Identity (social science)

In psychology, identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (self-identity) or group (particular social category or social group).[citation needed] Categorizing identity can be positive or destructive.[1]

A psychological identity relates to self-image (one's mental model of oneself), self-esteem, and individuality. Consequently, Weinreich gives the definition:

"A person's identity is defined as the totality of one's self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future"; this allows for definitions of aspects of identity, such as: "One's ethnic identity is defined as that part of the totality of one's self-construal made up of those dimensions that express the continuity between one's construal of past ancestry and one's future aspirations in relation to ethnicity".[2][page needed]

Gender identity forms an important part of identity in psychology, as it dictates to a significant[quantify] degree how one views oneself both as a person and in relation to other people, ideas and nature. Other aspects of identity, such as racial, religious, ethnic, occupational… etc. may also be more or less significant – or significant in some situations but not in others (Weinreich & Saunderson 2003 pp 26–34). In cognitive psychology, the term "identity" refers to the capacity for self-reflection and the awareness of self (Leary & Tangney 2003, p. 3).

Sociology places some explanatory weight on the concept of role-behavior. The notion of identity negotiation may arise from the learning of social roles through personal experience. Identity negotiation is a process in which a person negotiates with society at large regarding the meaning of their identity.

Psychologists most commonly use the term "identity" to describe personal identity, or the idiosyncratic things that make a person unique. Sociologists, however, often use the term to describe social identity, or the collection of group memberships that define the individual. However, these uses are not proprietary, and each discipline may use either concept and each discipline may combine both concepts when considering a person's identity. Neuroscientists also draws upon these fields to study the neurobiological basis of personal and social identity.[3][4]

The description or representation of individual and group identity is a central task for psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists and those of other disciplines where "identity" needs to be mapped and defined. How should one describe the identity of another, in ways which encompass both their idiosyncratic qualities and their group memberships or identifications, both of which can shift according to circumstance? Following on from the work of Kelly, Erikson, Tajfel and others, Weinreich's Identity Structure Analysis (ISA), is "a structural representation of the individual's existential experience, in which the relationships between self and other agents are organised in relatively stable structures over time … with the emphasis on the socio-cultural milieu in which self relates to other agents and institutions" (Weinreich and Saunderson, (eds) 2003, p1). Using constructs drawn from the salient discourses of the individual, the group and cultural norms, the practical operationalisation of ISA provides a methodology that maps how these are used by the individual, applied across time and milieus by the "situated self" to appraise self and other agents and institutions (for example, resulting in the individual's evaluation of self and significant others and institutions).[citation needed]

In psychology

Erik Erikson (1902–1994) became one of the earliest psychologists to take an explicit interest in identity. The Eriksonian framework rests upon a distinction among the psychological sense of continuity, known as the ego identity (sometimes identified simply as "the self"); the personal idiosyncrasies that separate one person from the next, known as the personal identity; and the collection of social roles that a person might play, known as either the social identity or the cultural identity. Erikson's work, in the psychodynamic tradition, aimed to investigate the process of identity formation across a lifespan. Progressive strength in the ego identity, for example, can be charted in terms of a series of stages in which identity is formed in response to increasingly sophisticated challenges. The process of forming a viable sense of identity for the culture is conceptualized as an adolescent task, and those who do not manage a resynthesis of childhood identifications are seen as being in a state of 'identity diffusion' whereas those who retain their initially given identities unquestioned have 'foreclosed' identities (Weinreich & Saunderson 2003 p7-8). On some readings of Erikson, the development of a strong ego identity, along with the proper integration into a stable society and culture, lead to a stronger sense of identity in general. Accordingly, a deficiency in either of these factors may increase the chance of an identity crisis or confusion (Cote & Levine 2002, p. 22).

Although the self is distinct from identity, the literature of self-psychology can offer some insight into how identity is maintained (Cote & Levine 2002, p. 24). From the vantage point of self-psychology, there are two areas of interest: the processes by which a self is formed (the "I"), and the actual content of the schemata which compose the self-concept (the "Me"). In the latter field, theorists have shown interest in relating the self-concept to self-esteem, the differences between complex and simple ways of organizing self-knowledge, and the links between those organizing principles and the processing of information (Cote & Levine 2002).

The "Neo-Eriksonian" identity status paradigm emerged in later years[when?], driven largely by the work of James Marcia. This paradigm focuses upon the twin concepts of exploration and commitment. The central idea is that any individual's sense of identity is determined in large part by the explorations and commitments that he or she makes regarding certain personal and social traits. It follows that the core of the research in this paradigm investigates the degrees to which a person has made certain explorations, and the degree to which he or she displays a commitment to those explorations.

A person may display either relative weakness or relative strength in terms of both exploration and commitments. When assigned categories, four possible permutations result: identity diffusion, identity foreclosure, identity moratorium, and identity achievement. Diffusion is when a person lacks both exploration in life and interest in committing even to those unchosen roles that he or she occupies. Foreclosure is when a person has not chosen extensively in the past, but seems willing to commit to some relevant values, goals, or roles in the future. Moratorium is when a person displays a kind of flightiness, ready to make choices but unable to commit to them. Finally, achievement is when a person makes identity choices and commits to them.

Weinreich's identity variant similarly includes the categories of identity diffusion, foreclosure and crisis, but with a somewhat different emphasis. Here, with respect to identity diffusion for example, an optimal level is interpreted as the norm, as it is unrealistic to expect an individual to resolve all their conflicted identifications with others; therefore we should be alert to individuals with levels which are much higher or lower than the norm – highly diffused individuals are classified as diffused, and those with low levels as foreclosed or defensive. (Weinreich & Saunderson, 2003, pp 65–67; 105–106). Weinreich applies the identity variant in a framework which also allows for the transition from one to another by way of biographical experiences and resolution of conflicted identifications situated in various contexts – for example, an adolescent going through family break-up may be in one state, whereas later in a stable marriage with a secure professional role may be in another. Hence, though there is continuity, there is also development and change. (Weinreich & Saunderson, 2003, pp 22–23).

Laing's definition of identity closely follows Erikson's, in emphasising the past, present and future components of the experienced self. He also develops the concept of the "metaperspective of self", i.e. the self's perception of the other's view of self, which has been found to be extremely important in clinical contexts such as anorexia nervosa. (Saunderson and O'Kane, 2005). Harré also conceptualises components of self/identity – the "person" (the unique being I am to myself and others) along with aspects of self (including a totality of attributes including beliefs about one's characteristics including life history), and the personal characteristics displayed to others.