Document Type


Publication details

Hodgins, J 2018, 'Belonging and identity in Australia's multicultural society', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright J Hodgins 2018


A sense of belonging is argued to underpin individual wellbeing, social cohesion, and the development of social capital. As a multicultural society economically sustained through long-term migration, it is important that all people in Australia feel that they belong, irrespective of their cultural background. “A national identity has been proposed as the common identity that underpins a sense of belonging for all members of a multicultural society” (Hodgins, Moloney, & Winskel, 2015, p. 1). Moreover, Anant (1969) suggests that acceptance of an identity is fundamental to a sense of belonging. However, for the 28.5% of Australia’s population who are born overseas, and an estimated 4 million dual citizens, the importance of accepting an Australian national identity and its relationship to their sense of belonging is unknown.

Therefore, the aim of this research was to investigate how migrants made sense of their ‘Australianess’; specifically, how important was acceptance of an Australian identity for migrants in Australia, and whether acceptance of an Australian identity contributed to their sense of belonging. Drawing primarily from belonging theory (Anant, 1966, 1969) but also from social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and self-categorisation theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987), four research studies were conducted. The first study systematically reviewed the concept of belonging to explore the psychological relationship between identity and belonging, and to understand the dimensional structure of the concept. The second study utilised focus groups to examine if Australian residents who identified as Anglo-Celtic, and those who identified as Chinese, had a common understanding of the concept of belonging, and whether an Australian identity was important to a sense of belonging. The third study firstly investigated how Australian resident’s sense of belonging related to Australian identity; it then examined that relationship for Australian migrants, including those who identified as bicultural Australians, and those who identified with their origin homeland culture. Lastly, Study 4 examined acceptance of an Australian identity for Irish migrants who were resident in Australia, and whether an Australian identity contributed to their sense of belonging. Study 4 further explored the effect of bicultural identification on acceptance of Australian identity and a sense of belonging of Irish migrants.

The systematic review conducted in the first study found belonging to be a multidimensional construct with the psychological source emanating from the social identities that make up a person’s self-concept. The experience of acceptance in relation to social identity was found to be the primary attribute that underpinned a positive sense of belonging. Findings from the second study showed that both Anglo-Celtic and Chinese cultural groups commonly shared an understanding of the belonging concept and that a sense of belonging emanated from involvement in social identities, particularly familial and other social groups. Australian identity was not found to be of primary importance to belongingness in either cultural group. Both groups shared the view that acceptance associated with their social group identities underpinned a sense of belonging.

The results from Study 3 demonstrated how a sense of belonging was experienced in relation to Australian identity. Acceptance of Australian identity was found to be best explained by two factors Self-Acceptance and Acceptance from Others. Acceptance from Others was defined as the positive interpersonal feedback received from others; whereas Self-Acceptance was defined as a person’s positive intrapersonal relationship with their Australian identity. Study 3 also found that while both factors were significant in explaining acceptance of Australian identity, only Self-Acceptance of Australian identity was significant when predicting Belongingness after accounting for the variance of Acceptance from Others of a diverse migrant group. Migrants who identified as bicultural Australians were found to have greater acceptance of Australian identity and correspondingly greater levels of belongingness than those who identified only with their own cultural group.

In Study 4, the two factors found in Study 3 similarly explained acceptance of Australian identity for a cognate group of Irish migrants. Both Self-Acceptance and Acceptance from Others correlated strongly with Belongingness however, only Self-Acceptance was significant when predicting Belongingness. Migrants who self-identified as bicultural Irish-Australian were found to experience significantly greater Self-Acceptance, Acceptance from Others, and Belongingness than migrants who identified only with their own Irish cultural group.

It is argued that acceptance of an Australian identity experienced by a migrant resident in Australia, particularly self-acceptance, is a positive indicator of their internalisation of a subjective sense of being an Australian. This subjective sense of a migrant sharing a host country national identity with others has been described by Sindic (2011) as psychological citizenship. Migrants in this study who self-identified as bicultural Australians are argued to have developed psychological citizenship of Australia. As a psychological citizen, greater acceptance of an Australian identity by migrants in this study corresponded to a greater sense of belonging. In turn, their sense of belonging related to acceptance of Australian identity is argued to strengthen personal wellbeing, enhance social cohesion, and influence the development of social capital in Australia’s multicultural society.