The migrant self: construction and negotiation of identities in the linguistic practices of new Italian migrants in Western Australia

Alessia Dipalma

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis analyses performances of interactional identity in the linguistic practices of recent Italian migrants to Western Australia. During the last decade and, in particular, after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, we have been witnessing a considerable increase in the number of young Italians moving overseas, and particularly to Australia; this phenomenon is often referred to by academic and non-academic studies as ‘new’ Italian migration, as a way to mark the difference with previous waves of Italian migrants. Contemporary Italian migration to Australia is still basically unexplored in the academic literature and my study represents the first of its kind specifically targeting this phenomenon.
The theoretical background of this investigation is informed by a social constructionist approach to social interaction and to the construction and negotiation of identities; according to this paradigm, identity is not a solid, given-by-nature core of the individual, but it is a product of social interaction and, as such, it is shifting, multi-faceted, and locally originated. My analysis benefited from insights of various disciplines, such as Conversation Analysis, Membership Categorisation Analysis, Interactional Sociolinguistics and Discourse Analysis.
The analysis is based on about twenty hours of video recordings of dinner parties among new Italian migrants and their partners. In collecting and analysing data, I followed an ethnographic approach based on participant observation and on ethnography’s stance against preconceived and apriori ideas.
I was able to group identity performances into three main categorisations made relevant by participants during interactions. These categorisations were expressed by participants as oppositions: the opposition between Italian and Australian ethnic identities, between ‘new migrants’ and ‘old migrants’ and between participants’ different Italian regional and sub-regional identities. Participants seemed to feel particularly strongly about the last two oppositions: on the one hand, they showed a strong awareness of the gap between them and post-war Italian migrants, often positioning themselves in opposition to this social group; on the other hand they also showed a strong sense of campanilismo re-enacting, as migrants, typically Italian dynamics of opposition between different regions or towns.
In supporting the notion of identity as ‘fluid’ and locally negotiated and, in particular, the importance of categorisation and narratives in carrying out identity work, my thesis also confirms the value of the ethnographic and conversation analytic methodology for the study of identity performances in interaction. My study also highlights the importance of further research on contemporary Italian migration to Australia.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Caruso, Marinella, Supervisor
  • Kinder, John, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


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