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Straddling the Cultural Divide: Second Generation South Asian Canadian Secondary Students Negotiate Cultural Identity Through Contemporary Postcolonial Fiction Open Access


Other title
South Asian
cultural identity
postcolonial fiction
Canadian identity
Second generation
South Asian Canadian
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Shariff, Farha D.
Supervisor and department
Johnston, Ingrid, Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta
Examining committee member and department
Razack, Sherene, Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
jagodzinski, jan, Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta
Iveson, Marg, Department of Secondary Education, University of Alberta
Slemon, Stephen, Department of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
Department of Secondary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This study investigates the experiences of second-generation South Asian Canadian students in secondary English classrooms as they encounter the contemporary postcolonial text and film entitled The Namesake (Lahiri, 2003; Nair, 2007) and discuss cultural identity through reader response. The three main questions this study addresses are: What does it mean to re-think how we teach English language arts through a postcolonial lens? In what ways do cultural identities affect how and what we read/view? How does text selection affect a students’ sense of cultural identity? Framed by ongoing debates regarding the continued dependence on the Western literary canon in contemporary secondary classrooms (Johnston & Mangat 2012; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 2004), this study is timely because for the first time in Canadian history, South Asians are now the country’s largest visible minority group (Statistics Canada, 2010). This study is framed by transactional theory, postcolonial literary theories, and Lacanian psychoanalytic theories of identity. Pertinent literature on postcolonial literary theory and critical multiculturalism reveals that the connection between literature and the students’ cultural world needs to be further explored (Bannerji, 2000; Spivak 1999). The seminal works of Bhabha (1994), Said (1990) and Spivak (1999) have yet to be fully applied in educational contexts, thus constituting a gap in curriculum theory limiting the current scope of theorizing around the impact of cultural identity on reading and viewing experiences (Shariff, 2008). I used a case-study approach with seven South Asian Canadian students in an English 20 IB and an English 30 class from a large urban Western Canadian high school. Using qualitative data analysis (Campbell, McNamara & Gilroy, 2004) the data suggest the value of using contemporary postcolonial texts in a high school English language arts classroom for helping South Asian students to address and make sense of issues pertaining to the complex nature of their bicultural identities. This research addresses the need for a more critical understanding of Bhabha’s (1994) liminal notion of identity. My study extends his ideas in order to better understand the struggles of young people in their evolving cultural and national identities, and the implications of these struggles for literacy activities and text selection in English language arts classrooms.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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