Action Research. assessment item 3

Link to Research Poster


Research Idea + Contextual Relevance

What is it to be multi-ethnic in Australia?

My research is an ontological look into what it is to be an individual with multiple ethnic backgrounds and the struggles with identity that can sometimes go with it. This research is based on and for people with issues of identity that come with being a part of two different cultures.

In Australia we are taught that we live in and are a part of a multicultural society. Even though we are taught this the residing and overruling culture is a western one. While there are many cultures that exist in the country, they are separate or independent from mainstream culture. People of mixed ethnicity can often struggle with identity as they find themselves neither being one thing nor the other in terms of culture and race. This duality of cultural identity can leave a sense of alienation from friends and family. This research aims to try and find a way to help individuals come to accept and understand all sides of their cultural identity in order to accept and understand themselves.

Methodologies + Academic Research

“Understanding others makes possible a better knowledge of oneself: any form of identity is complex, for individuals are defined in relation to other people – both individually and collectively – and the various groups to which they owe allegiance, in a constantly shifting pattern.”


The Social Evolution of the Term “Half-Caste” in Britain: The Paradox of its Use as Both Derogatory Racial Category and Self-Descriptor

Peter Aspinall explores the history of the term Half-caste and its use as a derogatory term from the 1920’s to the 1960’s in Britain. Aspinall looks at today and how the label continues to be used as a self-descriptor and even survives in some official context. Aspinall also at the social evolution of the term and the paradox of both derogatory racial category and self descriptor.

Ideology and Post-Colonial Society

This journal article is a critical post-colonial analysis on the relationship indigenous peoples and their social dominant counterpart. The study looks exclusively at the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand and the more recent European settlers. The journal sets forth a theoretical frame work to help other post-colonial nations understand the continued inequality experienced by Indigenous peoples.

Complexity in cultural identity

The Author of this article Adrian Holiday conducts 28 interviews with 28 people about the complex issues of cultural identity and nationhood. The people interviewed were from many different cultural backgrounds living as second or first generation citizens in post-colonial countries. Using the data collected from the interviews Holliday comes up with several con conclusion on how this particular group of people work with the cultural realities in their lives.

Narrating the Nowhere People: F. B. Vickers’s The Mirage and “Half.”Caste” Aboriginals

This is article is about the significance of a book written in the 1950’s about half-caste Aboriginals labelled as the nowhere people. The article speaks about historical Australian fictions and its representation of half-caste Aboriginals or nowhere people. The article is important because while it is talking about historical literature from the 1920’s to 1970’s it still touches upon the representation of half-caste Aboriginals. In creating work based on my research, how I choose to represent the people or culture will require the same critical and reflective thinking given in this article. The term nowhere people is significant in itself for it is term that describes a people out of place, a people that belong nowhere in society, not quite black not quite white. This label is really a type of othering that is perhaps suitable for the times in which the article refers. When placed in a modern context the term nowhere people should have no relevance in what we call a multicultural society but unfortunately it is something that many people struggle with both in society and internally.

My academic research into this question has led me into three main points of interest covered by my academic sources. Postcolonialism and its studies on the modern relationship between Indigenous peoples and the European colonist. The historical relationship between Australia and its indigenous half-caste people. The use of the term half-caste as a derogatory racial category and self-descriptor. Postcolonialism is the academic study of topics such as Imperialistic control and economic exploitation of an indigenous people and their lands. This is an important issue when it comes to my research on mixed ethnicities. Many issues of identity that come about from being part of both the minority and the majority that make up society. These minority groups in many circumstance are made up of indigenous peoples.  Australia has a more than troubled history with its indigenous people. Historical Australian policy created an entire generation of half-caste people with no knowledge of their cultural heritage. Another point I have come upon in my research is the terminology and Labelling of mixed ethnic peoples. It might be noticed that when I am referring to mixed ethnic people in an historical context I use the term half-caste this is because this was the term used in the past. The term half-caste also reveals certain mind sets of the time. Peter Aspinall explores the use and evolution of this term in England. While the term half-caste has been replaced by mixed race or mixed heritage in official structures (education intuitions, government institutions and so on). But in low income areas the term half-caste as a self-descriptor became common despite the derogatory meaning behind it.

My methodology is to work with multi-ethnic people through one on one discussions. Part of my academic resources is a journal article on the Complexity in cultural identity. The Author of this article Adrian Holiday conducts 28 interviews with 28 people about the complex issues of cultural identity and nationhood. The people interviewed were from many different cultural backgrounds living as second or first generation citizens in post-colonial countries. This is similar but ultimately different from my approach. Holiday only asked people who were generally highly educated in order to get back educated answers. The discourse I want to have with multi-ethnic people doesn’t rely on education or ability the to articulate their knowledge and experience well. The people (four so far) I have talked with about their issues on being multi-ethnic and ethnically ambiguous has increased my knowledge on the subject and changed many of my viewpoints along the way. While informal interviews have worked well, I believe in the future group discussions would also provide promising results.

Contemporary Practitioners

Not Really Aboriginal..

Bindi Coles ‘Not Really Aboriginal…’ is a photographic work on her personal cultural identity. Not Really Aboriginal… is a work that answered the question on what means to be an aboriginal outside of the stereotype. Cole identifies herself as being an indigenous Australians despite being of fair skin. The use of Black Face originated in the United states where white actors would play the parts of African Americans. Cole using black face as a fair skinned person seemingly doing the same as white actors from the 1830’s onwards. The difference is that Cole isn’t portraying a stereo type or representing herself as anything than other what she actually is. Cole also retaliates against the accusation of society that she only ticks the box in order to gain the social benefits often grieved about from Australians of European descent.

