Public Ph.D. Defense of Yijia Huang: The Effects of Identity on Political and Civic Participation A Study on Moroccan Belgian Youth

Tuesday 30 August 2022, 10:00 to 12:00

The public defense of Yijia Huang will take place in an fully digital format, please register here to attend.


Research explaining political participation has often focused on the role of socio-economic status. Whilst several scholars have highlighted the importance of immigrants’ and their descendants’ identity to understand their political participation, the topic remains relatively underexplored. This research examines the relationship between second-generation youth’s identity and their political and civic participation. Previous research on this relationship mostly used quantitative methods and observes positive as well as negative relationships between an ethnic or dual ethno-national identity and political participation. These studies, however, rarely explain the mechanisms behind this relationship. My study adopts a qualitative method allowing to explore and clarify the underlying mechanisms on how and why various aspects of identity (i.e., ethnic, religious, and national) influence various forms of political (both formal and informal types) and civic participation.

My case-study concerns Moroccan Belgian college/university youth. I conducted 37 semi-structured interviews in the Brussels-Capital Region, Flanders, and Wallonia. Belgium is a good case study because of its long history of immigration, as well as the with-country differences regarding identities, policies and political contexts.

My results show that among the respondents’ multiple identities, the ‘reassuring and inclusive’ Muslim identity is of prime significance in influencing their political and civic participation. Feeling unrepresented in formal politics (e.g., voting), the respondents are turning to informal political activities (e.g., protest) and civic activities (e.g., volunteering and donating). The data demonstrate that the respondents’ various identities can mobilize their participation through three mechanisms: the mechanisms of ‘shared grievances’, ‘countering the stigma’ and ‘(intrinsic) religious driver’. First, when the respondents feel the shared grievances and perceived discrimination as ethnic and religious minorities in Belgium, their motivation to engage politically and civically is often driven by the desire to improve their underprivileged position. Second, the negative representations of Islam and Muslims can stimulate young Muslims to be engaged civically to ‘build a good image of Muslims’, as an active response to the stigmas imposed upon them by the majority society. Third, the ‘(intrinsic) religious driver’, including the religious attachment to the Ummah and Islamic ethical values, also encourages Muslim youth to be involved in society politically and civically. Whilst the first mechanism (i.e., ‘shared grievances’) was also observed by other scholars who studied the link between immigrant or minority youth’s political participation and identity, this was less so for the second and third mechanisms (i.e., ‘countering the stigma’ and ‘religious driver’). My findings particularly contribute to the literature on the relationship between minority groups’ identity and their political and civic participation by highlighting the mobilizing effects of minorities’ identities, especially the Muslim identity, on their informal political activities and civic activities through the three above-discussed mechanisms detected in the empirical data.


10:00: Welcome by Chair, Prof. Florian Trauner, Ph.D (Brussels School of Governance, VUB)
10:05: PhD presentation by Yijia Huang
10:25: PhD defense
Jury questions:

  • Prof. Géraldine André, Ph.D (Université Catholique de Louvain)
  • Prof. Rebecca Thys, Ph.D (Vives)
  • Prof. Laura Westerveen, Ph.D (Brussels School of Governance, VUB)
  • Prof. Jonas LEFEVERE, Ph.D (Brussels School of Governance, VUB)

10:55: Q&A with audience
11:05: Deliberation
11:15 Conferment of degree
11:25: Speeches by promotors Prof. Ilke Adam, Ph.D and Prof. Serena D'Agostino, Ph.D (Brussels School of Governance, VUB)

11:40: Speech by Yijia Huang
11:55 Closing, followed by a digital get together