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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Out of context: identity rupture and repair in self-exiled white South Africans Feuchtwanger, Lawrence D. A.


Cultural dislocation potentially poses a number of threats to the dislocated individual’s previously established sense of self. For the self-exile (who is nominally free to remain in her or his country of origin but chooses--both for reasons of conscience and a desire to escape--to leave) this occurs, in large part, because of context interruption (Barudy, 1989), the loss of the socio-cultural milieu in which the self-exile’s identity was created and maintained. A qualitative, phenomenological approach (using a case study method) was utilized to explore the experience and meaning of self-exile for white, English-speaking South Africans living in Canada and to examine the impact of cultural dislocation on the selfexiled person’s sense of self (identity). Identity was defined as self-narrative, jointly created by the individual and the culture in which he or she lives. Three co-researchers (two women and one man) who were self-exiled from South Africa participated in this study. During individual in-depth interviews which were audiotaped, the co-researchers described their experience of self-exile from the time that they had made the decision to leave South Africa up until a point where they felt they had come to terms with living in Canada. A comparative analysis was conducted to uncover structural and thematic commonalities. The self-exile experience was seen to be structured as a story with a beginning, middle, and end, which structure resembled a rite of passage, with three sequential but overlapping phases: separation, transition, and incorporation (van Gennep, 1965). The beginning and middle (separation and transition) were marked by themes of exclusion and personal deficiency, the transition by a denial of (cultural) identity, while the end (incorporation) involved a reversal of these themes, narrative resolution being achieved through a sense of inclusion, increased self-worth and identity acceptance.

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