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Threatened identities: adjustment narratives of expatriate spouses

Heidi Ellise Collins (Department of Business and Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Kuching, Malaysia)
Santina Bertone (Department of Business and Law, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Global Mobility

ISSN: 2049-8799

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore changes in the identity constructions of expatriate accompanying spouses, as experienced throughout their first year of adjustment to living in Sarawak, Malaysia.


Using interview data collected longitudinally throughout ten participants’ first year of living in Malaysia, changes observed in participants’ adjustment narratives over time form the basis of an analysis of successful and unsuccessful cases of identity adjustment.


An international relocation presents varying degrees of threat or challenge to expatriate spouses’ central identities. The degree of threat posed will predict the amount of redefinition of social, role, and personal identities required for successful adjustment across social, cultural, and personal domains. Men experienced threats to their career/worker identity, whereas women faced multiple threats to identities such as mother, wife/partner, child, and also their career/worker identity.

Research limitations/implications

Results of this small-n research may not be generalisable, but do offer new interpretations of adjustment processes, including potential gender differences. The usefulness of longitudinal narrative inquiry for exploring experience of change is highlighted.

Practical implications

Conversations about identity constructions should be held with expatriate spouses in order to support relocation decision making, and to customise support programmes. Governments wanting to attract and retain foreign talent should consider policies that address employment options for spouses, which will allow for the continuation of central career identities.


Longitudinal case study analysis results in new interpretations of the adjustment experiences of expatriate spouses over time.



Collins, H.E. and Bertone, S. (2017), "Threatened identities: adjustment narratives of expatriate spouses", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 78-92.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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