Identity, Diversity and Difference

Who am I and who are you? In a world with no simple answers, recognising and supporting diversity and difference is critical.


For most of us, identity is an extremely complex matter. Although we typically describe our identity in terms of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity, relationships, and occupation, context matters, particularly in how we represent and understand ourselves in what is an increasingly complicated world. However, we are typically viewed by others in terms of one particular part of our identity, often with our lived experiences and selves excluded. Recognising and supporting the diversity which marks our modern relationships is an essential aspect of creating more humane and supportive societies. Our research seeks to understand the complexities associated with identity in the broader global context, including how our identities are shaped by those around us, with new media, through government policy and the importance of cultural expression to identity.

The diversity of the Australian population influences everything about our society, from our social norms, food, education, laws, media, entertainment, our social networks and our workplaces. Understanding diversity is understanding who we are as Australians. Although cultural diversity is critical, we also need to consider other forms of diversity including sexuality, gender, age and ageism, religion, disability, geography and so forth. Our research draws attention to diversity as nuanced and complex, highlighting the ‘diversity within diversity’. It is this continuous examination of society, its structures and differences that makes Australia a better place for all.

For instance, our researchers explore how families shape the identities of their members (from gender to ethnicity to religion to nationality), and how, in turn, these ideas about identity, learned in the family, impact on how people engage with the world around them. A majority of government policies attempt to intervene in family life to improve the outcomes of adults and, especially, children. However, very little is known about how the family produces the individual, particularly in terms of identity. Our research hopes to better understand the important role of ‘the family’ in such processes to help us make better decisions around interventions designed to improve people’s lives.

The Indigenous cultures, music and languages of Australia are unique worldwide, and supporting Indigenous communities to maintain and revive them is immensely important. Many Indigenous music cultures and languages in Australia are now critically endangered, and need well-trained people to provide this kind of support. The NCALMS works to preserve and encourage Indigenous culture and identity by boosting representation and inclusion through the arts.

Australia is a multicultural society with the majority of residents being first, second or third generation migrants. Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas and Australia prides itself on being one of the most successful multi-cultural societies in the world. Through the use of demographic analysis and a deep understanding of Australia’s population change over time, research at Adelaide has furthered our understanding of how diversity influences Australian society. Carried out in collaboration with state, local and federal government, service providers and not-for-profit organisations, our understanding of population diversity informs positive outcomes for all Australians.

Other themes within this research cluster focus on identity in the context of social media. Having an online presence is a staple part of social networking in both a professional and personal format, particularly in the developed world. In many of these instances we create an online ‘persona,’ which is a strategic production and performance of an identity. These personas are sometimes considered false or fake, but they are simply a version of ourselves that is used for a particular purpose, just as we each present different versions of ourselves in different contexts in our lives. In studying online persona, we investigate the influences and interactions of digitally networked platforms such as social media sites on how people present themselves to the world.

Our key researchers in this area:

  • Professor Aaron Corn - Ethnomusicology & Australian Indigenous music. Director of NCALMS and CASM, Aaron’s research speciality is Australian Indigenous music, knowledges, and cultural heritage.
  • Dr Kim Barbour  Lecturer in media studies, Kim is a qualitative new media scholar whose principal focus is online persona, and how people use social media to shape their identities.
  • Dr Katie Barclay - Senior Lecturer, history. Among Katie’s research interests are the family, memory and identity, including how people display, construct and understand emotions in a variety of contexts, particularly within family relationships and childhood studies, in both historic and contemporary settings.
  • Dr Helen Barrie - Deputy Director of the Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research. Helen’s work chiefly focuses on inter-generational family relationships, ageing and migration, age friendly communities, and demographic change in rural and regional Australia, particularly amongst ageing and CALD groups.

Our research groups working in this area

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