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The notion of métissage in transcultural clinical practice

The year 2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Enfants d’ici venus d’ailleurs, in which Professor Marie Rose Moro presented her observations as a clinician and researcher on the care of migrant children and so-called second-generation immigrants. Her thinking is in line with the ethnopsychoanalysis developed by George Devereux, the central methodological principle of which is complementarism
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In Volume 6, Issue 8, September 2022

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  • Suivre cet auteur Juliette Rodriguez, Suivre cet auteur Laurent Deburge
  • 1 The year 2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Enfants d’ici venus d’ailleurs (Moro 2002), in which Professor Marie Rose Moro presented, in fluent and accessible prose, her observations as a clinician and researcher on the care of migrant children and so-called second-generation immigrants. Her thinking is in line with the ethnopsychoanalysis developed by George Devereux, the central methodological principle of which is complementarism: the obligatory but non-simultaneous use of different intellectual fields in order to understand human phenomena (in Devereux’s case, for example, anthropology and psychoanalysis).

    2 Marie Rose Moro suggests the concept of cultural métissage. Her transcultural approach moves the definition of métissage away from its primary biological or naturalist sense, going beyond the question of skin color to encompass, more broadly, the process by which individuals’ cultural identities blend together. Thus, “the migrant is a métis in that his journey takes him to another world that will affect him just as he will affect that world. What is true for the first generation is a fortiori true for the second generation, whose destiny is to become métis, to become women, men, citizens of here even though their parents came from elsewhere” (Moro 2015a). Métissage is understood here as a process that is closely tied to the identity construction of children born to couples with different cultural, ethnic, or religious backgrounds, but also to children born to migrant parents. To borrow Moro’s terminology, these children are exposed to transcultural risk; they are vulnerable as a result of the difficulties associated with threats to cultural transmission in migratory situations, but they also acquire a store of creativity that can help them find ways to go beyond these rifts and forge links between their different identities. Helping to create these bridges between the “culture of here” and that of “there,” which is transmitted by their parents, so that these young people can become métis, in other words fully integrate their multiple identities and create a unique and singular identity: this is the goal of transcultural therapists working with these children of migration.

    3 The first article in this dossier looks at the question of bilingualism and the need to promote it within migrant families (Camara 2015). The second is a reflection on the specificities of the identity construction of mixed-race people (Ahovi 2007). Finally, the third article uses a literature review to explore the question of identity and métissage in the specific context of international adoption (Harf et al. 2015).

    The language competences of children of migrants: Defending bilingualism

    Évaluation Langagière pour ALlophones (ELAL) d’Avicenne

    4 It is still sometimes claimed that hearing a different language spoken at home than at school can impair children’s language development: that is not the case! Linguistic plurality is a real asset. The literature shows, for example, that bilingual children perform better than monolingual children in linguistic tasks involving analysis and synthesis, and that they find it easier to learn a third language than monolingual children do to learn a second. They also display increased sensitivity to the non-verbal aspects of communication.

    5 Bilingual children develop specific skills and mental flexibility due to the need to navigate between languages and worlds. Bilingualism is a dynamic, fluid phenomenon, with the use and mastery of each language changing over time and depending on the family, school, or sociological context. The mother tongue may be used more often in situations involving the oral and affective registers, while French may be preferred for written expression and after starting school. Depending on the frequency and quality of verbal overtures addressed to the child, the mother tongue may be retained, undergo attrition, or be entirely lost despite being previously acquired.

    6 Evaluating the language competences of children whose mother tongue is not French is a difficult task. The Avicenne ELAL (Evaluation Langagière des enfants Allophones; Language Evaluation of Allophone Children) was designed to enable the evaluation in a clinical setting of the language competence (comprehension and production) of plurilingual children.

    7 Children’s bilingualism is part of cultural transmission within the family, which may be jeopardized by aspects of the migrant experience. To transmit a language is also to transmit an identity and values: language helps to create an identity-based, transgenerational, familial, cultural, and historical attachment that is essential for self-esteem and the development of an untroubled sense of métis identity.

    Hawa Camara is a clinical psychologist and doctor of psychology. She practices at the Maison de Solenn (Cochin, AP-HP) and in the Montreuil maternity ward. This article was published in Le Carnet PSY in 2015 as part of a special report edited by Marie Rose Moro entitled “Actualités de la clinique transculturelle” [Transcultural Clinical Practice Today].

