Locating Identity: Sense of Space, Place and Belonging
A key factor in conceptualising ethnicity is the notion of territory or geographic boundary. In the context of globalisation boundaries are becoming more porous and the world is shrinking in terms of time and place. Ethnicity often relies on the notion of common origin which is often linked with both geography and history (real or imagined). Geographic icons possess symbolic attributes and become significant in attachment and evoke emotions, sentiments and longing to be in a particular location. Notions of territory are also linked up with concepts of place. Place is a complex phenomena and implies people's connections to locales. Places enable association between lived experiences, personal stories, myths, images, memories which present legacies that carry meaning to individuals and communities. In exploring ethnic identity it is useful to draw upon both the notions of place which we are all born into and the notion of space which is more abstract and provides for consideration of social interaction and the construction of social identity based on hierarchy and power. While it is acknowledged that there is a strong inter-relationship between space and place, the distinction enables exploration of issues of identity construction in the context of transnational migration and communities in the diaspora who may not have the same links to space in the new country of settlement. This paper will explore the complexities of identity formation amongst ethnic communities in Australia. The dimensions of space and place in the construction of ethnic identity will be investigated. The paper will examine the approaches by ethnic communities to the notion of 'homeland', sense of belonging and identity formation in the context of migration. The paper will draw upon research conducted with different ethnic communities and contrast the approaches to identity, sense of belonging, space and place across different groups. The paper will also explore the issues relating to identity formation in the context of mainstream Australian identity which is often constructed in a way that excludes ethnic minorities and renders them as the 'other'. It will be argued that ethnic communities construct their identities in based on issues of space (relationships, regimes of power, events in their country of origin, racism, equality and social justice issues) and the main focus is on recognition of their identity in the public space rather than on focus on homeland territory. The paper will also delve into the relationship to place (i.e. the Australian geographic landscape) by ethnic communities in their identity formation.
Keywords: Ethnic Identity, Space, Place, Belonging
Prof. Hurriyet Babacan
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast