Social Identity From “Encyclopedia of Women and Gender: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender” I. Conceptions and Definitions II. Types of Social Identity III. Multiplicity and Intersectionality IV. Aspects of Social Identity V. Assessing Social Identity VI. Development and Change VII. Negotiating Social Identities Glossary Intersectionality The condition in which a person simultaneously belongs to two or more social categories or social statuses and the unique consequences that result from that combination. Minimal group paradigm
An experimental procedure for creating social identity conditions in which participants are arbitrarily assigned to one group or another. Social representations Commonly shared and collectively elaborated beliefs about social reality held by members of a culture or subculture. Stereotypes Organized, consensual beliefs and opinions about specific categories or groups of people. SOCIAL IDENTIFICATION is the process by which we define ourselves in terms and categories that we share with other people. In contrast to characterizations of personal identity, which may be highly idiosyncratic, social identities assume some commonalities with others.
This chapter introduces several key issues surrounding social identity, including form and content, assessment, development and change, and identity negotiation. I. Conceptions and Definitions “Identity” is a term that is widely used and, as a consequence, can mean many different things to different people. Identity is sometimes used to refer to a sense of integration of the self, in which different aspects come together in a unified whole. This intrapsychic emphasis is often associated with Erik Erikson, who introduced the term “identity crisis” as part of his stage model of psychological development.
Another common use of the term, particularly in contemporary times, is identity politics, where the reference is typically to different political positions that are staked out by members of ethnic and nationality groups. In this article, the term “social identity” refers specifically to those aspects of a person that are defined in terms of his or her group memberships. Although most people are members of many different groups, only some of those groups are meaningful in terms of how we define ourselves.
In these cases, our self-definition is shared with other people who also claim that categorical membership, for example, as a woman, as a Muslim, as a marathon runner, or as a Democrat. To share a social identity with others does not necessarily mean that we know or interact with every other member of the designated category. It does mean, however, that we believe that we share numerous features with other members of the category and that, to some degree, events that are relevant to the group as a whole also have significance for the individual member.
As an example, a person who defines herself as a feminist is more likely to be aware of legislation regulating abortion, more likely to have read books by Betty Friedan or bell hooks, and more likely to be aware of salary discrepancies between women and men than is a person who does not identify as a feminist. II. Types of Social Identity Many forms of social identity exist, reflecting the many ways in which people connect to other groups and social categories.
In our own work, we have pointed to five distinct types of social identification: ethnic and religious identities, political identities, vocations and avocations, personal relationships, and stigmatized groups (see Table I). Each of these types of social identification has some unique characteristics that make it somewhat different from another type. Relationship identities, in particular, have some special features. To be a mother, for example, can imply a sense of shared experience with other people who are mothers. Sometimes particular aspects of these experiences can be defined even more finely, as in Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).
At the same time, the identity of mother implies a specific role relationship with another person, a relationship that is unique and grounded in one’s own personal experience with that other person. Other social identities can be defined more generally, tied not to any individual but to a generic group. Thus to identify as a doctor, for example, implies a shared definition with countless others, many of whom you may not know anything in particular about. Another defining characteristic of occupational identities is that they are chosen by the person (what is sometimes called an achieved status).
In contrast, social identities such as ethnicity or gender are ascribed categories, given to one at birth. Social identities also differ in the status or value that is attached to them. In Table I, for example, the stigmatized identities stand apart from the other types of social identity, all of which are typically regarded more positively. In the original study that defined the categories presented in Table I, gender was clustered together with other relationship identities in the final statistical solution.
Certainly it is true that many relationships are gendered in their definition and implications (as are many occupations as well). However, because of the importance and centrality of gender in our lives, it is often considered as a category in itself. Similarly, sexual orientation can be classified as one form of a relationship identity, but it often has greater prominence than other relationship identities. To understand more about the nature of social identity, let us consider three identities in more detail: gender, ethnicity and nationality, and sexual orientation. Table I Types of Social Identity