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    Toward a better understanding of the identity construction of mixed-race adolescents

    Moïse sauvé des eaux, Edouard Elzingre (before 1923)

    9 The métis discussed in this article are those whose parents belong to different cultural groups (sometimes with different phenotypic markers). Jonathan Ahovi offers a personal and clinical reflection on mixed-race people. He points out that métissage is a topical subject because of international migration, population displacement, adoption, but also historical trauma, such as colonial violence or the métis in Belgian Congo who underwent early separations as part of a policy of segregation. For Ahovi, a specific feature of mixed-race people is their provocative ability to “never [be] where people want them to be.” The fact of looking physically different from their parents, of not being able to fully identify with one or the other, is in Ahovi’s view the source of “métis thought.” This “rebellious” nature, blurring “the sociological boundaries erected between the categories of identity,” makes mixed-race people a source of differentiation, living as they do in a “third world” and constantly generating new cultural entities. For Ahovi, métissage is perceived from the start as a transgression, an act of disobedience associated with the choice of a sexual partner from a different group from one’s parents. By evoking the fantasies of purity and impurity, métissage can provoke fear and anxiety about the “dilution of identity,” a topic that arises frequently in current political debates. Moreover, transgenerational transmission takes a particular form in mixed-race families. Ahovi discusses this using the example of the relationship between grandparents and their mixed-race grandchildren, a relationship that can be marked by ambivalence because it combines the intense desire to transmit one’s own culture and ensure the child does not abandon the family’s culture with the sometimes negative fantasies associated with the culture of the child’s other heritage.

    10 In this ode to métissage, Ahovi finally invites clinicians to consider the physical, corporeal reality of being mixed-race, a reality upon which the individual’s sense of identity is based. With one aim: to welcome all people in their diversity.

    Jonathan Ahovi is a child psychiatrist and head of department at the Maison des Adolescents in Jura, and a transcultural therapist.

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    Supporting internationally adopted children and their families: What place is there for the birth country’s culture?

    From the series Los cuadros del mestizaje del Virrey Amat
    Attributed to the Peruvian painter Cristóbal Lozano (1705–1776).

    12 Combining a review of the anglophone literature on the concept of cultural identity with clinical notes from their work in the “international adoption” consultation service at the Maison des Adolescents at the Hôpital Cochin, the article by Harf et al. questions the role of culture in the identity construction of adopted children. Internationally adopted children are métis in the sense that they have multiple affiliations and identities, which can be the source of suffering but also of great richness. In the anglophone literature, the concept of birth culture refers to the fact of being perceived as belonging to an ethnic minority. The authors call for a reconsideration and disentanglement of this concept, which may hamper the necessary inscription of the child in the imaginary filiation of her adoptive parents. The idea that there is such a thing as a birth culture is a fantasy and may cause discrimination if it becomes an “affiliation imposed […] by others.” Ethnic identity is often imposed by other people: it is a “thin identity,” in Pap Ndiaye’s sense, who distinguishes it from “thick identity,” which is more subjective, complex, and plural. Moreover, internationally adopted children embody a paradox: while they seem to belong to a minority group based on their physical appearance, their family culture is that of the majority group. So should families promote or maintain a connection with the culture of their child’s birth country, even if the child has had little exposure to it?

    13 For the authors, the transcultural approach makes it possible to talk about alterity, migration, and métissage and to investigate the cultural countertransference of adoptive parents, whereby the parents’ ideas about the birth country are transmitted to the child. Identity must be treated as something dynamic, as an act of becoming, “never finished, defined, or definitive” but always refreshed through relationships with other people.

    The authors Aurélie Harf, Sara Skandrani, Eglantine Mazeaud, Anne Revah-Levy, and Marie Rose Moro are child psychiatrists and psychologists.

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    Juliette Rodriguez
    Psychiatrist
    Laurent Deburge
    Psychologist
    The year 2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Enfants d’ici venus d’ailleurs, in which Professor Marie Rose Moro presented her observations as a clinician and researcher on the care of migrant children and so-called second-generation immigrants. Her thinking is in line with the ethnopsychoanalysis developed by George Devereux, the central methodological principle of which is complementarism

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