Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

Arthur P. Bochner, Ph.D.

Keywords

Ethnography, Identity, Intercultural Communication, Globalization, Multinational Corporation

Abstract

In this dissertation, I tell the story of the ethnographic fieldwork I conducted between 1997 and 2005 in which I focused on a group of expatriates sent by one of China's largest multinational corporations to work in the U.S. for extended years. My initial interest was to investigate how this Chinese state-owned multinational company operated its overseas subsidiaries in the U.S. However, as my fieldwork progressed, I became increasingly interested in how the expatriates' and their family members' careers and lives were impacted by globalization, how these Chinese expatriates and family members adjusted, adapted, understood, and tolerated cultural differences inside and outside the workplace, where they and their American coworkers gave meanings to their day-to-day work and life. The question for my research became: What does it mean to be a Chinese person but not to be working and living in China? And what does it mean to be living in the United States but not be American? After their long-term assignments were over, many of my participants were repatriated back to China, though some stayed in the U.S. where they had to reorient their career paths. At this point I was struck by how their sense of "displacement" was related to mine when I was a full-time graduate student in the U.S. and then became a senior manager in a U.S.-based multinational company. My informants' silent struggle to define their shifted identities is similar to my experiences of figuring out where I belong -- to academia or a corporation. Thus this dissertation is not only my journey of growing from "an outsider" to be "an insider" with my research informants, but also an exploration of the reflexive relationship between researcher and the researched.

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