Identity

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identity

‘I am free to choose my own identity’.

As a stand-alone statement “I am free to choose my own identity” presented me with a number of problems. Prior to the commencement of this module and without any previous knowledge of sociological theory I would have been inclined to agree without reservation that I am in fact free to choose my own identity. I would have considered myself to be individual, if not unique? The responsibility for who and what I am today not being a result of ‘a process of socialisation’ but the choices and decisions I have made during my life. Unfortunately this understanding is flawed to say the least. It is naïve and idealistic. Identity crosses many different pathways in our lives as individuals, but there is a ‘bigger picture’ to be considered. When we refer to identity as an individual there are so many other factors and issues that must be throw into the ‘melting pot’. To name but a few – ‘individual, cultural, ethnic, sexuality and gender all have varying degrees of impact on who we are what we aspire to be and what we have become’- Wikipedia (2006). Consideration must also be given to the homogenous nature of society and how the values and norms of our ‘being’ are formulated. Personal identity or ‘self’ is and can be influenced by the passing of time. It is not just a simple matter of how we see ourselves as individuals in society but more importantly how other members of society see and perceive us. Mead (1934) states - to distinguish between yourself and others you must be able to recognise yourself as a distinct entity. Identity has also been described as – “a sense of self that develops as a child differentiates from parents and family and takes a place in society” (Jary and Jary 1991)

Freedom of choice also presents the potential for disagreement and debate. Freedom is defined in the Elmer Social Science Dictionary (2006) as:-

‘A complex philosophical concept referring to an individual or group's ability, right, or possibility of self-determination or political independence. Often associated to the concept of human free will, our individual capacity to choose our own destiny rather then follow the dictates of others, nature, or even supernatural forces.’

If we consider this definition in the context of the assignment and reflect upon our freedom as individuals; this idea and description may be considered as idealistic. Depending on the sociological perspective or school of thought this definition can be argued to be reasonable or flawed.

So what is identity? Is it how I see myself, or it how others see and perceive me as an individual, a member of a group or as a member of society as a whole? Identity like ‘beauty’ can be considered to be formed in the eye of the beholder. Identity as a social concept has always existed. Structure and agency, what ‘controls’ our identity and what we are able to ‘choose’. Sociologists have sought to answer this by categorising theory. Richard Jenkins argues that social identity is –

‘our understanding of who we are and of who other people are and reciprocally, other peoples understanding of themselves and others’ (Jenkins, 1996)

. This explanation implies that there is a clear interactional relationship between the individual and the society in which they exist. Identity is about belonging and being valued.

What determines an individual’s behaviour, personality, intelligence, and sexual orientation? Is it largely the result of the environment in which we are reared or heredity? This is the nature versus nurture argument. Depending on the sociological perspectives and thinking that are ‘in-fashion’ the ball bounces from one court to the other. Nurture in my opinion has been the influential participant in the formation/creation of my identity and has by the process of ‘socialisation’ influenced who and what I am today. Socialisation as a process begins when we join this world as babies and continues whether we are...
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