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(Un)learning citizenship in Canada : Iranian immigrant youth's silences, contradictions, and expressions Nabavi, Maryam


This study examines the meanings, interpretations, and experiences of citizenship in the lives of young Iranian immigrants in Canada in order to (1) offer a conceptual approach to migrant youth citizenship that fills gaps in dominant conceptualizations of citizenship in Canada, and (2) provide recommendations for the improvement of models of citizenship education relevant to lived experiences of migrant youth. Contemporary conceptions of citizenship in Canada are underpinned by assumptions closely aligned with a multicultural national identity and stress formal aspects of citizenship, which undermine substantive aspects of citizenship. Moreover, citizenship education is traditionally conveyed within formal schooling contexts, thereby neglecting the informal processes of learning citizenship for immigrants. To address these weaknesses, this study examines how citizenship is learned within and across diverse informal sites for Iranian immigrant youth. This understanding helps to situate more effective approaches to education that account for culture, locality, and the social, and political contexts in which learners are embedded. In 2010, I conducted a six-month ethnographic study with 12 first-generation immigrant Iranian youths aged 19-30 in Vancouver, Canada. Analysis of semi-structured interviews and participant observation disclosed citizenship as a process of learning within individuals’ lived experiences. In-depth engagement with the research findings, informed by concepts associated with cultural studies, diaspora studies, and cultural citizenship, reveal three conceptual commitments that aid understanding of citizenship and learning for citizenship: (1) identity as situated within multiple, shifting, intersecting, and interlocking dimensions; (2) citizenship as situated within multiple constructed boundaries of membership; and (3) citizenship as an iterative process of learning. This inductive framework situates citizenship discourse within the national and global contexts in which immigrant youth are embedded. This study contributes to theoretical and empirical literature on substantive and social citizenship and citizenship learning for immigrant youth in formal and informal contexts. It also offers practical recommendations for improving models of learning citizenship within formal schooling contexts by including: a conceptual commitment to move beyond a nation-based focus on citizenship, a curricular commitment to focus on the lived experiences of learners, and a pedagogical commitment to focus on informal and experiential modes of learning.

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