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Teaching Adolesence

Gains, Losses and Identity Development: Indian Adolescents’ Views of Globalization

Following rapid economic development in the past decades, the identity of contemporary Indian teenagers becomes affected by globalization.

By Margarita Azmitia

As Western technology, individualism, and materialism intrude into their communities, adults living in developing nations worry that adolescents will reject cultural traditions that emphasize respect for elders, traditional gender roles, and frugality. Although the impact of globalization on adolescents, and more specifically, adolescents’ identity development, has long been discussed in the Social Sciences, to date few large-scale empirical studies exploring this relationship have been carried out.  India, which has become a key player for Western technology and manufacturing corporations, provides an ideal context for studying how adolescents negotiate their identities in a globalized world. To assess how Indian adolescents met the challenge of weighing interdependent (Indian) and independent (Western) beliefs, values, and practices in their identity negotiations, Rao, Berry, Gonsalves, Hastak, Shah, and Roeser (2013) carried out surveys and focus groups with 1,497 12- to 15-year-old adolescents (Mean age = 14.2 years, 46% female, 90% Hindu) attending English-language oriented schools in Pune, India. Pune is a rapidly growing metropolis, in which Western technology, manufacturing, and teen culture coexist with traditional Indian values that emphasize religion, traditional gender roles, frugality, and arranged marriages.  

Rao et al. (2013) assessed gender variations in adolescents’ (1) perceptions of the changes in their social worlds that have occurred as a result of globalization; (2) concerns that they were losing their traditional culture; and (3) adoption of Western values. Their principal hypothesis was that globalization influences adolescents in developing nations by introducing them to nonindigenous, Western values, practices, and products. To test the hypothesis, Rao et al. administered in-class surveys to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders that measured their interdependent (e.g., obligations to family, religiosity) and independent (e.g., competition, valuing physical looks) values, beliefs, and practices, their attitudes about money (i.e., material possessions), their aspirations for the future, their engagement with and valuing of cultural practices such as arranged marriages, and their subjective well-being; 297 of these adolescents participated in 35 follow-up focus groups. 

Focus group participants spoke at length about how globalization was changing their everyday lives.  These changes included food and eating practices, dress, appearance, language use, material possessions, and social roles. Older adolescents, and especially girls, were concerned about how globalization results in the loss of cultural traditions, such as respect for elders and arranged marriages. Yet, most adolescents were pragmatic about the need to change and discussed constructing bicultural or hybrid identities that integrated traditional and Western values and practices, i.e., identities characterized by identity remix, defined by one participant as “…it’s like being a DJ (disc jockey), you see, you take an old song, and you add some new beats to it and you add some new beats on it, and you get a nice ‘remix’.”   Adolescents, and especially girls, were more likely to identify with interdependent than independent values, beliefs, and practices, rating religious and family values (e.g., obedience to elders and education) as more important than physical appearance, material possessions, and a life of fun.  Further, endorsement of traditional Indian values, beliefs and practices was positively correlated with well being, which suggests that Indian adolescents are not rejecting their traditions and becoming Westernized. In fact, adolescents who reported an above-average degree of material possessions and a below-average degree of religious participation had higher levels of stress and identity confusion and lower levels of happiness than adolescents who retained their Indian ways. Taken together, the results of this study support the proposal that developing hybrid or bicultural identities in response to globalization can benefit adolescents in developing nations.

Read more about this important study:

Rao, M. A., Berry, R., Gonsalves, A., Hastak, Y., Shah, M., & Roeser, R. W. (2013). Globalization and the identity remix among urban adolescents in India. Journal of Research on Adolescence23(1), 9-24. doi:10.1111/jora12002.

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