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Identity

By thaokelly Apr 29, 2013 1752 Words
“The fully unified, completed, secure and coherent identity is a fantasy” (Hall 1992). Discuss

Undeniably, identity is a matter as most of people are willing to sacrifice their life to claim or protect their own identity (Woodward, 2002, p. 7). There have been a number of sociologists and researchers concerned to shed light on the pattern of identity. Many of them put forward the view that identity is a fully developed and stable concept. However, Hall ( 1992, p. 5) totally disagreed with the above statement and insisted that “the fully unified, completed, secure and coherent identity is a fantasy”. This essay aims to demonstrate what is meant by identity and the discussion about Hall’s three ways of conceptualizing identity and how it is relevant to his conclusion of uncompleted and unstable identity. The concept of Social identity was used by Michener (2004, p. 85) as the definition of self in term of social relationships. In more detail, the term identity describes the relationship within one’s self or between one’s self and others (Woodward, 2002, p. 1). Besides, Rummens (1993, p. 21) wrote on his book that identity can be defined as distinctive characteristics of one individual or a particular social group in society. In other words, identity is the way in which we see ourselves and how we belong to our society. In order to support for this opinion, Hall (1957, p. 9) suggested that there are two distinct meanings for the term of self. Firstly, self can be seen as an object which is how we perceive and understand ourselves. Secondly, self can be viewed as a process in which we think and act according to the social environment we are living in. In term of how identity can be studied, Woodward (2002, p. 1) suggested that studying identity is mainly about discovering the key ideas and the relationship between different theories about identity and how this concept changes and develops over time. Baker (1996, p. 210) cited Hall (1992) as saying that the understanding of identity is an already existed fact which is then represented by later sociologists, and, identity should be seen as a production which is never fully completed, changeable and replaceable. Hall charted three ways of conceptualizing identity which are: “enlightenment subject”, “sociological subject” and the “post – modern subject” (Ashe, 1965, p. 89). These three epochal subjects contradict each other and some key ideas are later criticised as Hall‘s view of identity is an never completed (Baker, 1996, p. 210). First of all, according to Hall’s traditional view, enlightenment is a conception of “fully centred and unified identity endowed with individual’s consciousness and reasonable explanation”. This sense of centre and unification is an “inner core” which starts at birth and remains essentially unchanged throughout our lifetime (Barker, 2008, p. 223). In other words, enlightenment provides us a foundation of knowledge and a guide for our action based on rational thought which is built up since we were born (Ashe, 1965, p. 90). On the other hand, Hall (1990, p. 597) later realized that he was wrong about the idea of enlightenment and asserted that “if we feel we have a unified identity from birth to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or narrative of the self about ourselves”. Moreover, Mead (1934, p. 25) suggested that if we feel we are unique, everyone else feels the same. This means that we may think we have a complete, stable and unique identity but actually it is just the way in which we attempt to convince ourselves, not how we actually see ourselves. For example, from my own experience, when I was in my country, I always thought I am a daughter or student. However, when I live and study in the UK, I am more likely to define myself as Vietnamese or Asian when being asked. In fact, I find it is not reasonable to define myself as a student to my English teacher and my English friend because I have a strong sense of being a foreigner when I am living and studying abroad. Therefore, an important point sometimes overlooked is that although identity are constituted since we was born, they can be replaced when we get older because our rational thought is not always stable. The traditional enlightenment view also emphasized that rational reflection is uncontaminated by customs or norm and values of a particular culture (Ashe, 1965, p. 89) . Furthermore, Burkitt (1990, p. 1) supported the point of view that the human being has a deeply engrained habit of seeing themselves as unique and “self-contained unitary” individuals. This in turn means that individual is the root of society and consciousness is something that entirely private and secure (Damasio, 2000, p. 21). However, Marx used his account of “historical materialism” to criticize the traditional enlightenment view for not considering social influences (Ashe, 1965, p. 89). Specifically, historical materialism is the term used to describe the social development and social change in term of the relationship between social classes and political structures (Marx, 1977, p. 217). Marx argued that one’ self usually equates with class status, which arises from consciousness (Woodward, 2002, p. 4). He explained in more detail that the collective process is the way in which we are conscious of identify ourselves based on pre-existing knowledge from the commonsense of thinking and previous generations. In