Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Keiko Tanaka


This dissertation research separates out the social relations implied in identity theory and empirically shows the interaction of identity and social relations. I conducted 60 interviews and one online survey with respondents at two public universities in two cities with distinctive sociocultural characteristics. The respondents were graduate students from mainland China pursuing their master’s or doctoral degrees in the U.S. The students’ lengths of stay in the U.S. varied, but all experienced a major life transition from China to the U.S.

The qualitative interview data show that the adoption of a religious identity in the two places, defined as different social environments, impact the interaction of identity and networks. Where the community is small and homogeneous, the Chinese graduate students are quickly thrown into strong religious dyadic relationships and primary groups, and soon thereafter acquire a religious identity. Where the community is large and sparsely connected, the identity pool is large and the adoption of the religious identity becomes less constrained by dyadic relationships and primary groups.

The interview data also show that within-person time spanning (the time span between prior to the respondents’ arrival in the U.S. and after the respondents’ coming to the U.S.), and between-person time spanning (the “newcomers” who have lived in the U.S. for less than one year versus the “old-timers” who have lived in the U.S. for over one year) are important in the identity network process. The transfer from China to the U.S. fosters the emergence of the Chinese ethnic identity. The Chinese network composition of the newcomers and the old-timers granted them a similar list of important identities.

The quantitative findings confirm that place, time, and personal network function together to impact identity importance. Also, the classification of ties into “important people” and “time bound people” are effective predictors of identity importance.

In conclusion, this dissertation research demonstrates empirically how social relations and identity impact each other. This research also provides a case study for the population – Chinese graduate students in the U.S.

Included in

Sociology Commons