Friday, July 18, 2014

What is Third Culture Literature?

Third culture literature is literature written by someone who was brought up as what sociologists and psychologists refer to as a third culture kid. Third culture literature is writing (fiction, poetry, drama) by a third culture author.

And what is a third culture kid?  Essentially someone who was raised as an expatriate.  The term derives from Ruth Hill Useem’s description of first culture as one’s passport home, second culture as the host country or countries one may live in and third culture as the group of fellow-expatriates one winds up spending time with in the host country.  Here are some places to go for more on third culture kids: wikipedia (this is a better description than wikipedia is giving it credit for), TCK world, Denizenthird culture kids and TCKid.

To give a small number of literary examples, people wind up being raised as expatriates in circumstances like these because:
Their parents engage in employment outside their passport home (Pico Iyer, Joseph O’Neill)
Their parents are diplomats who relocate internationally on a regular basis (Yann  Martel, for example)
Their parents are in the military (Phillip Pullman, Ann Marie MacDonald)
Their parents are missionaries. (Pearl S. Buck or for those of you who enjoy pulp, Ted Dekker)

Sociologist David Pollock defines a Third Culture Kid (TCK) as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.  The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any” (Pollock and Van Reken 13).

Pollock’s definition distinguishes between the parents’ culture and the culture in which the child is raised.  It suggests the significance of living in a third culture (a kind of expatriate bubble) as a child as it is out of this background (away from passport home and all too clearly an outsider) that a child “builds . . . relationships” to places and cultures while missing the formative experience of feeling belonging (ownership) or perhaps even national allegiance in any place.

I have written about third culture literature in The Writer and The Overseas Childhood.  
Writing Out of Limbo is a good anthology focused on third culture literature.

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