Government bureaucracies across the globe have become
increasingly attuned in recent years to cultural diversity within
their populations. Using culture as a category to process people
and dispense services, however, can create its own problems and
unintended consequences. In No Family Is an Island, a
comparative ethnography of Samoan migrants living in the United
States and New Zealand, Ilana Gershon investigates how and when the
categories "cultural" and "acultural" become relevant for Samoans
as they encounter cultural differences in churches, ritual
exchanges, welfare offices, and community-based organizations.
In both New Zealand and the United States, Samoan migrants are
minor minorities in an ethnic constellation dominated by other
minority groups. As a result, they often find themselves in
contexts where the challenge is not to establish the terms of the
debate but to rewrite them. To navigate complicated and often
unyielding bureaucracies, they must become skilled in what Gershon
calls "reflexive engagement" with the multiple social orders they
inhabit. Those who are successful are able to parlay their own
cultural expertise (their "Samoanness") into an ability to subtly
alter the institutions with which they interact in their everyday
lives. Just as the "cultural" is sometimes constrained by the
forces exerted by acultural institutions, so too can migrant
culture reshape the bureaucracies of their new countries.
Theoretically sophisticated yet highly readable, No Family Is
an Island contributes significantly to our understanding of
the modern immigrant experience of making homes abroad.
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.