Identity (social science)
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Identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (
"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".[
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
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
Although the self is distinct from identity, the literature of
The "Neo-Eriksonian" identity status
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.