Social Structures

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Which social processes are more important in shaping individual identity: social structures or culture and socialisation?

What is social identity? Social identity is “our understanding of who we are and of who other people are and, reciprocally, other people’s understandings of themselves and of others” (Jenkins 1996, p.38). There are many social processes that can shape an individual’s identity, whether it is social structures - such as the government, class, education and workplace-, culture –such as family, friends and sub cultures- and socialisation. Which social process shapes an individual’s identity more? My argument is that one social process does not shape an individual’s identity more than the other. Each process shapes identity greatly and at different stages of life.

At the beginning of life we do not have a choice as to which our identity will be. As Ken Plummer wrote “we are thrown into a social world that was quite simply not one we had any say in making” (Plummer 2010, p.2). An individual’s immediate environment such as family shapes identity throughout the first few years of life. Macionis and Plummer (2012, p.653) wrote the family function is “socialising the young, regulating sexual activity, transmitting social placement and providing material and emotional support”. From family an individual is taught to speak, walk and dress. They are taught to interact with others and they are taught values and beliefs, which can also shape one’s identity.

Education is another social process that helps to shape an individual’s identity. Macionis and Plummer (2012, p.692) defines education as “the social institute guiding the critical learning of knowledge, job skills, cultural norms and values”. At a young age children are placed in education facilities, whether it is nursery first then primary or straight into primary. Whilst in primary children are taught to interact with others, they are taught basic knowledge and literacy as well as right from...
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