other words, a collective class grouping has the consciousness upon which to act, thus, collective identity rather than self – reflection which help us define our self and guide our actions. All in all, although there are different opinions about the accuracy of the “enlightenment subject”, it is difficult to deny that identity is something that is uncompleted, insecure and incoherent. Secondly, Hall argued that “sociological subject” was formed in relation to “significant others” who mediated to individuals the norms and values of the world they are living in (Barker, 2008, p. 224). Those significant others are may be our parent, relatives or friends as they shape our sense of self through imitation and language (Barker, 2008, p. 224). In order to support for his own view, Hall use the discovery by Freud of the unconscious mind and the importance of language. According to Freud, the self is constituted through a process involving a conscious rational mind which is known as “ego”, and the moralist and idealistic part of personality which is known as “superego” , and the “unconscious” which is the repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes are desires and traumatic memories (Barker, 2008, p. 228). He also stressed that language plays an important role in this process of perceiving one’ self because it generates and processes the meaning of events in the mind (Barker, 2008, p. 228). However, Freud noted that meaning is inherently unstable and constantly changeable because of the influence of social practice (Barker, 2008, p. 228). It therefore means that the characteristic of identity can be said to be unstable and socially circumscribed. In sharp contrast to Hall’s traditional view of enlightenment, “sociological subject” reckoned that individuals are social creatures rather than self- reflexivity. Moreover, Giddens (1991, p. 53) supported this by saying that self – identity is not the distinctive characteristic we achieved by ourselves, but the understanding about one’s self based upon our biography. It means that identity is not only about how individuals see themselves, but also about how society defines them. However, different societies have different concepts of self, thus, identity certainly varies across cultures (Giddens, 1991, p. 53). Besides, Hall noted that “there is no essence of identity to be discovered, rather, cultural identity is continually being produced within the vectors of similarity and difference” (Barker, 2008, p. 233). In short, identity is not a stable and completed state of being because it is a reflection of distinctive social views of different cultures. Thirdly, in the opinion of Hall about “postmodern subject”, identity is not biologically defined, but rather historically defined (Barker, 2008, p. 224). Hall believed that identity is shaped by history as it is replaced and developed continuously following the movement of the social history (Ashe, 1965, p. 90). Moreover, the “postmodern subject” also argued that identity is fragmented and diverse. In other words, one individual can have several identities or some may contradict each other (Barker, 2008, p. 225). An example for the impact of social change on one’s identity is the development of social networks such Facebook and Twitter. From my observation, nowadays people can express themselves more freely online and they can be anyone they want to be by making up a profile and share it to the world. Therefore, one person can own several identities and these identities may be totally different from what it actually is in real life. To sum up, “postmodern subject” supported Hall’s idea that our identification are continually being shifted about. In conclusion, by looking at Hall’s three ways of conceptualizing identity, it is difficult deny that the fully unified, completed, secure and coherent identity is impossible. More specifically and undoubtedly, individual’s identity is varied, developed and diverse at different times, places and historical circumstances. The importance of this lies in the fact that we are living in a constantly changing society (Lourdes, 2002, p. 1). And nothing can detract from the central fact that we have to accept the influence of these rapid changes on our lifestyle, thinking and acting (Lourdes, 2002, p. 1). Bibliography

Ashe, F. (1965). Contemporary social and political theory: an introduction. Buckingham: Open University Press 1999. Baker, H. A. (1996). Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Barker, C. (2008). Cultural studies: theory and practice. London: SAGE. Burkitt, I. (1990). Social Selves. Theories of the social formation of personality. London: SAGE. Damasio, A. (2000). The Feeling of What Happens. Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. London: Vintage. Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hall, C. S. (1957). Theories of personality. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Hall, S. (1990). The Question of Cultural ldentity. Oxford: Blackwell Publisher. Lourdes, R. (2002). CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION FOR BETTER WORLD SOCIETIES. Bangkok: UNESCO. Marx, K. (1977). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publisher. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rummens, J. (1993). Personal Identity and Social Structure in Sint Maartin: a Plural Identities Approach. York: York University. Woodward, K. (2002). Understanding identiy. London : Arnold.

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