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Social Identity and Social Structures and Culture

By belarmstrong Sep 09, 2012 1238 Words
Which social processes are more important in shaping individual identity: social structures or culture and socialisation?

Social identity relates to how we identify ourselves in relation to others according to what we have in common. Belonging to a group or being a member gives a sense of belonging and worth. One’s social identity could be categorized according to religion, where they are from, their political views, employment or even relationship. They could be unwantedly placed on a person due to ones behavior, for example, an alcoholic, a homeless person, a drug addict. These along with many other roles, positions and behaviors all play a significant part in creating ones overall social identity. This essay is meant to compare which process is more important in shaping an individual’s identity: Their social structure, being the pattern of social behavior or culture and socialization being the pattern of perception, thinking and feeling. One’s social Identity is based on both of these processors. It is made up from all that makes the person who they are. This essay will instead focus on the importance of both social processes in shaping an individual’s identity. An identity will change and be recreated over and over again throughout a lifetime. As the structure of your society changes, so does your social identity. Social structures are organised into different elements: institutions, social groups, statuses and roles (Mooney, Schacht, 2000) that all link together. An Institution is an established society with common connections; that being family, religion, politics, education, even mass media, medicine, sports and the military. Social groups are defined as two or more people who have a common interest. The family you were raised in is a social group of your family institution, the sports team you play for is a social group of the sport institution. Your status is the position one holds within their social group. Your status may consist of being a mother, father, sister, brother. You may be assigned a status based on factors you have no control of such as, race, sexuality, wealth or you may achieve a status through some control of your own, for example university graduate, president or married. With every status come many roles. Roles are sets of rights, obligations and expectations guiding ones behaviour (Mooney, Schacht, 2000). Each of these elements of social structure play an enormous part in building and creating ones social identity. As social structure refers to the organisation of society, culture refers to the meanings and ways of life categorised by society (Mooney, Schacht, 2000). Culture socialises us into a way of life and offers us a total view of the world. Who one is as an individual, depends importantly on the cultural influences that surround them (Sociologyonline.net). Culture refers to ones values, beliefs and norms. Values are conceptions about what is desirable, good and to be preferred. Closely tied to values are norms, that being, expectations about how people should behave. Beliefs are the explanation for what is assumed to be true and whether it’s a social problem. Seeing second hand smoke as harmful to non-smokers is seen as a belief and could influence how a social interaction is interpreted. Culture and socialisation go hand in hand, socialisation refers to preparing newcomers to become members of an existing group and to think feel and act in ways the group considers appropriate (Hodges, 1990). Culture socialises us into a way of life and offers us a total view of the world. Who we are as individuals depends importantly on the cultural influences that surround us (Sociolgyonline.net). Cultures are invisible persuasive arrangements within every society that tell people how to think and how to live; people depend on culture and socialisation to provide a road map to living (sociologonline.net). Culture offers people a group membership; socialisation provides the guidelines and rules to be followed in the group and life long experience of developing within the cultural group. Social structure organises ones behaviour to “fit in” the group. It provides hierarchies, statuses, respect and meaning. All of these elements combined are important social processes in shaping an individual’s identity. During the years of adolescence, teens undergo the process of defining their social identity. Experimenting with body piercing, new hairstyles, music preferences, tattoos, and different forms of dress are ways in which teens try to “fit in” with a group or decide which group is right for them. Maintaining their individuality and having the self-esteem to resist doing anything that violates their own values or those of their family is a test to their cultural upbringing. According to Henri Tajfel, a person’s social identity is a sense of who they are based on their group membership (McLeod, 2008). Belonging to a group provides one with pride and self esteem, a sense of belonging to the social world. The higher ones status is, the more enhanced one’s self pride, self image becomes. By social categorizing, one can identify easily with different groups. They can see another is black or white, male or female, Australian or Chinese, Old or young. They can learn if they are highly educated or unmotivated, a sports player or a bookwork. Categorizing individuals is easy in making quick judgments and possibly racist thoughts, although it allows one to understand their social environment. By assigning people to categories one is able to learn about that person, or learn about them-selves. By adopting an identity of a group, one will start to behave and act as the group would expect them to. Just as men who have chosen to dedicate themselves to a religious service first apply to a monastery for acceptance. The man will then adopt the identity of a monk taking vows of poverty, obedience, work, service, and chastity. These vows are not taken lightly; the choice to become a monk would be considered a permanent life choice creating a new identity based on their group membership. of generating new content” (Chen, 2007, p. 95).

New media is also the main force accelerating the
trend of globalization in human society. The
globalization trend has led to the transformation of
almost all aspects of human society. For instance,
socially and culturally, globalization has changed the
perception of what a community is, redefined the
meaning of cultural identity and civic society, and
demanded a new way of intercultural interaction (Chen
& Zhang, 2010). Economically, global competition has
enormously intensified. In order to succeed in global
business, a company is required to not only understand
the local markets in order to meet their global clients’
needs, but they must also seek out open markets
globally, and foster effective management in global
business transactions (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2007). In
sum, due to the thrust of new media, the global trend
creates new social networks and activities, redefines
political, cultural, economic, geographical and other
boundaries of human society, expands and stretches
social relations, intensifies and accelerates social
exchanges, and involves both the micro-structures of
personhood and macro-structures of community (Steger,
2009).

References:
hiMooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2000 pp. 5-9)
Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2000). Understanding social problems (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Wadsworth. 

Sociologyonline.net Chapter 3, Culture, socialization and social structure. China Media Research, 8(2), 2012, Chen, Impact of New Media on Intercultural Communication The Impact of New Media on Intercultural Communication in Global Context

Guo-Ming Chen
University of Rhode Island

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