2 am thoughts are quite a thing to ponder upon, but the afternoon thoughts accompanying the sip of tea are worth talking about as well. Sitting in the balcony with legs stretched from the porch, gazing over the blue sky with white clouds hovering over it. “Who am I?” Ahh! The classic but cliched existential question. The question of identity, the idea of – the Self are pretty intriguing. In this article, we will discuss what the philosophers and psychologists have to offer us regarding the concept of the self.
Beginning on a very trivial note, what perfectly describes the word identity? Many often take the word for granted and consider it synonymous with the persona. Or, as Carl Jung would put it, the mask we wear to conform to the existing social dictates. One’s identity is often drawn out of the responsibilities they adopt and the deeds they perform.
The Four Identities
From a psychological and scientific perspective and continuing on the same argument of identity and responsibilities, the “Neo-Eriksonian” identity status paradigm qualitatively relates an individual’s commitments with their identity. Developed by a renowned developmental psychologist – James Marcia, this paradigm is based on the idea of exploration and commitment. The central defining idea is that a person’s identity is based on their commitments to themselves. They then proceed to display deliberate exploration efforts in regard to their goals. The degree to which one manifests this two behavior in the social context can be defined by four possible permutations:
- Identity Diffusion: When one lacks interest in committing to potential roles following a lack of any exploration.
- Identity Foreclosure: When one begins choosing commitments and seems willing to keep himself open to relevant values or goals.
- Identity Moratorium: When a person displays extreme readiness to adopt commitments but fails to take any decision in regards to those commitments.
- Identity Achievement: When a person successfully commits to their identity choices.
Self Esteem and Discrimination
Homo sapiens are social creatures. We are nested in very complex and diverse social structures. Our participation in large-scale social entities constitutes a significant part of our identities. From an anthropological perspective, an individual’s group defines their collective identity. Anthropologists have recognized the word identity predominantly in two ways- One is, identity is defined by the self, our idiosyncrasies (similar to that of an Eriksonian way) the other is the identity of an individual in the sociological context, that, is the group identity concerning the group they belong to.
This later approach towards defining identity is a primordial one. That is, an individual’s identity is a fixed entity defined by the group they belong to, wherein the group is defined by factors that mainly involve common ancestry, common biological traits, shared geographical region, and a mutually agreed-upon historical space. An individual might consider himself as patriotic regarding his citizenship of the country he lives in, or someone might consider themselves as religious in the context of their beliefs. This identity does not arise out of any unique idiosyncrasies, nor they are naturally occurring, but in fact, it is an identity that is willingly adopted and shared by many others with common interests in particular beliefs. Group identity is often tied to a sense of self-esteem. The dominant issue which arises out of the formation of diverse collective identities is the problem of discrimination. Researchers in the field of Anthropology and Sociology have tried to address the problem of discrimination amongst individuals and why they engage in it, that is to say, why people naturally tend to favor people from “their own group” over outsiders. The question of self-esteem and discrimination has been extensively researched by scholars working in the social identity tradition. It has been observed that a simple act of merely drawing an abstract boundary (cognitive distinction) between people into groups can affect people’s evaluation of others and how they perceive themselves.
All the World’s a Stage and We’ve Got Five Players
Renowned social psychologists Cote and Levin have put forth typology for classifying personalities and identifying them with particular traits to put forth an Identity Formation strategy. This typology is summarized in the table below:
|Psychological symptoms||Personality symptoms||Social symptoms|
|Refuser||Develops cognitive blocks that prevent adoption of adult role-schemas||Engages in childlike behavior||Shows extensive dependency upon others and no meaningful engagement with the community of adults|
|Drifter||Possesses greater psychological resources than the Refuser (i.e., intelligence, charisma)||Is apathetic toward the application of psychological resources||Has no meaningful engagement with or commitment to adult communities|
|Searcher||Has a sense of dissatisfaction due to high personal and social expectations||Shows disdain for imperfections within the community||Interacts to some degree with role models, but ultimately these relationships are abandoned|
|Guardian||Possesses clear personal values and attitudes, but also a deep fear of change||Sense of personal identity is almost exhausted by a sense of social identity||Has an extremely rigid sense of social identity and strong identification with adult communities|
|Resolver||Consciously desires self-growth||Accepts personal skills and competencies and uses them actively||Is responsive to communities that provide opportunities for self-growth|
In addition to these, Kenneth Gergen, an American social psychologist coined three additional terms in his book: “The Purpose and Power of Identity: Exploring the realities and possibilities” adding to the classifications in the above table.
