What Is Meant by the Term Identity?

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Drawing on accounts by Lyn and Harry in Learning guide 5,4 (Task A). What can be learned from their experiences to help health and social care respect service users identity?

This essay will establish what identity is and what can be learned from the experiences from Lyn an d Harry's accounts in Learning guide 5's Audio activity. It will also look at the work of Berger and Luckman, and Goffman's work on concepts of 'stigma' and ' spoiled identities' which explores stereotyping. What is meant by the term ' identity'? This could be answered from many perspectives. Philosophers might be interested in the individual and shared qualities that define someone as a human being with a sense of self. Psycologists have similar intrests in studying identity as a process by which people distinguish themselves from others and present themselves to the world. They are also concerned with explaining how people aquire and maintain their identities. Biologists could point to the unique DNA patterns in genetic make up that are expressed in physical appearance, which can mark people out as different and, for example,enable the identification of criminals through analysis of forensic evidence or used to settle paternity disputes. Sociologists, by contrast, are more interested in the relationship between identity and society, and studying he collective identities of, for example street gang members, different types of employees, local community residents, and members of minority and opressed groups. (Open university K127 Block 2 p 5).

It could be argued that a persons sense of identity depends on how they see themselves and how other people view them.Identity can also be aquired as a result of family influences and can also be upon entering adult life. There can be various ways in which people have unique identity because it would be difficult for us to tell one person from another. Some identities have been singled out as 'different' for example homosexuals, people with a disability, and people with a different ethnic origan, but these individuals have fought for their rights, and are now known as common identities,as they were being discriminated against. The sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman (1967) suggested that identity is always socially constructed. For example through interactions with their parents or 'significant' others children first learn who they are, what the world is like, and how they should behave within that world. This sense of personal identity and the external word is then reinforsed by interactions with a wider set of others, and internalised as the individuals own sense of meaning. This process of discovering ones's identity in relation to the social world is termed 'primary socialisation' and results in the individual having a consicousness of themselves and knowing that world exsists as an external reality rather than fantasyland conjured up in the mind ( as happens when dreaming). Berger an Luckman pointed out that the developing child has no choice about the nature of the world that shapes their initial identity, as this is entirely dependent on the circumstances of their early upbringing. However, as the child grows up, they encounter what Berger and Luckman called institutional subworlds such as schools, universities and different types of work environment, each with its own specialist language, role expectations and culture. If the individual is going to take part successfully in these new domains they have to undergo a process of secondary socialisation, learning their place within these subworlds and adopting their identity accordingly. ( Open university, K127, block 2, p 7-8). In addition to unique personal identities, some individuals might have shared identities, and some are singled out as 'different' for example the mentally ill, ethnicity or different sexual orientation. Examples of such can play a part in how people are viewed. Although identity would be seen as a personal...
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