging is also the site in and from which Asian actors make their own meanings and seek their own kind of situated belonging. This thesis takes an autoethnographic and ethnographic approach to field sites in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to observe some of the ways Asian identity is formed. It is inevitable that transnational processes contribute to this identity work, but these global processes are also subsumed by localised structures and contexts.  Drawing from participant observation with social and community groups, and interviews with creative artists, writers, administrators, community workers and activists addressing the question of what it means to be Asian, I argue that Asian panethnicity is constituted by “doing”. It is made up of different acts, repeated over time, and in different settings. As a product of relationships between externally imposed, in group enforced, and self-made conceptions of “Asianness”, Asian panethnicity is both performative and performed. This thesis presents scenarios in which these performances and presentations of the Asian self take place. In considering some of the possible contexts and conventions that give rise to the performative act/s of being Asian, I argue that being Asian is a creative, collaborative, ongoing endeavour. It is a means by which to accomplish belonging in the world.


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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

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Sissons, Jeff; Trundle, Catherine