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Pavlova and pineapple pie : mixed parentage and Samoan-Pakeha identities in New Zealand

14 Dec 2012

This thesis seeks to not only identify and describe the factors that influence identity in people of mixed parentage, but also to analyse why and how these influences operate. In order to do this, an ecological approach is taken which attempts to illuminate issues at the macro, meso and micro levels of influence. This is in order to understand the breadth of possible pressures and the subtle nature of how issues of race and ethnicity are conceptualised. To begin this, a historical précis of how ideas about race have been framed is given, emphasising their economic, social and political origins.Then this is applied more specifically to New Zealand and the state of both Samoan and Pakeha ethnic groups. Here it is argued that the nature of colonisation demands the politicisation of ethnicity which in tum supports a polarised, essentialised and simplified view of ethnic difference. This dynamic also demands signs of 'legitimacy' from members of minority ethnic groups, thus strengthening boundaries between different groups. This then places people of mixed ethnic origin in the position of having to choose one group or the other, although each of these options is not without its own problems.One of these is the concept of 'marginality' which has historically been patronising and pathologising of people of mixed parentage. More recently, however, it is being claimed as potentially positive, and identified as originating more from the demands of society rather than an innate defect in the individual of mixed parentage. This discussion then explores some of the more psychological, micro level theories of identity and ethnic identity which both needed to be included given that they are ultimately inseparable. Emphasised at this point is the impact of an individual's narrative or the way they interpret and act on experiences which ultimately make broad generalisations impossible. Also challenged are the more structural, modernist theories of identity development which tend to pathologise those of mixed parentage who may not follow them. Instead a more flexible postmodern paradigm is proposed.From this the specific factors identified in the literature pertaining particularly to people of mixed parentage are covered, for example issues such as parental attitudes, class, appearance and school experiences. These specific influences and the wider conceptual issues are then applied to this study. This study was a small, qualitative investigation of four people of mixed Samoan and Pakeha parentage. They were all interviewed individually using an open-ended questionnaire, then met twice as a focus group to discuss the issues arising from the interviews.This produced several findings. Many of the issues given in the literature were found to be influential, but so too were the wider demands for legitimacy and the personal narratives of the individuals involved. This points to the redundancy of identity theories based solely on 'race' or 'mixed race', and highlights instead the complex interplay of ideology, history, politics, culture and the individual or group. Finally, this is applied to the practice of social work proposing an approach that rejects simplistic presumptions about a person's culture (beliefs, attitudes and preferences) based on their ethnic group(s). The meaning given to ethnicity must instead be ascertained deliberately in order to work appropriately with each person or family.

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