Introduction by Martyn Barrett
This book examines issues concerning identity and well-being in Bulgarians, not only Bulgarians who are living in Bulgaria itself but also those who are living in other European countries, in Canada and in the USA. The book also examines identity and well-being in two significant ethnic minority groups (Turks and Romany) living in Bulgaria. Given that previous research on other populations has revealed that identity formation and well-being can vary considerably both as a function of ethnonational community and as a function of the specific national context within which a particular ethnonational community lives (Barrett, 2007; Barrett, Riazanova & Volovikova, 2001; Berry, Phinney, Sam & Vedder, 2006; Sam & Berry, 2006), this breadth of perspective is vital for reaching an empirically robust understanding of these issues.
While the research reported in this book focuses primarily on national, ethnic and religious identities, some attention is also devoted to other identities, including gender, local and European identities. This diversity of focus is important. All people have a large number of different identities. Some of these identities are social identities which are derived from their membership of large-scale social groups (groups to which we sometimes develop strong emotional attachments and a deep sense of subjective belonging, such as our membership of our nation and of our ethnic group, and these groups form the primary focus of this book). In addition, we sometimes use our personal attributes (e.g. conscientious, tolerant, fun-loving, etc.) and our interpersonal relationships and social roles (e.g. father, friend, boss, etc.) as well to define ourselves and our own uniqueness further. These multiple identifications with different social groups, attributes, relationships and roles help us to define, position and orientate ourselves within the social world relative to other people. These identifications also play an extremely important role in determining our internal sense of well-being.
Previous research has found that our various identities do not operate in isolation from each other. Instead, they interact in a dynamic manner to drive our judgements, attitudes, self-evaluations and behaviours (Crisp & Hewstone, 2007; Deaux, 1992, 2000; Stryker, 1987). We are not only Bulgarian or British, male or female, black or white, Christian or Moslim. We are simultaneously either a white British agnostic male or a white Bulgarian Christian female. Furthermore, when we are perceived by other people, they perceive us in this much more complex holistic manner, and they relate to us and react to us accordingly. Our well-being can be vitally dependent upon whether we and other people perceive our multiple identities as being compatible or incompatible with each other. For example, there has been an intense debate within the UK in recent years about whether being British and being Moslem are compatible identities (and some white British people deny that these are compatible identities, despite the fact that many British Moslems themselves feel that they are fully compatible: see ETHNOS, 2005, 2006). The sense of social exclusion which can result from judgements of identity incompatibility can sometimes be a source of anxiety, psychological conflict and social maladjustment.
Different cultural values and social practices may be adopted by an individual depending on how their various identities interact with one another. For example, within the UK or the USA, being a Hindu male adolescent of Gujarati descent entails a very different set of values and practices from those that are entailed by being a Hindu female adolescent of Gujarati descent. This is because young Hindu females, but not young Hindu males, are perceived by many of their parents’ generation to be the bearers of the cultural heritage who will in their turn be responsible for transmitting that heritage to the next generation; the result is that females are subject to far more restrictive rules than males (Ghuman, 2003; Maira, 2002). The point here is that it is not being female vs. male that is the crucial distinction – instead, it is the distinction between being a young female Hindu vs. a young male Hindu, with very different social expectations being imposed on these two groups by others within their ethnic community. In other words, it is how these individuals’ ethnic, gender and age identities intersect with one another that drives the social expectations which are placed upon them and which these individuals then have to navigate in the course of their everyday lives.
A further complexity which is generated by our multiple identities is the fact that our various identities are never all activated simultaneously. Instead, as an individual moves across different social contexts, the subjective salience of any given identity fluctuates in a dynamic and fluid manner depending upon the particular social contrasts which are available in those contexts and depending upon the individual’s own motivations, needs and expectations in those situations (Turner et al., 1987; Oakes, Haslam & Turner, 1994). In other words, our national, ethnic or religious identities are not always salient to us irrespective of context. However, identities can sometimes become chronically salient when an individual is confronted on a daily basis with other people who belong to contrasting groups. It is for this reason that minority individuals can develop a chronically salient ethnic minority identity when they are living in a country dominated by a different ethnic majority group, particularly one which is hostile to and discriminates against that minority group. And the chronic salience of this identity can then have a significant impact on these individuals’ cultural adaptation and subjective sense of well-being. This book explores, in considerable detail, the nature of multiple identifications and both majority and minority individuals’ sense of well-being.
