Social Identity Theory

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Social Identity Theory

We all are deeply influenced by the society that we are surrounded by and the social relationships that follow it which makes us all unique individuals. We all respond differently to life’s circumstances far different from others. This is image of our personal identity that allows us to encounter our life experiences in a way that is different from others. It allows to all having different views of the world and this play a big role in social identity theory. Social Identity Theory was developed by Tajfel and Turner in 1979. The theory was originally developed to understand the psychological basis of intergroup discrimination. Tajfel attempted to identify the minimal conditions that would lead members of one group to discriminate in favor of the in-group to which they belonged and against another out-group. In the Social Identity Theory, a person has not one, “personal self”, but rather several selves that correspond to widening circles of group membership. Different social contexts may trigger an individual to think, feel and act on basis of his personal, family or national “level of self” (Turner 1979). Apart from the “level of self”, an individual has multiple “social identities”.

The motivations and environmental variables that shape social relationships have always been a core issue in social psychology. Thus, there are several theories that offer alternative models to the Social Identity Theory, beginning with the social exchange theory, which posits that the desire to exchange resources is central in explaining in-group dynamics. This theory argues that judgments about the value of resources gained or lost through group membership shape both satisfaction and behavioural choices among groups. Similarly, the realistic group conflict theory suggests that the patterns of cooperation and competition in groups can be explained through an understanding of the patterns of resource interdependence among groups (John, Kramer & Tyler, 1999, p. 1). In contrast to these two models, the social comparison theory asserts that it is the comparison of one’s condition to a given reference standard, which determines levels of satisfaction and behaviour. In fact, this theory has often been used to explain how individual or group reactions to job characteristics can be affected by comparison to co-workers (Pfeffer, 1991).

The Social Identity Theory appears to have, however, gained ground over competing theories, as evidenced by a wide body of recent research that uses its structure to understand various aspects of organizational identification and behaviour. For instance, two recent studies conducted in large, multicultural organizations to understand how structural variables and organizational demography influence workplace relationships used social identity theory as a structure. Interestingly, both studies concluded that gender, racial and ethnic social identities influence employees’ perceptions of and reaction to their organization’s efforts to promote diversity. Chow and Crawford (2004) observed that there were significant disparities in perceptions among gender, racial and ethnic groups regarding promotions received, commendations deserved, degree of consultation, support from colleagues and managers, access to external information, work atmosphere, and attitudes towards work. Similarly, Mor Barak, Cherin and Berkman (1998) found that Caucasian men perceived the organization as more fair and inclusive, as compared to Caucasian women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups. The study also found the converse to be true, namely, Caucasian women and members of minority groups saw more value in, and felt more comfortable with diversity as compared to Caucasian men.

Based on these findings, one significant conclusion that was reached by both studies is that existing organizational power structures still largely favour white males. Thus, the dominant group prefer to maintain the status quo,...
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