What Relationship Do Multiculturalism and Identity Relationship Have? How Does This Apply to Conflict?

Summary of:

Han, S. I. (2018). Sameness and difference: Asserting cultural identity through multicultural experience and negotiation. The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography, 8(1), 37-52. DOI: 10.15273/jue.v8i1.8612

Background & Theory

This article seeks to discuss how multiculturalism plays a role in shaping our identities, and specifically evaluates this through the lens of Baloch women living in the United Arab Emirates (most who have spent most or all of their lives in the UAE).

Research Question

The author addresses the following question in their study:

  1. What role does multiculturalism play in the development of identity for Baloch women, and what does this teach us overall?

Methods

The author answers her research question through interviews with 10 Baloch women. All were over the age of 18, though their ages varied (20s-70s). They all had unique perspectives to discuss based on their life experiences: several had education beyond high school while some did not; 7 were married (and one woman was divorced and remarried), 2 were single, and 1 woman was engaged; they had varying nationalities (as listed on their passports); some women had children and others did not; and they had varying family dynamics. The author interviews the women about their identities, lives, and thoughts about marriage, education, nationality and family ties.

Results

The author found that multiculturalism is very prevalent for these women and has played a large role in shaping their identities, especially in the larger context of their nationality. Han notes that both their identity as Baloch women as well as citizens of the UAE have impacted who they are; they adhere to many of their traditional values and customs, while also embracing that of the UAE, which as some women noted, is where they are truly most comfortable.

Thus, it is safe to say that multiculturalism plays a vital role in shaping identity, though it may vary on how it impacts us based upon our individual experiences and circumstances. Han concludes that further research would be beneficial, especially to see how this information can contribute to progressive conversations related to multiculturalism, nationalism, gender, and ethnic minorities.

What This Means

  • Our identities are very complex, and often are shaped by our unique life experiences, though with heavy influence from our community, our family, and geographic location. In other words, multiculturalism in today’s society likely plays a large role in how we shape our identities, and this is especially true for Baloch families.
  • A unique insight the author makes is that the women she interviewed embraced multiculturalism. There is a lesson to be learned in this, that it’s ok to challenge what we know and embrace that which is new to us. 
  • In terms of conflict, an interesting takeaway is that rather than remain true only to their Baloch culture, they join this with the culture of the location they’re in. Rather than hate or be in conflict with this other culture, they both appreciate it and take hold of certain pieces of it. Having an open mind and willingness to change makes a difference in avoiding conflict. 

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Understanding dynamics at play is crucial to resolving intergroup conflict; think also of how to encourage those in conflict to embrace each other’s different perspectives. Conflict cannot be resolved if parties are unwilling, and the more open-minded they are, the more likely the conflict can be resolved, through at the very least a willingness to try and understand one another.

For everyone: Think of what shapes your identity and why, and think also of how this applies to others. See those different from yourself not as wrong or incorrect; rather, see and try to understand the ways you might vary but are also very similar. Learning to understand others can help reduce the risk of conflict in your life.