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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP16: From trauma to adoption: Identity work as a structuring process of Venezuelan women migrants' career paths

Parallel Papers Session 4
Saturday 2 July 2.45pm-4:00pm (14.45-16.00) CEST
Paper Code: PP16
CE credits not available

From trauma to adoption: Identity work as a structuring process of Venezuelan women migrants’ career paths

Presenter: Matias Sanfuentas


Immigration from one country to another is a highly demanding, multifaceted psychosocial process that significantly affects personal identity (Acktar, 1995). In this process, migrants must face the loss of their socio-cultural roots and the need to adapt to a new environment through "identity strategies" that help them avoid or reconcile the process' contradictions and threats (Rhim & Sharim, 2017). In this sense, migration can be a traumatic experience with lasting negative consequences on the individual (Lijtmaer, 2001) and a psychosocial opportunity for creative and beneficial life improvement (González, 2016).

This study analyses the development of Venezuelan professional women migrants’ identity work in their career path from their country of origin to settling in Chile. Identity work is defined as a symbolic process through which individuals strive to shape a relatively coherent sense of self-identity in response to the influence of other social identities that each interacts with within work settings (Watson, 2008). Identity work is an active project whereby individuals form, repair and strengthen their self-images, which become particularly vulnerable in transition periods (Sveningson & Alvesson, 2003).

This research interviewed fifteen Venezuelan professional women through a biographical interpretative approach (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000). Some were interviewed twice, and in different periods of time, to delve deeper into their work experiences during the transition from one country to another. Data analysis was carried out following a structural narrative method, which allows generating coherent lines of discourse by selecting, ordering, and evaluating, either positively or negatively, the events around endpoints (Forchtner, 2016; Gergen, 1988).

The paper describes in detail the main aspects that characterise the transition from the women’s decision to emigrate until the achievement of preliminary and precarious work stability in Chile. The highly harsh economic and political situation that Venezuelans are currently facing because of Maduro’s dictatorship has generated the migration of almost 6 million people during the last few years (ACNUR, 2021). The study shows that after leaving behind this high level of precariousness, women go through very complex experiences characterised by the loss of their previous professional status, the need to cope with a very individualistic Chilean work culture, and very abusive job situations, mainly caused by male employers. This demanding adaptive process alienates and dislocates them from their self-identities, thus activating massive defensive mechanisms. From a diachronic perspective, women’s different subjective positions are examined from the embodied and the socio-cultural practice of identity work (Rajan-Rankin, 2018; Watson, 2008). Moreover, the paper also explores specific moments of self-awareness that enable women to take relevant decisions in their career paths, thereby transforming and overcoming psychological states of high levels of emotional vulnerability. This analysis contributes to the literature by studying how gender and cultural factors influence the evolution of identity work in role transitions (Brown, 2015).


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