To What Extent Can We Form Our Own Identities

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Are our identities established through choice or constructed for us by

society and what is expected of us in line with our gender, class and culture?

Can we change our identities to fit in with how we want society to see us rather

than how society expects to see us?

Firstly we should not confuse personality with identity. Personality traits may be

something we have in common with people we meet but identifying with a certain

social group is something we choose to do usually as a result of the things we

have in common. Personality is categorised as an internal characteristic not a

choice. (Woodward 2004, p.6)

Identity is, on the whole, how we are seen by society. Our identities

are first formed by the initial factors that are present at birth alongside the society

we are born into. This is based on several factors; gender being the most

obvious of these. Other factors include skin colour, language and ethnicity.

These factors are combined along with others to create what we come to know as

‘ourselves’, our identity.

How we are perceived by others also forms part of our identity as it puts us into

an identified social group. How we see ourselves comes later as we develop our

own sense of self. As we grow and become more self-aware our identity changes

and we begin to mould ourselves developing our own personal identity. This is

done through choices we make (agency) and through interaction with forces

beyond our control (structure).

When we meet new people we tend to question their identity to establish where or

if we fit in with their social group. This inevitably includes looking for ways in

which we are similar but also different.

On occasion we won’t have to ask questions as the badges people wear can

answer these for us. In this situation we can establish an immediate

connection even if we have never met them before. Someone wearing a T-shirt



References: Woodward K, Questioning Identity: Gender, Class, Ethnicity. Chapter 1, Questions of Identity. London, Routledge/The Open University.

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