In «Intergenerational Ethnic Identity Construction and Transmission among Italian-Australians» Simone Marino provides a detailed but expansive view into the lives of three generations of Calabrian-Italians living in Adelaide, Australia. Marino focuses on how ethnic identity is constructed and transmitted across these three generations through everyday practices. He situates his study within Cultural Anthropology, while drawing on a broader range of literature including the sociology of migration, and takes theoretical inspiration from the work of Abdelmalek Sayad, Ernesto de Martino, Antonio Gramsci and Pierre Bourdieu. Marino provides a thorough and appropriate review of the historical development of the Calabrian-Italian community in South Australia, as well as current literature from a wide range of academic disciplines around ethnic identity and the exploration of settlement experiences of Italian-Australian migrants.
Marino argues that the lived experiences of migration differ across the generations. It therefore requires a chronological investigative approach that takes into account what it was like for the first-generation to move to Australia as migrants, and then to interpret phenomenologically the experiences of succeeding second and third generation family members who transition from being a migrant to a non-migrant. He further argues that different theoretical frameworks are required to understand the experiences of different generations. To better understand the «ethnic beings» of participants Marino uses Abdelmalek’s «double absence» which results in a feeling of «spaesamento» (in-between-ness), together with Ernesto De Martino’s «crisi di presenza» (crisis of presence); to understand how individual groups respond to being a minority he uses Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony; and to view the ethnic identity experiences of the «non-migrant» third-generation he draws on Pierre Bourdeau’s ideas of capital and theory of practice (habitus), challenging dichotomic approaches to understanding ethnic identity which pit ideas of primordialism against constructivism and vice versa.
Marino summarises his investigation of ethnic identity transmission by linking three phases of social life with three key concepts: the «macro» with institutional positionality (engagement with hegemonic, dominant Australian society); the «meso» with the (degree of) engagement by participants with their Calabrian-Italian ethnic community; and the «micro», in relation to the relevance and importance of the family. Marino identifies three keys findings based on the three phases and concepts. The first finding relates to the «macro» scale of social life where he identifies the factors that contribute to a feeling of «double absence» or «spaesamento» by his participants, especially for the first-generation: the participants suffering a crisis of presence, the participants suffering a loss or lack of cultural capital, the participants being strangers to themselves. These represent some form of disconnect for participants with their homeland and with the society that they now live in. The second finding relates to the «meso» scale of social life where Marino argues that a person’s understanding of ethnic identity is internalised and externalised in social interaction with the world of their ethnic group through cultural practices and a shared common «sense» of the community. While individual participants experience the in-between-ness in different ways it is the second-generation that is most affected, and who appear to find an incompatibility between their homeland and Australia, by rejecting the former. It is Marino’s third finding that is perhaps the most interesting. The «Pavlova to Pasta» third-generation who [re-]embrace the Italian-ness of their grandparents, where to be a «wog» is no longer a stigma, where to be Italian is now «cool», and who now sell their salami launches to their classmates rather than hide them. Above all, Marino claims, the third-generation’s embracing of their Italian-ness, especially through the influence of their grandparents, their «nonni», suggests that they have become metaphorically «their parents» parents’ in terms of ethnic identity! The nonni’s home has become the incubator of emotions, practices and memories that have led to a form of ethnic revival.
I am sympathetic to Marino’s methodological framework to his research. Seeking a holistic understanding of the Calabrian-Italian experience Marino utilises a reflexive approach that draws on the lenses of both etic and emic viewpoints, while being keenly aware of the researcher’s positionality. This allows Marino to reflexively engage with data gained through three years of ethnographic fieldwork, bringing together the voices of the participants narrative and explanations, as well as fieldwork participant/non-participant observations. While there are potential limitations Marino effectively draws on his dual identity as an insider/outsider: a Calabrian-Italian who has migrated to Australia and also a «detached» academic observer who seeks to understand the social dynamics at work. Marino successfully brings this together in «Intergenerational Ethnic Identity Construction and Transmission among Italian-Australians» and sensitively draws the reader into the thick, rich, lived experience and world of his participants, as only an insider-outsider can do.
One of the great strengths of Marino’s book, and what sets it apart from most studies on migration and the settlement experiences of migrant communities, is the strategy of investigating the Calabrian-Italian community from the perspective of multiple generations. This approach allows Marino to highlight the key differences in the stages of migrant settlement as well as the dynamic processes that take place in and between the generations. As Marino correctly points out, an analysis of the three generations must recognise that the perspectives of first-generation «migrants» is likely to be different from the perspective of third-generation «non-migrants». This is an important distinction because it is easy to fall into a trap of viewing those who have settled into communities from other countries as «forever-migrants». This allows both Marino and his readers to recognise that the processes of ethnic identity transmission are dynamic rather than static, impacted by temporal and contextual factors. Time brings change. And the social, cultural, historical, and political context in which each generation experiences settlement likewise impacts on the migrant/non-migrant’s perceptions of themselves and their ethnic identity.
I offer a minor critique of «Intergenerational Ethnic Identity Construction and Transmission among Italian-Australians». Because of the abundance of key Italian words and terms in the book it would have been helpful to provide a list of these at the beginning of the book as a reference for the reader to keep referring to. While terms are explained at some point in the text the reader can easily forget as they read through the book. Looking forward I trust that other researchers will draw on Marino’s work as an inspiration to investigate intergenerational processes and dynamics for different migrant-background communities in other contexts