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Chineseness at the crossroads: Negotiations of Chineseness and the politics of liminality in diasporic Chinese women's lives in Australia

Meerwald, Agnes May Lin (2002) Chineseness at the crossroads: Negotiations of Chineseness and the politics of liminality in diasporic Chinese women's lives in Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Chineseness at the crossroads examines how Chineseness is negotiated by diasporic Chinese women in Australia. I question the essentialist notions of Chineseness by deploying Homi Bhabha's theory of liminality. This concept of being neither here nor there helped me examine the women's ambiguous experiences of acceptance and rejection, within and across marginal and dominant Australian circles. My position disrupts the binaric frames that divide the old from the new, and the eastern from the western practices for cultural appropriation. It recognises instead the past and the present in the creation of new but familiar versions of Chineseness.

I argue that essentialist norms are commuilicated through cultural semantics to inform how Chineseness is rehearsed. I assert that liminality exposes the power structures that inform these cultural semantics by disrupting the naturalised norms. I posit that the diasporic women's awareness of these interdependent processes enables them to question their practices and ideologies.

I used an autoethnographic technique to collapse the divide between the researcher and the researched. It created a liminal space between the researcher and the researched. This subverted norms of the researcher as the archaeologist of knowledge by enabling the other women's narratives to tell their stories alongside mine. This methodological frame also serves as a prism to examine the intersections of gender, sexuality, family, relationships, language, education, class, age, and religion with Chineseness in the lives of the 39 Malaysian and Singaporean women interviewed.

My results indicate that Chineseness is precarious and indeterminate, and specific to the particular moments of articulation at the crossroads of geopolitical and socioeconomic factors. The versions of Chineseness rehearsed are complexly influenced by the various cultural semantics that impact on the women's negotiations of who they are as diasporic Chinese women in Australia. I conclude with a discussion of how these results challenge current curriculum and pedagogical practices in English classrooms. I argue that a re-examination of these practices will contribute to a more inclusive Australia.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Currie, Jan, Volet, Simone and Martino, Wayne
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