Individual and Society

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Individual and Society

To what extent is our ‘identity’ chosen for us? Discuss this question using one key sociological perspective.

Are our identities established through choice or constructed for us by society and what is expected of us in line with our gender, class and culture? Can we change our identities to fit in with how we want society to see us rather than how society expects to see us? This is a difficult question to answer because there is not one solid answer. Nor is our identity something that we can try to pull apart and look at each individual part. Our identities are constantly growing, changing, and adapting to our everyday lives. Our everyday lives are constantly changing too. Nothing stays the same for long so our identity shouldn't be any different. How much of our identity do we really have control over? "The issue of identity is a complex one. More fluid than fixed our identity is comprised of a myriad of inner qualities and outer representations of self. It consists of innumerable defining characteristics that make up the whole of who we are in any given moment. These fragments of self-include our sexuality, gender, and sense of belonging to a particular culture, nation, religion, family, or some other group. Our identity includes our looks, personality, beliefs and fears and is an unfolding story…continually recast in the course of experience" (Dana Mrkich).

Firstly we should not confuse personality with identity. Personality traits may be something we have in common with people we meet but identifying with a certain social group is something we choose to do usually as a result of the things we have in common. Personality is categorised as an internal characteristic not a choice. (Woodward 2004, p.6)

Identity is, on the whole, how we are seen by society. Our identities are first formed by the initial factors that are present at birth alongside the society we are born into. This is based on several factors; gender being the most obvious of these. Other factors include skin colour, language and ethnicity. These factors are combined along with others to create what we come to know as ‘ourselves’, our identity. How we are perceived by others also forms part of our identity as it puts us into an identified social group. How we see ourselves comes later as we develop our own sense of self. As we grow and become more self-aware our identity changes and we begin to mould ourselves developing our own personal identity. This is done through choices we make and through interaction with forces beyond our control (structure). When we meet new people we tend to question their identity to establish where or if we fit in with their social group. This inevitably includes looking for ways in which we are similar but also different.

On occasion we won’t have to ask questions as the badges people wear can answer these for us. In this situation we can establish an immediate connection even if we have never met them before.

Identity is shaped by a person’s belief, ideas, views and wanting to be part of a group. Identity can be part of your personality but that is only a small part of it. People identify with many different groups in their lifetime socially and industrially in order to be identified as how they want to be i.e. when dressing for a job interview, what to wear? How do you want to be perceived by your prospective employer? Identities are constantly being recreated and redefined in order to fit in with economic and environmental change i.e. job losses. Criminal identities can be perceived by other as young, male and black (Mooney, 2000, pg 8) due to media attention and stereotypical opinions.

We acquire our identity through “socialisation” Socialisation is the process by which we, as individuals, become members of our society or culture. We are active participants in this process – we decide what to accept or reject.

There are two types of identities personal and social. Personal and...
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