Dramatic Life Courses: Migrants in the Making



Migration is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. It is influenced by a number of interrelated factors: social, economical, political, personal-psychological, which interact within a specific context in time. In psychology several attempts have been made to understand the migrant, which can be grouped into three main research approaches: (1) stress and coping, (2) cultural learning, and (3) social identification (Ward, Buchner, & Furnham, 2001). Following the dominant approach in psychology, these studies are based on random samples of migrants, usually belonging to a so-called ‘ethnic group’, from which generalized conclusions about ethnic groups or migrants as a whole are drawn. They reply to questions of how migrants “learn” or “adapt” to a new culture through acculturation, focusing on states rather than processes. There is a need to understand the processes through which migrants cope and how these processes are essentially embedded in culture. This implies looking at the individual, at processes of interiority, at the content of people’s identification rather than at the outcomes. Asking how people manage their transition to a new culture implies looking at the level of the symbolic system of the individual. This involves studying the life histories of individuals as they develop in space and time, ‘culturally guided and personally-semiotically reconstructed’ (Valsiner, 2000, p. 82).


Cultural Element Life Trajectory Symbolic Resource Migration Transition Green Card 



I would like to thank Vassilis Pavlopoulos, Jason Rentfrow, Alex Gillespie and Jaan Valsiner for reading earlier drafts of this chapter and offering me their constructive comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PPSIS, University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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