The Changing Face of America


Martin Schoellers photographic typology titled The Changing Face of America is also another exemplar that  informs my own research into multi-racial and ethnic people. Similarly to Fulbeck, Schoeller is interested in identity and how the people photographed in his work see themselves and how they feel about being multi-racial. Schoeller contemplates the idea that society may one day reconsider the existing definitions of race and identity.

Mixed Blood

19_mixedbloodweb (1)

CYJO s an American visual artist that works mainly in the photographic medium but also with text and video. CYJOs photographic work mixed blood is made up of a series of portraits taken in New York and Beijing. These portraits depict multi-ethnic families made up of parents from different races and their mixed blood child. CYJO questions the legitimacy of labelling people by race/ethnicity and focuses on connective, cross-cultural experiences. The portraits and accompanying narratives illustrate the varying relationships family members have with their backgrounds, cultural context and citizenship.

The Hapa Project

Kip Fulbeck is a mixed media artist and professor of art at the university of California, Santa Barbara. Fulbecks multicultural work known at the hapa project is a perfect exemplar of what I am researching. Hapa comes from the Hawaiian Pidgin word meaning part or mixed and is a term commonly used in the united states to denote people who have mixed Asian or Pacific Islander ethnic heritage. The hapa project is a multiracial identity project created by artist kip fulbeck. the project embodies a range of mediums, including a published book, travelling photographic exhibition, satellite community presentations, and online communities.


All my exemplars have several commonalities with my own research.

  1. All the subjects of their works are multi-ethnic
  2. All research speaks about culture and identity and form one or another
  3. All research done is then expressed through photography
  4. All the photographic outcomes are portraits

Each of my exemplars though working with multi-ethnicity or the ethnically ambiguous do so for different reasons and in different ways. For example within my exemplars Kip Fullbeck and Bindi Cole are creating works based on their own experiences of being multi-ethnic. Similarly to myself who is doing research on multiracial people s as someone who is multi-ethnic. CYJO on the other hand is an American of Korean ethnicity. While CYJO grew up with two different cultures, the culture of the nation she lived in and the culture of her ethnicity. CYJO has not herself grown up in a mixed blooded family and doesn’t speak directly from first hand experience. The same comment can said of Martin Schoeller. Other differences from my research and my exemplars is the work with community. I want my own research to work with people in the community similar to Fullbecks which works very deeply with community. Coles work speaks very deeply to people in the community but only uses herself and her family in the actual work. CYJOs mixed blood works with many different families not only to take photos but to also build narratives. All the artist apart of my exemplars have used a combination of portraits and other story telling elements to visually express multi-ethnic condition.

Reflective Process + Proposed Project

Discussions over interviews is something I have come upon during my research. When it comes to talking with people about things like belonging and identity Q and A formats don’t work well. Unless the individual has a lot to say already, many people are unwilling to delve too deeply into who they think they are and how they see themselves. By switching to more of a one on one discussion where I also talk about my own experiences as well as my own research.  I believe that in the future I should continue having these discussions with the same individuals and eventually start a group discussion on the subject.

My proposed project based on my research is a series of portraits of multi-ethnic individuals. The photos would not be a typology but rather each portrait would be a collaboration with the subject to visually represent their own cultural identities. These collaborated visual representations could be done in the form of an artefact that holds cultural significance. Other ideas could be a location, family member, tattoos, clothing or anything else that the subject feels would work.


I have learned a lot beyond my own experiences with being multi-ethnic. Different individuals have faced different issues being multi-ethnic. Individuals with closer ties to more than one culture have tend to have the greatest issues with cultural identity. Being partially of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand I have always been drawn to understand more about Maori culture. When discussing why one of the individuals I was having discussions with had no inclination to better understand their indigenous Australian heritage, I came upon an obvious truth I had over looked. This truth was family, Two out of four of the individuals I was working with had no or little family ties to some of their ethnic heritages. The individual with indigenous Australian heritage had never met any of his indigenous family and felt no need to understand it or openly identify himself as Indigenous Australian. Another individual who is half Maori and half Pakeha (white New Zealander) identified as neither but as a first generation Australian. Though he is physically ethnically ambiguous, this individual defines himself as being a white Australian. Being a first generation Australian he is having trouble attaining an Australian passport. This individual must prove to his country that he is in fact an Australian born citizen by jumping through hoops and providing documents he has no idea how to attain.

In conclusion I have learn that individuals are affected by their multi-ethnic backgrounds differently depending on a number of factors such as family, nationhood and physical appearance.



UNESCO 1996, Learning: The Treasure Within, Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, UNESCO publishing / The Australian National Commission for UNESCO, Sydney.

Peter J. Aspinall, “The Social Evolution of the Term “Half-Caste” in Britain: The Paradox of its Use as Both Derogatory Racial Category and Self-Descriptor,”Journal of Historical Sociology , Vol 26.* (December 2013): 503-526*DOI: 10.1111/johs.12033

Chris G. Sibley & Danny Osborne,”Ideology and Post-Colonial Society,”Supplement: Advances in Political Psychology, Vol 37.* (February 2016): 115-161*

Adrian Holliday, “Complexity in cultural identity,” Language and Intercultural Communication, (2010):165-177, DOI: 10.1080/14708470903267384

Richard Pascal, “Narrating the nowhere people: F. B. Vickers’s The Mirage and ‘half-caste’ Aboriginals [online],” Antipodes, Vol 27, No.1, (June 2013): 49-57, ISSN: 0893-5580



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