Critically Evaluate Social Identity Theory

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Lauren Thom, 3215788.

Psyc 315: Social Psychology

2,046 words.

Critically evaluate Social Identity Theory.

Who are you? Who am I? These are questions that we all ponder at some point or another in our lives. As human beings we are seemingly inundated with the desire to classify and categorise. We are constantly defining and analysing the differences that we observe in the world, it seems only natural that we would apply this method of classification to our position within our society. More specifically, we want to understand our social identities and this can be achieved by acknowledging which groups we identify most with.

Tajfel and Turner (1986) define this phenomenon of classification within a social context as the Social Identity Theory and it is comprised of three main parts.

Zerubevel (as cited in Jenkins, 2004) states that one of the first things we do when we meet someone for the first time is try to categorise them as belonging to a certain group and to find a place for them in our “mindscapes”. We do this by assessing the information they present to us in terms of the type of clothes they wear or the type of language they use. We try to asses a person based on many variables that we observe during our interactions with them. We are essentially evaluating everybody that we come into contact with either consciously placing them at a certain location within our mindscape or picking up on subjective eccentricities that we notice in our day to day interactions.

It is in this regard that we are all trying to project an image of ourselves so that others may identify us as belonging to a certain group. Of course, one can be mistaken in their assessment of our character; human beings are not infallible after all. But we are able to make it easier for others to identify which social group we belong to by projecting certain aspects of ourselves in a clear and easily definable way. For example, one who identifies with the Muslim religion may wear a burkha or speak of the teachings of the Qur'an. One reason this is done, among many other reasons, is to show others that they belong to the group which ascribes to the Muslim religion.

One thing to note is that social identity is different from personal identity in that our social identity relates to the groups we belong to within our society, our personal identity, on the other hand, is more specific to our own personal experiences that have shaped how we see ourselves to be as individuals in relation to the world of others. It is in this regard that we see our personal identity as something entirely unique to us, yet our social identity is a way of locating ourselves in the world of others by associating ourselves with other like minded people and disassociating ourselves from dissimilar people.

At this primary stage we are identifying the differences and similarities within our culture and arranging them into categories accordingly. At this stage we tend to exaggerate the similarities and differences between each of the groups we identify so that it may be easier to assign individuals to certain categories or groups that we have recognized.

At the second stage in our journey to uncover our social identity we asses ourselves in terms of which of these categories we identify with the most. At this point, we separate ourselves from others and develop a sense of ‘belonging’ to a certain group. Not only does this help us to understand ourselves in more depth by acknowledging what our ideals are and what groups we wish to be associated with, it also helps us to understand what we are not. We do this by separating the different categories into two general groups. These are known as “in-groups” and “out-groups” (Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

Once we have established which groups we wished to be affiliated with we can then move onto the third stage of our social identification. This consists of comparing our in-groups to the groups of...
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