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Adolescent Identity Formation by Latvian- and Russian-Speaking Latvians

The last ECREA 2010 speaker for today is Laura Sūna, whose interest is in identity construction by young people in Latvia (from both the Russian and Latvian communities). To what extent do the cultural identities of Latvian and Russian speakers in Latvia overlap, and could popular culture potentially mediate between these two groups? Laura interviewed 27 users in 2007 to examine this, who also kept media diaries.

Cultural identity is understood as combining a communicative articulation of self-understanding, ascription from outside, identification patterns and value orientations; cultural identities are therefore also media identities. Individuals obtain different aspects of their identities from mediated resources, and draw on these media for the roles they take on; additionally, the media provide spaces for identity construction and group membership.

Some such spaces are transnational, like Facebook, some are national, and local pop-cultural communities (local peer groups, local youth culture networks) in particular provide a context for identity articulation; such pop-cultural communities are developed through a process of media appropriation.

So, how do the media identities of Latvian- and Russian-speaking youth overlap? Could popular culture mediate between them? As it turns out, the cultural identities of adolescents don’t differ all that much. Some local groups are scene-oriented (connected to a specific local scene) – they feel close to one another, are active members of their community, and feel distinct from a subjectively defined mainstream culture; they share cultural identity and cultural capital. At the same time, they are part of a transcultural Euro-American cultural network.

Other groups are more generally oriented towards popular culture, and take their cultural cues from such culture (Latvian-speakers from Latvian pop culture; Russian-speakers from Russian pop culture, in both Latvia and Russia). Such identity is open to anyone, rather than dependent on membership of specific local in-groups. Such peer groups were more ethnically homogeneous, as it turned out.