Identity is how people see themselves and how others see them, a person can take up an identity actively by marking themselves as same as one group of people which share similar identities, and not associate with ‘other’ different groups, for example the difference in gender, class, defines people in a society
Sharing an identity refers to commitments in their part which sometimes individual chooses, and conversely is different from personality where it looks the qualities a person can obtain.
Identities most often are multiple, a person can be for instance a mother at the same time upholds a profession as a hair stylist or as an accountant which will conflict with one another, these identities illustrate some sense of recognition and belonging (Kath Woodward 2004) by recognising oneself creates a level of certainty to an identity.
Although an individual constructs their identity, structure has some degree of control to what they want to be, many times there are constrains over how much identity they can take, for example judging by our race, class or nationality influences and limits individuals to attain who they can be, but despite the constrains and control of structure a person is still able to some level attain their identities through agency, so in similar way agency will have an impact on individuals identity as structure can inflict it.
Identity is seen as an official sense of who we are, for instance having a passport will state his/her personal details of an identity. Having a passport defines your nationality which is important to understand where someone comes from and how others perception of them is if he/she, for example holds a British nationality, which in a way being British represents some sort of power which may loosen constrains other non European countries might have, so in other words passports give us a place in society in which they live in and defines what sort of people they are as in general and what they are not as opposed to being French for example.
Many social scientists attempted to answers some of the question about identity such as how identities are formed? Or how much control do we have in the construction of our identities?
One of the social philosophers is George Herbert Mead, he emphasised how an individual can represent and imagine themselves and how people will see them through the symbols which can project someone’s identity externally, for instance how someone speaks and the clothes they ware would signal their identity, or the uniforms or badges they ware represents who they are.
For Mead identity gives people some degree of agency, even though the range of symbols may be limited to a particular groups, cultures which sometimes emphasises the lack of control over the construction of an identity
Moreover, comparing to Mead’s theory of representing identity through symbols and behaviour, Erving Goffman theory concentrated more on everyday interaction (Kath Woodward, 2004, p.14) Goffman pointed that people present themselves through acting, they play different roles that links the pattern of behaviour, routines and responses of an individual’s identity. He describes identity as that people are given a script to perform in front of a audience which illustrates that structure will sometimes shape you identity like the role an individual has in that society which is written for us, however there is a range of agency which offers their own interpretation of the script and sometimes the information they give to the audience are unintentionally, given off (Kath Woodward, 2004, p.14).
Other social philosophers may think that understanding of the unconscious is significant since it plays a big part in shaping someone’s identity, for example Freud’s approach to identity was suppressed feeling from childhood experiences unconsciously will reflect later on individual’s adult life. Freud suggests that identities are neither fixed nor unchanging, they may reflect early childhood experience, and however an individual can exercise some agency to understand those suppressed feeling by seeking therapy.
It is argued that in our contemporary society there is crisis in identity where people feel uncertain and fragmented by questioning who they are; however there is more choice in to what they can become through more freedom of choice, but it is significant to feel a sense of belonging in a society.
All these concepts and theories show that identities are not fixed they are fluid and an individual can have multiple identities, structure and agency can have an impact in the process of constructing identity.
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OU DD100 course bloc 1 chapter 1, questioning identity, edited by Katherine Woodward 2004 edition
How does class influence Identity in contemporary society?
It is argued that class has a small significance shaping our identities in contemporary society and the recognition of work-based community has declined; however contradicting this claim class is still influential due to unequal distribution of income. Over half of people surveyed in 1995 thought that a person’s social class his or hers opportunities are effected great deal (Kath Woodward, 2004, p.95).
However in contemporary society there are more diverse consumption-based lifestyles, people are identified through what they buy which is influenced by the mass media, in turn to construct their individual identity.
To explain how class can have an impact on identity the Marxism tradition, he saw the main defining of social structure in way in which goods and wealth are produced, for instance the owners which invested in capital are defined as a ruling class, he defined two distinguished classes the capital owing class and the propertyless class, or as they called them the ‘bourgeoisie and the proletariat’.
Marx’s second idea emphasized on social polarisation that linked to class conflict, which divided bourgeoisie and the proletariat further.
Moreover, he stressed the idea of class consciousness which made them aware of who they are and the place they fall in the society and that sometime in process there is class conflict, class consciousness comes foreword through collective action, to change the structure of the economic organisation which resulted the proletariat to experience class struggle, so in other words it is through collective action a class in society can change the development of a new society and more diverse definitions of class, which bring me to
Max Webber theory of social stratification is according to conspicuous consumption
Webber’s offers an alternative approach to social class; Classes are stratified in ways production is made where as status is foreseen according to their pattern of consumption.
He identifies them as a group of people who share same interest which fall in the same market position, where certain groups have better chances in life than others, so the differentiation in groups becomes more obvious and complex.
Marxists image of polarisation differs from Webber’s idea when he sees class, status and party as cross cutting, which in a way they are more concerned about their status and pattern of consumption rather than based on social polarisation.
So in contemporary society class in a sense of what jobs people hold defines them is wearing away and consumption pattern is more significant in social distinction, which t it easier for working class to adopt middle class lifestyles and value which results the erosion of working class were Peter Saunders theory of difference of consumption and life style defined someone’s identity rather than work based class in constructing identity.
Other social scientist concept like Bourdieu’s approach saw class distinction where cultural capital is linked to lifestyle, culture has a significant influence on the pattern of consumption for instance peephole with different cultural background have different tastes even albeit to the status they hold
This diversity of constructing identity has lead to more individualized society and more insecure society, as many families with low income feel that they are trapped in poverty which excluded them from many services that are offered which makes them less experienced fragile and lower self respect. With rising poverty in majority of households women had to contribute income to make end meet. In other words people with lower income have more economic insecurity; in the increasing social polarisation in the contemporary UK is good evidence in terms of incomes and employment experience
It is seen that income and work are significant sources of identity, but the connection of what we do and what we have has chanced in time and different social scientist concepts demonstrated their theories in terms of social class, consumption cleavages, social polarisation and social exclusion which are ways in that will influence the process of constructing identity.