Vico, M. (2010). The Construction of Testimony: Exploring the preservation or loss of cultural identification within different post-war Lithuanian diaspora populations now settled outside their country of birth and nationality. Eighth European Social Science History Conference.
This paper describes how ethnographic-style qualitative interviews have been used successfully to ascertain the extent to which the pre-WWII Lithuanian culture has survived among members of the post-war Lithuanian diaspora now settled in Western Australia, all of whom were in their eighties at the time of the study. For comparison purposes, the study compared the experience of the Western Australian emigres with the experiences of a comparison sample of age-matched emigre Lithuanians who had settled and remained in Siberia since the war and a comparison sample of Lithuanians of the same age who had remained in Lithuania itself under its Soviet occupation. The Lithuanian culture has always defined itself through a rural lens. Despite the desire for continuity and preservation of their original pre-war culture, Lithuanians had to confront a new environment and a different dominant culture which required them to make adjustments. In what ways and to what extent has this process of modification affected the lives of this people? What difficulties and challenges has each group encountered in its effort to maintain or adapt (rather than lose) the core markers of its original culture? Data for the investigation were obtained through a qualitative interview method aimed at understanding the subjective experiences of the individuals involved and at identifying the changes in cultural identification which have occurred as a consequence of their adaptation to their new cultural environments. First-person oral recollections of the transition experience were obtained from the study participants in the three present-day Lithuanian, Siberian and Australian study groups. Flexibly-applied descriptive, explanatory, emotive and contrast questions employed in the interviews assisted the respondents to provide extended reflective responses. Each of the interview transcripts revealed occurrences or absences of core markers of the pre-war Lithuanian culture which had previously been identified through extensive study of available scholarly Lithuanian sources. Pooling the interview data across all individuals in a sample established a profile of occurrence or non-occurrence of these pre-defined core markers for that sample. By comparing the cultural profiles generated independently for the three groups it was possible to discern the extent to which the patterns of retention, transformation or loss have been similar or different for the three groups. This paper thus offers one account of how qualitative interview data has been used effectively to derive insights into the ways the preservation of ethnic identifications of different émigré populations has been impacted by their members’ adaptations to their respective new cultural environments.
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