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Searching for identity: An exploration of narrative, behavior, material culture, and curriculum as representations of identity in one Armenian day school in the United States

Yeprem Mehranian, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Utilizing the tension inherent in conceptualizations of identity as both a fixed and a transient phenomenon, this dissertation explores perceptions of cultural identity as held by the various members of one Armenian day school in the United States, and by the school itself. In the process, it also considers the emerging question that arises out of its participants' perceptions of the school's own identities. While cultural identity is defined as a sense of belonging to national and ethnic cultures in the context of the nation state, the question of the school and considerations of its identities, on the other hand, raises issues within the context of pedagogy, specifically germane to the complexities of ethnic schooling in the United States. The dissertation's methodology is qualitative. It uses a descriptive cultural studies strategy and an instrumental/intrinsic case study genre to discover aspects of the phenomenon it sets out to study, cultural identity, as well as the context that bounds this phenomenon, the school. The findings reveal as well as imply (a) a range of "identity positions"---participants negotiating the boundaries that separate and unite the domains of their Armenianness and Americanness; (b) several shifting roles of enculturation and acculturation enacted by the school, which is perceived to mediate between the family and the mainstream of American society; (c) an array of multifarious perceptions of the school's identities; (d) a preponderance of hyphenated expressions of cultural identity, reflected in the identity positions as well as in samples of the school's literature, characterized by asymmetries of form and content; (e) an intricate mix of conceptualizations of the school's curriculum, particularly of its Armenian Studies component; and (f) a challenge to the traditionally perceived roles of the ethnic family and the ethnic school as providers, respectively, of "natural" and formal knowledge of ethnicity. This dissertation cautions against apriori interpretations of Armenian-Americanness as a symmetrical construct. It recommends careful consideration of the irregularities inherent in the relationship between this construct's form and content, as signified by the members of the school's community, in order to design a curriculum that is appropriate both pedagogically and culturally.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Mehranian, Yeprem, "Searching for identity: An exploration of narrative, behavior, material culture, and curriculum as representations of identity in one Armenian day school in the United States" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3254931.