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Research to provide insight into mixed-race identities in the UK


A group of researchers at the University of Kent has been awarded £156,000 by the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate the range of identity choices potentially available to mixed-race young people in Britain.

Conducted by Peter Aspinall (Centre for Health Services Studies), Miri Song (School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research) and Ferhana Hashem (Centre for Health Services Studies), this two year study will be the largest and most detailed of its kind ever undertaken in the UK and will supply the research community, census agencies and the providers of educational, health and other public services with a comprehensive insight into the personal, group and political dimensions of mixed-race identities.

It will also explore how such identities are constructed and what they mean for the people holding them, the factors contributing to the possession of these identities, how they affect people’s ability to make an individual life, and how such identities constrain or enable an individual’s freedom.

The study will pursue these questions among young adult (aged 18-25) mixed-race people in colleges of further and higher education in different parts of the country. It will provide systematic empirical evidence for how around 300 mixed-race young adults make choices about the way they identify in racial/ethnic terms across a variety of social contexts and different situations. It will also examine what these choices mean in practice – in terms of friendship networks, membership in groups, and possible political and other affiliations – and will explore the kinds of strategies different kinds of ‘mixed’ people adopt in their efforts to assert their desired identities.

Peter Aspinall said: ‘The population of the UK is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, religion and national identity. In recent years we have seen a widening variety of migrant flows and the rise of hyphenated identities – such as ‘Scottish-Muslim’ – frequently incorporating nationality or religion. Similarly, the idea of multiple attachments or loyalties has come to the fore, cross-cutting traditional groupings and giving rise to the language of hybridity and diaspora. The notion of ethnic identity as something that is fixed, stable, bounded, and homogeneous has been shown to have diminishing validity.

‘We expect this research will make significant contributions to theoretical developments in the field of ethnic/racial self-identification choices for the currently understudied mixed-race young adult population who are experiencing key transitions in their life-course.’

The study is due to finish in February 2008.

Gary Hughes | alfa
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