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Third culture kids and research kunstkamera

It’s feels strange realising how much my PhD research is influenced by experiences in domains that don’t have much to do with my focus. Since it’s so strong I tend to think that it’s true for other researchers as well and then feel even more strange not finding much traces of those “other domains” in their published work. This, in turn, reinforces my feeling that there is always some degree of “constructedness” in research published – and the more rigorous and logical it looks the more I suspect that the logic was reverse-engineered (no offence meant – this is how I feel even if logics says the opposite 🙂

Anyway, back to the originally intended topic of this post… Now, getting back into my PhD research and deeper into sorting out methods and methodologies, I realise that my recent reading of Third culture kids (context) provided me with a frame for thinking about my research next to insights of more personal nature.

Between other things the book stresses the influence of growing up between cultures for forming TCK personalities and the world outlook. While we are growing up, our identities are forming against particular cultural backgrounds – specific norms, values and practices are picked up, tried and tested, and, regardless of their “stickiness” in our lives form who we are (you don’t need to drink vodka to be Russian – in anyway your attitude regarding it would be heavily formed by observing those who do, knowing about effects of it, rituals and “safe” good practices of drinking as well as having to deal with the “outsiders” who think that it’s a bigger part of everyday life than it actually is ;). Background culture provides scaffolding by consistent stimulators and reactions. This consistency is important – it’s like a tree that always there for an ivy to crawl around or like a firm arm of your dance partner that is necessary to lead in a way that could be followed.

Growing up between cultures means that another life could be just one flight away, and then everything is changed – the way elders are treated, food is prepared and eaten or friendships are formed. Relocating while growing up means that there is sufficiently long time to absorb each culture, but not enough to be formed by any specific one… Those culture changes bring not only broad outlook on the world, flexibility and knowing exotic languages; they also turn someone into restless and rootless, someone who is always in transition, moving, but never settling, someone who doesn’t know who he is and where he belongs.

Reading the book made the difference clear to me – despite of a few years living abroad I grew up Russian and know where my roots are. In my case multicultural values and practices, although landing on a fertile ground of growing up in a family of mixed ethnic origins, are still just add-ons to the pretty stable core.

However, being mixed up and searching for own people is part of my life – in a totally different context. I feel as “third culture kid”, restless and rootless, research methodology wise.

I guess there are two reasons to it. First, it is doing research (and being enculturated methodology-wise) in a multidisciplinary research institute rather than being a part of a university group with clear set of norms, values and practices regarding research approaches. The second has something to do with weblogs.

Some time back we played with an idea of blogging as distributed apprenticeship, articulating own practices and learning from others often transcending time, distance and disciplinary boundaries. For me blogging has been exactly that – an opportunity to lurk and learn, going beyond expertise and practices available in my immediate surroundings.

Now it bites back. For me reading weblogs of researchers coming from contexts very different from my own brought a permanent exposure to “other” research cultures while I’m still trying to figure out what are the norms and practices of my own tribe (and what is my own tribe, by the way?). In this respect I feel like a kid who moves between different cultures while growing up. I know a lot about differences, fascinating local examples, needs to adapt and to speak the right language, but I don’t know where I belong and which values to stick to. I know that whatever research paradigm you are in the consistency is important, but sometimes I wonder if I can find it wondering in my own kunstkamera* with bits and pieces of research from other worlds…

* Here refers to Kunstkamera in St. Peterburg, founded as a collection of curiousities by Peter the Great and later turned into an ethnographic museum.

Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2006/03/14.html#a1738; comments are here.

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