Describe One Approach to Identity. Discuss How This Approach Can Help to Explain the Identities of People with Disabilities.

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Describe one approach to identity. Discuss how this approach can help to explain the identities of people with disabilities.

The concept of identity within psychology can be traced back to the emergence of the discipline with William James’ publication Principles in Psychology in 1890 (as cited in Phoenix, 2007 p.45). While various identity theories abound, all approaches are principally concerned with explaining what identity is and how individuals form and use their identities to define themselves. This essay examines the social constructionist approach to identity and will then explore how such thinking can be applied to the identities of those with disabilities.

According to Hogg and Abrams (1988), identity is “people’s concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others” (as cited in Fearon, 1999, p.4). Thus, identity represents an individual’s mental image of themselves, something Kroger (1989/1993) asserts necessitates an understanding of otherness, that is, who and what they are not (as cited in Phoenix, 2007 p.52). This awareness is fundamental to social construction theories, which propound that, instead of being naturally occurring, identities are actively constructed through the process of social relations. It is through interaction with others that individuals distinguish between the self and other, and subsequently can affirm or modify their own sense of identity.

This ability to negotiate identity is another feature of social constructionist approaches which maintain that, far from being static, identities are open to change and adaptation throughout the lifetime, being shaped by an individual’s own experiences, as well as the cultural and historical milieu within which they exist and the social change and technological advances that occur during their lives (Connell, 1995; Holloway and Jefferson, 2000, as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p.72). Consequently, and in contrast to earlier identity theories, social...
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