Two Theoretical Approaches to Identity and Their Contributions

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Identity is "the internal, subjective concept of oneself as an individual" (Reber & Reber, 1985). In other words your own ideas about who you are as a person. In this essay I will look at two approaches to identity and how each has contributed to our understanding of this concept.

Henri Taijfel's social identity theory proposed that instead of seeing identity as individualistic it should be looked at in terms of social processes. He and other social identity theorists suggest that identity can be divided into two broad categories. The first is our personal identity, with regard to who we are in terms of our personal relationships and our individual personal behaviour. The second being our social identity, which is who we are in terms of the groups to which we belong. In order to experience psychological wellbeing, our core (central) identity, needs a combination of the two. Taijfel claimed that society is composed of various groups that differ from one another in terms of power, influence and status. By the process of social mobility you can move up or sometimes even down the social scale. We self categorize ourselves causing us to identify with some groups and distinguish ourselves from others. It is our affiliations with certain groups that define our identity, and that these groups are seen as part of our self concept. Taijfel was interested in investigating whether that basic principle of just belonging to a group was enough to make people favour one group and act less favourably to another. This was evident in Taijfel et als 1971 Minimal group experiments. Participants were allocated randomly on the basis of a favourite choice of two paintings, and this became their reason to favour their own group and discriminate against the other. This was also evident in Jane Elliot's 1968 blue/brown eye experiment. In both cases the feeling of belonging to a group to which you share characteristics is what was seen as important. Participants classified their in and...
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