Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Sociology

Supervisor

Dr. Charles Levine

Abstract

Refugees resettling in new societies may be at greater risk of experiencing identity problems, such as identity distress, crisis and its resolution, than are their non-immigrant peers. However, the formation and resolution of identity in refugees and its relationship to their acculturation preferences have not been fully considered in mainstream identity theories and empirical studies. This study, first, explored identity (re)formation and resolution of fifty Karen refugees who were resettled in London, Canada. Fifty non-refugee Canadians served as comparisons. Secondly, the acculturation attitudes of Karen refugees were examined. Lastly, the relationship between identity and acculturation process was explored.

The findings concerning the identity factors studied revealed that the resettlement process impaired the sense of temporal sameness and continuity; promoted confusion and crisis in identity; prolonged identity resolution; and stimulated distress concerning social and personal identity issues (work, career, values, group loyalties) for the refugees who participated in this study. The factor analysis of acculturation data yielded three factors which indicated that the Karens had diverse orientations regarding “customs and values”, “social relations”, and “leisure activities.” Cluster analysis grouped these individuals into three segments: a segregated group, an integrated group, and an assimilated group. The assimilated Karens overwhelmingly endorsed Canadian values and customs and engaged in social relations and leisure activities with members of Canadian society. The segregated Karens clung to their old ways of life, values and practices. While open to change and willing to experiment with new leisure activities and social relations, Karens in the integration cluster preserved their values and customs.

The regression analysis testing the impact of identity, mental health, and demographic factors on the acculturation strategies of Karen refugees indicated that poor identity and mental health results were significantly related to negative acculturation strategies, such as segregation.

Consistent with its theoretical orientation and hypotheses, this study found that identity resolution and mental health were significant predictors of acculturation. This study also highlighted the fact that concerns about work were paramount for refugees. Improving newcomers’ access to education and the job market appears to be a key factor in enabling positive acculturation strategies, such as integration and assimilation.


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