“I don't do much in the community as an Italian, but in my family I do” a critique of symbolic ethnicity through a longitudinal study of second-generation Italian Australians

Emanuela Sala, Loretta Baldassar

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This paper examines second-generation Italian Australian constructions of ethnicity through longitudinal ethnographic analysis. Original data for this research were collected with second-generation Italian-Australian youth in 1985-1986 and follow-up research was conducted with the same informants more than three decades later. Our findings lead us to critique Herbert Gans's concept of symbolic ethnicity, which suggests that ethnicity among second and subsequent generations is superficial and that once it disappears from the public realm it is rendered symbolic and not real. We argue that this concept overlooks the important role of family and intimate culture in constructions of ethnicity. It also fails to acknowledge the powerful role of symbols in identity formation. We argue that anthropological notions of “intimate culture” examined through the lens of “familial habitus” are more useful concepts to explain the continuing importance of ethnicity in the lives of second-generation Italian Australians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-583
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Anthropological Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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