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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Adolescent Diversity in Ethnic, Economic, and Cultural Contexts
Raymond Montemayor, Gerald Adams and Thomas Gullotta (eds.)

Thousand Oaks and London: Sage, 2000
304pp. Index. Pb.: 18.99; ISBN 0-7619-2127-3.

Contemporary theoretical models of adolescent identity formation devote little empirical attention to the psychological development of adolescence across cultural boundaries. As a consequence, developmental psychologists are consistently aware of the limitations and utility of existing concepts and empirical explanations.

This book is divided into eight chapters written in a scholarly and lucid style by leading recognized experts, who have attempted to examine the impact of ethnicity, and cultural influence upon identity formation in adolescence. The overall aim of the book is to bring together theory and research from across various cultures and to focus on how adolescents who come from non-white, poor and rural backgrounds reconcile their traditional heritage and identities within the broader socio-cultural context of the White middle class urban environment of America.

The chapter by Yoshikawa and Seidman focuses on the neglected area of competence among urban adolescents living in poverty. This particularly well written chapter provides a rigorous overview of current research on the effects of poverty and how it impacts the adolescent self-concept. The co-authors of this chapter have highlighted the changing paradigm within contemporary adolescent research and demonstrated the pluralistic approach to understanding the changing nature of identities from within a multicultural and multidimensional context. The authors review past and current research on competence outcomes. They could, however, have taken into account the fact that quality of life for urban and rural adolescents could well be seen as a predictor variable in measuring competence outcomes whilst the reverse may also be worthy of empirical investigation; whether competence determines quality of life.

The issue of coming to grips with ones ethnicity is at the heart of much of the research discussed. In the search for an identity Marcia's four identity statuses are highlighted. In contrast to discussions about mainstream adolescents that emphasize issues of commitment to occupation and relationships, the authors show how ethnic identity is anchored deeply in their own traditions and heritage. This was well accounted for by the authors account of Appalachian adolescents, however on a more critical note they have ignored the lack of cross cultural validity in many of these North American models, such as Marcias. For example, when does one know when they have achieved an identity status, or when they are in fact committed to an identity? They ignore the fact that no commitment to an identification is still a commitment to not being committed and hence justifies objective psychometric measurement rather than responses based solely on subjective qualitative interpretation.

Within the context of ethnic conflict Castro, Boyer and Balcazar have produced an excellent piece of work on the challenge of identity formation for Mexican American youth. They show how at some developmental point in their lives, Mexican American adolescents must cope with the cultural conflicts associated with ethnic identity formation. They argue that for some, but not all, the resolution to these conflicts prompts the development of a bilingual- bicultural identity. They contrast the source of conflict between the Mexican Americans and Hispanic youth and this is critically discussed within various value orientations between Anglo Americans and Mexican Americans. The outcome of this is the absolute contrasts between the most prominent and strongly endorsed traits that exist between each culture. They advocate that Mexican American youth, who are exposed to events or other issues which elicit these competing traits, expectations and rewards, experience more stressors of cultural conflict and these subsequently present a psychosocial challenge for the youth to respond effectively.

The theoretical argument for multidimensional identities is well justified although the overall orientation is restricted by the dominance of psychodynamic theory to the exclusion of a social cognitive approach. It does however provide a template for understanding psychological adjustment of adolescent identities and self concepts in Northern Ireland and presents an array of appropriate hypotheses and conceptual challenges for any serious researcher in conflict and ethnicity.

Dr. Arthur Cassidy

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