Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 10 Issue 5 (September/October 2000), Pages 343-431

Migration and threat to identity (pages 355-372)


This paper concerns threats to identity experienced by migrants who have encountered radical socio‐political upheaval. We argue that migration, following massive societal change, is associated with disruption that is likely to be undesired and, even when it is desired, because it is substantial, threatens identity definition and evaluation. There is relatively little empirical social psychological research on migrants' perceptions of the threats associated with migration and their impact upon identity. In this study, we investigate the emotional and cognitive experience of threat to identity described by immigrants to Britain (N = 24) from the former Yugoslavia, following the outbreak there of civil war. We examine how these interviewees engage in a meaning‐making process, negotiating their position amid a complex system of group categorisations and cultural values in order to retain their sense of self‐efficacy, continuity, distinctiveness and self‐esteem. Identity Process Theory (Breakwell, 1986) is used to interpret the findings. We also show how strong emotional reactions surround alterations in identity meanings following severe threats that are consequent upon major life changes. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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