The value of home narratives in shaping identities and making sense of experiences in a host culture

Kimberley, A. 2021. The value of home narratives in shaping identities and making sense of experiences in a host culture. PhD thesis University of Westminster Westminster Business School

TitleThe value of home narratives in shaping identities and making sense of experiences in a host culture
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsKimberley, A.

Since the late 1990s Finland had experienced an influx of foreign students and workforce from African countries. The demographic scene of so far homogenous and predominantly white Finland had changed. Finland became a lot more diversified culturally than it was when I first arrived in 1990. With this diversification, the cultural scene of predominantly white Finland created not only opportunities, but also challenges. Finns as well as foreigners experienced multiculturalism first- hand, both within organisations and in everyday life. The foreigners from African countries brought with them their cultures, but also had to adapt to the demands of their new host culture in Finland.
In addition, Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report of 2019 calls for the need to reinvent business concepts with the focus on organisations shifting their focus and the need to develop social enterprise, encompassing such matters as diversity leadership, diversified work force, flexibility, teamwork, and mobility both within organisations and geographical locations. These developments called for developing strategies that tap the skilled intellectual and cultural capital they wished to attract and create multicultural working environments that retain the talent.
In view of the above-mentioned demographic changes in Finland, as well as the global demographic trends, my qualitative, exploratory research investigates 1) How do black educated professionals, from selected African countries, experience their life and work in a foreign host culture in Finland? 2) To what extent do their native cultures inform their understanding of their experiences of the host culture? 3) How do their experiences influence their cultural identities?
The study adopted Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and incorporated elements of Narrative Analysis (NA) as its methodological underpinning. By using IPA, through the voices of ten participants (five females and five males) the study attempted to understand the experiences of educated professionals of African origin in the Finnish host culture. By providing the insights into the experiences of the participants, the study provides a basis for new hybrid epistemologies through reconceptualisation of the Western working cultures and discourses that render some people worthier than others. It also questions the prevailing western ontological perception of the ‘other’.
The data was collected through semi-structured life-story interviews. The data was analysed first by identifying themes of the interviews. This was followed by an analysis using elements of interpretative poetics to gain access to deeper levels by identifying story threads, forms of address, and the positioning of the narrator.
The findings of the study showed that the sensemaking in the foreign host culture of the participants was informed by the values and the influence of their role models of their respective home cultures. Females drew from strong native female identity archetypes rooted in their home cultures, which resulted in a reinforcement of their strong sense of black woman identity in the host culture. Males drew from an identity of an educated man who excels and achieves his goals, informed by the values of fairness and justice, which resulted in the development of a compromised sense of identity in the host culture, especially in the work environment.
The study contributes to Jack et al.’s (2011) and Frenkel and Shenhav’s (2006) discussion on postcolonial interrogative space as well as postcolonial identity by proposing such concepts as duality of being, belonging ambivalence, validation ambiguity, free colonial woman. It also expands the contextual landscape of the previous studies (see Chapter 2) by providing insights into the cultural context of Finland, a country relatively new to cultural diversity.
The study makes a contribution to the conceptualisation of the positive identity validation within the Social Identity Theory. Contrary to SIT’s claim, that through negotiations of the tensions people might experience difficulties with self-categorisation, thus leading to diminished self- esteem, the findings of the study suggest the opposite to take place. Drawing on Strong Black Woman schema, the findings show evidence of self-categorisations as sources of positive validation, enhanced self-esteem, and reaffirmation of sense of self, what I coined as positive identity validation.
In addition, the study contends SIT’s premise, that people’s self-esteem is enhanced by self- categorisation within social groups to which they belong. It proposes that self-categorisation can create an accentuation of the perceived differences between people’s selves (black) and the other (white) in-group members. Therefore, contrary to SIT, people’s group belonging does not produce enhancement to their self- esteem, nor does it strengthen their self-efficacy.
Methodologically, the study widens the application of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, primarily used in psychology. By combining IPA with elements of interpretive poetics (Narrative Analysis) it shows how researchers from other fields, not only practitioners of psychology, can apply IPA in their studies.
The study also disrupts the epistemic colonisation and cultural imperialism, which, according to Jack et al. (2011) is at the heart of MOS. By combining the cultural background of the researcher (not purely western, sharing socio-historical commonalities with the participants) the study offers an account which does not fall strictly into western classifications. It provides a qualitative, interpretive investigation which provides insights into the cultural values of the participants, and it draws from sources published not exclusively within the US or western contexts.
Within Weick’s (1995) framework of sensemaking, my study contests the claim that individuals change and adopt various identities according to the demands of situations. It introduces interrelatedness of the sense of self, performance and representation of the identity as influenced by power, which makes changes of identities limited in the case of individuals with black skin.
The study is ideographic, thus giving attention to individual cases. It focuses on the value of individuals who form the basis of each culture and organisation. The knowledge of the cultural values that drive peoples’ behaviour creates a platform where successful and conflict-free communication can develop. In Finland, where the demographic structure has become more culturally diverse, the issues of cultural inclusion and participation are of great importance.
Finally, the study also provides a deeper understanding of the meaning and value of diversified cultural identities. This knowledge creates a platform for understanding and acknowledging the value of cultural diversity. This acknowledgment itself helps reformulate the ‘other’ and
‘subaltern’ in Western discourse. It creates a discourse through which the analytical dualisms of tradition/modernity and development/underdevelopment will be rendered obsolete and substituted by a new hybrid epistemology (Frenkel and Shenhav, 2006). It suggests ways in which concepts such as lower level of material consumption, strong kinship ties, and social commitment (Zein-Elabdin, 2009) will be viewed as serviceable ethics. This will help reconceptualise working cultures of Western organisations, as well as understand non-Western ways.

File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Publication dates
PublishedAug 2021
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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