Part I: Essay: The social constructionist perspective suggests that identities are constructed through language and social relations. Illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of this statement with examples of research studies from this and one other perspective.
Identity is a topic that raises many questions and psychologists take different approaches to define it. Based on their own concerns; they ask different questions, use different methods and make different interpretations of data. This means that they produce different theories about identity. The social constructionist perspective suggests that identities are constructed through language and social relations. This essay will illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of this statement with examples of research studies from this and the psychosocial perspective.
Social constructionists understand identities as fluid and originated through nurture in social interactions. One of the strengths of this perspective is that it sees identities in constant adaptation to circumstances in our bodies, relationships and environment (Phoenix, 2007). ‘When people talk to each other, the world gets constructed’ (Burr, 2003, p.8). We use language to communicate and we construct our own identities through what and how we tell about ourselves (Phoenix, 2007). The psychologist Kenneth Gergen shows how he actively constructed his identity as ‘pen writer’ through his social relationships and how he then adapted to the technological changes by the introduction of the computer (as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p. 71). This fluidity of identity gives us the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances and allows changes throughout life. However, because identities are seen as an interpretation of who we are and how we change, the social constructionists are criticized for considering that everybody has contradictory, de-centred and changeable identities (Phoenix, 2007). In contrast to this perspective is to mention the psychosocial identity theory originated by Erikson and developed by Marcia. With his Semi-structured Identity Status Interview, Marcia emphasises the development of one core identity as the main task of adolescence (Phoenix, 2007). Followers of this psychosocial theory see identities as stable once achieved. However, this theory is also criticized for overemphasizing the relevance of adolescence achieving our identity and limiting its fluidity since this makes later change in life less possible (Phoenix, 2007).
Social constructionist perspectives also emphasize the idea of people having multiple instead of one core identity. For social constructionist supporters different identities coexist and are used differently in social interactions depending on the situation. Hall’s analysis of everyday discourse shows how people use their different identities as black, white, man or woman depending on how they identified with Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill (as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p.77-78). This perspective understands diversity between identities and gives us more flexibility to change through social interactions but is also criticized for suggesting that we all have multiple and de-centred identities (Phoenix, 2007). The psychosocial perspective on the other hand supports the notion that we have one core identity that is the centre of who we are (Phoenix, 2007). This is a less flexible approach and cannot explain how we adapt to our social environment creating our identities.
The dichotomy nature versus nurture is also an area of discussion between the different identity theories. The social constructionist theory suggests that we all acquire our identities though nurturing and social interaction. Nasa Begum shows how she constructed and negotiated her identity as society and her understanding changes (as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p.87). The idea that we construct and use our identities flexibly is another of the strengths of this perspective (Phoenix, 2007). The psychosocial...
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