Please join us for a colloquium being given by Irene Bloemraad, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Thomas Garden Barnes Chair of Canadian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Opportunities to Succeed” or “Money and more Rights”: Social Location and Young People’s Views on American Identity”
(co-authored with Natasha Warikoo, paper in preparation)
What does it mean to be American? Studies of national identity usually employ survey research to distinguish civic from ascriptive ideals among ordinary Americans. Focusing on immigrants and their children, sociologists of immigration often probe the cultural aspects of Americanness. We bring these two literatures into conversation by drawing on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 78 undergraduates attending Ivy League universities and 82 teenaged children of immigrants to analyze young people’s conceptions of national identity. Beyond civic, ascriptive and cultural ideas, we identify economic dimensions of American identity linked to economic opportunity or economic success. Social location affects the articulation of economic understandings. Young people who have experienced success, such as admission to Ivy League universities, tend to express belief in the opportunity system, as well as in inclusive civic and diversity ideals. Those who have experienced disadvantage tend instead to link Americanness to current economic success, which is sometimes culturally marked by whiteness. Since such views can exclude them from membership, the children of immigrants call upon their U.S. birthplace and multiculturalism to stake a claim to American identity, a strategy we call “defensive inclusion.” Our findings contribute to the survey-based literature by identifying an overlooked national identity component, economic condition, and linking it to social location, while our qualitative approach demonstrates how dimensions of national identity previously assumed to be distinct and hence analyzed separately can be mutually constitutive.