Contemporary sociological research on second-generation immigrants living in the United States is lined with questions of ethnic inclusion and transnational participation. Many scholars are interested in how the children of immigrants relate to their parents' ethnic identity while being raised in a new land. Noting that the majority of scholars in this field approach ethnic identity within a social constructionist perspective, in this study I explore the ways that identity ambivalence and ethnic belonging are framed. Specifically, I critically question the ways that an ethnic identity is assumed to be valued and asserted in a constructionist model. After presenting a traditional view of the social construction of ethnic identity, primarily from the work of Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartmann (2007), I draw out ways that self and identity are framed and highlight key assumptions of an uncommitted self and identity as an objective construction. I trace these assumptions through second-generation immigration literature and critically question how individuals can be shown to experience ambivalence or value an identity if they are conceptually framed as selves who stand apart from their ethnic identity constructions. To better appreciate their ambivalence and convincingly illustrate that one identity matters above another, as a claim for ambivalence inherently assumes, I argue that second-generation immigrants must be understood as strong evaluating, moral selves and the ethnic identities they embody as moral narratives which underlie their self-constitution. In advancing this argument, I look outside of sociology to the work of Charles Taylor (1989) and Charles Guignon (2004) who articulate a view of moral, committed selves. Building from these authors' work, I present moral identification as an alternative framework for understanding ethnic identity. In this moral approach, I delineate the concepts of valuation and moral identification and present them in a framework of identity authenticity and social accountability.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Sociology



Date Submitted


Document Type





social constructionism, ethnic identity, moral self, identification, authenticity & accountability



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Sociology Commons