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Title page for ETD etd-07282004-150551

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Woo, Janelle Lee
URN etd-07282004-150551
Title Chinese American Female Identity
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Peggy A. Thoits Committee Chair
Barbara Kilbourne Committee Member
Richard N. Pitt Committee Member
Yvonne D. Newsome Committee Member
  • Ethnic Identity Developmment
  • Social-Psychology
Date of Defense 2004-07-27
Availability unrestricted



Dissertation under the direction of Professor Peggy A. Thoits

This study examines the racial-ethnic identity formation of Chinese American women and assesses the utility of existing racial-ethnic identity development models and various social-psychological theories of identity formation. The social-psychological literature emphasizes the broader concepts of “social self” or “social identity;” these are socially constructed categorizations of self that reflect individual-level or collective-level identifications of the self with a membership group. A sub-field of social-psychology includes theories and models of racial-ethnic identity development. Unlike the broader social-psychological theories, ethnic identity theories stress the presence of racial-ethnic power dynamics that shape the course of racial-ethnic identity formation and its content. I explore whether Chinese American women’s identity experiences are better described by developmental models or broader social-psychological approaches to identity.

To accomplish this, I used in-depth interviews with 30 women attending a public university in southern California. Through this analysis, I explored whether Chinese American women emulated the stages as suggested by ethnic identity development models and/or whether they more actively construct and negotiate their identities as suggested by broader social-psychological theories.

The interviews revealed that these women varied in their degree of ethnic identification. In addition, ethnic identity development models did not seem to apply well to these women. It appeared that broader social-psychological and sociological theories better described their identity formation. The respondents indicated that the imagined perceptions of others and/or their sense of shared group identity affected their views of racial-ethnic self more so than an unfolding series of steps from identification with the dominant group to identification with their own group. While some women followed the developmental path, the ethnic identity formation of the majority of the women involved a less sequential and internal process of discovery. In sum, these women’s racial-ethnic identifications were highly contextually dependent and much more complex in their formation than suggested by developmental models, consistent with symbolic interactionist and self-categorization theories in sociology and psychology.


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