The life history interview: researching the dynamic identities of ethnic minority women in Britain

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Lim, Hyun (2011)

This paper aims to highlight how the life history interview has opened up possibilities for effectively exploring interlaced and shifting identities of marginalised groups, such as ethnic minority women, by illustrating two life stories of first generation Korean mothers in Britain. Chamberlayne et al. (2000) maintained that in order to understand an individual more fully we need to know her life history and the processes in which she becomes what she is. While certain elements of identity might be more stable than others, it is important to recognise that individual identity changes over time in line with the vicissitudes of individual life history. Also, the identity of the individual is a result of a complex, multifarious and dynamic interaction between different social organisations and relations at different times and spaces (Valentine, 2007). In this respect, the life history method provides ‘considerable background and social texture to research’ (Berg, 2007, p. 277). In order to illuminate this, the paper examines two case studies of Korean mothers, selected from the wider research of 30 life history interviews with East Asian mothers in Britain. Two life stories of first generation Korean mothers in Britain revealed that the identity construction of ethnic minority women with dependent children is dynamic, as a result of the interplay between divergent social relations, such as motherhood and migration, in different social contexts. Alongside this, the biographical approach enabled us to explore the varied experiences of ethnic minority women who might appear to share similar positions in society. Drawing on these, this paper argues that the life history technique is an extremely valuable research tool that enables us to fathom the formation of an individual woman’s identity in a fuller and richer sense, while highlighting individual differences in their experiences of being ethnic minority mothers in Britain.
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