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Becoming Sikh : Sikh youth identities and the multicultural imaginary Heer, Kalbir


This dissertation explores the lives of second and third generation Sikh youth in the Greater Vancouver area in relation to the ways they think about their identities. As racialized youth growing up in a major Canadian urban center, being situated within an array of various ethnic, racial, religious, and gender differences plays an important role in how participants recognize what it means to be Sikh, and the potential to become differently. Particularly relevant in this study is an investigation into the ways competing discourses of multiculturalism both facilitates the way participants “do” their identities, and also shapes the ways Sikh youth come to (mis)recognize the multicultural “others”. Through small group and individual interviews, youth theorizing on the repetition, regulation and re-signification of identity categories is explored. Relying significantly on Judith Butler's theory of performativity, and Michel Foucault’s discussions of discourse, knowledge, and power, multiculturalism is taken up as an important societal discourse which requires racialized youth to perform their identities in everyday multicultural context such as schools. In other words, multiculturalism is theorized beyond policy and curriculum debates to investigate how youth “do multiculturalism” in different contexts through various embodied practices which constitute and regulate claims to a Sikh identity. Based on an analysis of interview transcripts with 25 self-identified Sikh youth (ages 13-25), it is argued that an important consequence of living in a “multicultural” society as understood by participants is the recognition of self and others through three frames of recognition. These “multicultural frames of recognition” include the ways Sikh youth come to recognize a discursive whiteness, discourses about racialized others, and discourses about other Sikh communities. It is argued that subjection through the discourses which structure these three “multicultural frames of recognition” contribute to participants’ understanding of the diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and gender identities in modern day Vancouver, while foreshadowing the constitution and constraints of the identification process for Sikh youth within the multicultural imaginary.

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