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Alexandra Shaitan Presentation

Alexandra Shaitan Presents at the i-Mean conference

Alexandra Shaitan, Research Student for the Department of ALC, tells us about her presentation at the 3rd I-mean conference

18 to 20 April 2013


3rd I-mean Conference:  Haafu Identity or 'in-between'

University of West England, Frenchay Campus, Bristol


It was absolutely a privilege and an invaluable experience to attend the i-mean@UWE 3 conference with Dr. McEntee-Atalianis where we presented the result of the pilot study conducted in the context of Japan with the title: “Haafu Identity: half, hybrid or ‘in-between’”. This year the conference addressed the relationship between language and identity and was held on 18-20 April at the University of Bristol, Frenchay Campus. In this paper we explored the issue of being ‘half” in Japan, i.e. mixed-race individuals with one Japanese and non-Japanese parent. The abstract for the study:

Haafu Identity: half, hybrid or ‘in-between’

For many years, a fascinating socio-cultural variant has manifested itself in Japanese society: the ‘haafu’, i.e. people of, ‘half-Japanese’ or, mixed ethnicity. Discourse in relation to this ‘community’ is eroding the image of Japan as homogeneous and/or tan’itsu minzoku, monoethnic race/society. Born, raised and educated in Japan, people of mixed-ethnic parentage often find themselves as ethnically and culturally marginalized. Despite their native linguistic and cultural repertoire, they are treated as gaijin (a foreigner) in Japan since they are phenotypically different to the majority. These so-called haafu report experiencing an identity crisis resulting from social marginalization not only in Japan but also in the country of their non-Japanese parent. While studies have examined bilinguality and hybrid identity in many contexts (e.g. Luke and Luke, 1999; Noro, 2009; Schilling-Estes, 2004; Sechrest-Ehrhardt, 2012), including studies of adolescents in Japan (e.g. Greer, 2003, 2005; 2012; Kamada, 2008, 2010; Kanno, 2006; Murphy-Shigematsu, 1997) this study is the first to focus on identity of haafu adults in Japan. Drawing on Bucholtz and Hall (2005) framework of identity construction, this study explored how haafu adults discursively construct their identity in interviews and focus group discussions. Additionally, we discussed the linguistic repertoire and discourse markers used by the participants to construct their hybrid identities; how they position themselves in relation to Japanese society; and the affiliations they seek throughout their lived marginalized experiences.

The ‘Third Space’:

Research to date in Japan and other contexts (e.g. Sechres-Ehrhardt, 2012) has asserted that haafu adolescents were very proud of being multiracial and perceived their multiracial identity to be an asset and not a problem. These multiracial young adults celebrated the uniqueness of being multiracial and continued to explore their racial identity, and as a result developed a whole and integrated multiracial identity, i.e. they could easily shift their racial identity with regards to the situational context and environment. Similarly, Kamada (2010) reports that her adolescent female participants celebrated their cultural, linguistic and ethnic ‘embodied’ capital, however, the data in our small study suggests that identity construction for multiracial adults in Japan can be perceived rather differently, as both an advantage and a hindrance, if not a problem. In fact, the data elicited through individual interviews and a focus group discussion suggests that identity construction is a complex process and is very much a product of sociocultural localized practices and ideologies and lived experiences: e.g. respondents reported that the ability to know two or more languages afforded them economic capital and an appreciation for other cultures whilst also depriving them of a stable identity in life. They call themselves ‘drifters’ in the world, as they do not belong to any country 100 per cent.  Similar to Eckert’s (1998) study, the participants in our study expressed being ‘in-betweeners’ and belonging to a ‘third’ space (Bhaba, 1994). Also, similar to Greer (2005, 2012) and Kamada (2008, 2010) this study suggests that there is a disagreement and an ongoing discussion in externally versus self-ascribed labels and ethnic referents that multiracial individuals may encounter throughout their lived experiences. Further study of this community is therefore necessary to further explore this phenomenon.

In addition to making our presentation, we were able to interact and socialize with other academics and researchers who have written extensively on the issue on language and identity. It was a great opportunity to present and learn about the latest trends in research on language and identity in the field of applied and sociolinguistics.