The issue of well-being itself has been studied in relationship to national and ethnic identifications by previous investigators, but these studies have tended to focus their attention on the cultural adaptation of ethnic minority individuals using Berry’s (Berry, 1997; 2001) theory of acculturation. These studies have typically found that second generation minority adolescents are often better adapted both psychologically and socioculturally than comparison majority individuals drawn from the national population living within the same country (see Berry et al., 2006, for a review). The research reported in the current book has also found that Turkish and Romany adolescents in Bulgaria have a higher sense of mastery and higher self-esteem than Bulgarian adolescents. Some previous writers in this field have called this kind of phenomenon a “paradox”. However, the phenomenon is surely only a paradox if one adopts the assumption that living with a minority heritage culture in the family home and a different majority national culture outside the home is inherently problematic for psychological adaptation. I myself adopt a different interpretation.
In my view, ethnocultural communities are heterogeneous collectivities in which the boundaries of the group, as well as the values, meanings, symbols, traditions and practices which are associated with the group, are constantly being contested, challenged, renegotiated and reinvented by different individuals and subgroups within the group, with individuals themselves frequently being inconsistent and self-contradictory insofar as they shift their own identities, interpretations and group definitions according to the context in which they are operating (Baumann, 1996, 1999; Maira, 2002; Vadher & Barrett, 2009). If one adopts this alternative characterisation of culture as a dynamic process, then we would expect minority individuals who have been negotiating multiple cultures since the early years of their childhood to be more rather than less adept in dealing with cultural issues than majority individuals who have only been living with a ‘single’ national culture since birth. Hence the finding that minority individuals are better adapted both psychologically and socioculturally than majority individuals is not a paradox at all in my view – it is a direct consequence of these individuals’ greater exposure to and experience of dealing with cultural issues, which renders them more sophisticated in managing their multiple identities and in navigating different cultural domains than their national majority peers. Hence, the findings in the present book that minority individuals have higher self-esteem and a higher sense of mastery than majority individuals are entirely consistent with this more dynamic view of the nature of culture.
Of course, differences between cultures are sometimes profound, and the psychological conflicts which these differences can generate may on occasions be extremely problematic for both majority and minority individuals. However, it is arguable that these kinds of problems tend to arise primarily when the multiple cultures which are being negotiated by an individual contain negative representations of each other (Ballard, 1994). In our own research, working with both majority and minority adolescents living in London, we have found that most adolescents do not experience any problems at all, but are instead extremely adept at negotiating multiple cultures, not only local, national and global cultures but also traditional and modern cultures (Barrett, Garbin, Cinnirella and Eade, in press).
The complexity of the cultural, social and psychological issues in this area of research means that there is no ideal single method which can be used to investigate these phenomena. Every research method which can be used always brings with it its own specific advantages and disadvantages. A particular strength of the research which is reported in this book is that it uses a wide variety of different methods and approaches. These methods include those which I myself have developed and used in other research contexts (Barrett, 2007; Barrett et al., 2001), those which have been developed and used by Jean Phinney and her colleagues (Berry et al., 2006; Phinney, 1992; Roberts, Phinney, Masse, Chen, Roberts & Romero, 1999), as well as a large number of other measures developed by Romanova (Romanova, 1994), Pearlin (Pearlin & Schooler, 1978; Pearlin et al., 1981), Rosenberg (1965), Scheier, Carver and Bridges (1994) and Russell, Peplau and Cutrona (1980). This diversity of measures means that if there are any measurement biases intrinsic to any one method, the triangulation of findings yielded by the different measures should provide a more veridical account than would have been yielded by the use of any single method on its own. Hence, the research in this book provides a particularly compelling portrait of the phenomena which it set out to investigate.
In today’s globalised world, understanding issues of nation and ethnicity has gained a very real urgency. The upsurge of ethnic and regional nationalisms, the dominance of nationalist belief systems, the prejudice and hostility which is sometimes directed at different national, ethnic and religious groups, and the rapidity and fluidity of the societal and cultural changes which many countries are currently undergoing, make the task of understanding how people relate to their own ethnonational group all the more pressing. By examining social identities and psychological well-being within a particular national context in such great depth, and by using a multiplicity of different research methods, the research reported in this book yields great insights into the complex interplay between identity, context and human development. The findings which are reported will be of great interest to social scientists across the world, and the author is to be congratulated on developing such an important and informative line of research.
Professor Martyn Barrett
Academician of the Social Sciences
London, July 2010