- Strategic Manipulator: A strategic manipulator is a person who begins to regard all senses of identity merely as role-playing exercises, and who gradually becomes alienated from their social “self”.
- Pastiche personality: The pastiche personality abandons all aspirations toward a true or “essential” identity, instead of viewing social interactions as opportunities to play out, and hence become, the roles they play.
- Relational Self: The relational self is a perspective by which persons abandon all sense of exclusive self, and view all sense of identity in terms of social engagement with others.
Gergen considered that these traits follow the other in phase and they are associated with the rise of postmodernist culture and modern technology.
Cogito, Ergo Sum
Coming towards the concept of identity from a philosophical perspective, Rene Descartes is known for his dictum “I think therefore I am,” which addresses the mind-body problem by materializing the concept of individual consciousness. In his book, Discourse on the Method, Descartes argues that man’s capability of thinking and questioning is what defines him as a unique individual. The act of perceiving oneself as a stranger to oneself is what helps one recognize their own identity. It’s through this point, identity- a completely virtual concept is to be started being defined in an empirical sense.
In opposition to Descartes’s presupposition, Hegel argues, in his classic Dialectic format, consciousness doesn’t rise independently in and of itself but is a dynamic process that takes place when two minds interact.
Hegel’s premise supposes that identity is primarily a socially constructed entity. Surprisingly, Nietzsche agreeing with Hegel, builds upon a similar argument stating identity cannot be a singularity (a soul within a body as thought by Descartes), but in fact a living interaction of multiple factors surrounding an individual’s environment, resulting in an ever-changing thing which doesn’t remain static.
Ricoeur, a French philosopher, in his book- Oneself as Another, draws a distinction within the concept of identity.
First, the ipsem identity, which is a personally defined identity (Who am I), and the idem identity which arises out of identification of an individual with an external static entity, that, a third person’s perspective of one’s own identity.
Many scholars to this day debate over the idea of an identity in a very fluid sense with hardly defined boundaries. Since it is a virtual concept, many do not restrict themselves to predefined notions and methods while approaching the study of identity. By contrast, some attempt to capture and crystallize this dynamic and fluid self-expression by following already laid grounds on the subject matter.
On a concluding note, I would summarize Brubaker and Cooper. B&C, in their book- “Beyond Identity” dissects different uses of the word identity.
- Identity as Self Definition: Here, identity is used to draw distinctions between the individual and “commonly defined universal interests” which are instrumental in nature. Here, identity is drawn out of the conscious efforts one makes governed by one’s unique self-understanding. Social actions are defined by this identity they willingly adopt.
- Identity as a Collective occurrence: Identity can be used to define the social groups and institutions an individual wishes to identify with. Such identification is closely linked to self-esteem and often a major cause of discrimination
- Identity as self-hood: Here, the concept of identity is restricted to an individual’s personal idiosyncrasies. Here, a foundational and basic definition of oneself is laid through the concept of identity.
- Identity as a Dynamic Process: Not limiting identity to a static and an immortal soul within a body, it is in fact defined as a dynamic living entity that changes through social action. Such understanding of identity is found in “new social movement” literature.
- Post-modernist view of identity: As a result of multiple competing theories surrounding the concept of identity, this has led to a dull and hopeless postmodernist view that considers identity as a fragmented, ever-changing chaotic entity.
About the Author: Dhiviyansh Punamiya is a first-year student at Manipal Institute of Technology.