The importance of identity can very easily be underrated in contemporary society. Yet issues can be found everywhere. Considering the UK, issues could be anything from national pride the public exhibit to celebrities immigrating. Although there is a difference between terrorism attacks and celebrities reinventing themselves, the issue is identity. It revolves around how large groups of people or individuals are seen (or identified) by either individuals or large groups of people.
Since there are two parts at play here, there are two major factors to consider whilst trying to define identity; the personal perspective and the social perspective. Considering race and ethnicity, although a little hard to define since this is a group identity, collective action results in change. Another issue is that ‘racial’ and ‘ethnic’ don’t not always share the same identity. A good example of this the changes in the meaning of the term black.
First it meant a group that was inferior to the other major group white. Then it became a statement of something to be proud of. Being within this minority (black) gave superiority over the majority (white). The groups have changed also. In the 1970’s in the UK, the term black became recognised and used to define black people of African decent. However in the 1980’s it came to include people of Asian decent. It then moved back again to the more restrictive meaning by the end of the 1980’s.
In South Africa, during Apartheid, if you were white yet married to a black, your identity was stated on paper as black. During the 1990’s in the UK and USA when more mixed (black and white parents) people came about, a new category was generated: mixed. But this only happened when this percentage of people increased to such proportions that they may not want to be recognised as black. This kind of factor within identity is dynamic, not static, for it is forever changing. One factor of identity that may be considered static would be gender.
You are either born male or female and thus differing hormones governing your body would create a difference. Francis conducted experiments with primary children asking them to role certain situations. Whilst boys tended to take on roles of management and other such ‘masculine behaviour’, girls tended to take on roles that were selfless and other such ‘feminine behaviour’. Although it is important to note that not all children took to the roles and acted in a fluid like action by either challenging or ignoring him.
Francis suggests that children work quite hard in constructing and maintaining their gender identities, but also highlights that the behaviours typical of masculine and feminine roles are not binding and that there is an opportunity for diversity. This opportunity can come from many other factors that influence our identity such as ethnicity or social class which can either reinforce or denigrate the gender identity. The link however between personal and social, how we interact can show how much an identity changes.
Freud argued, based on case studies of people he had analysed, that through early development children repress all their anti-social needs and wants and this slips into the subconscious which can later resurface. Not only can our childhood develop our identities for the past but also the present. On the other hand, Erving Goffman, the sociologist who worked on the analysis of everyday interaction, suggested that we have multiple roles that we act out as opposed to multiple identities.
We do this in order to achieve what is needed in that particular social setting, even if we are sometimes not convincing enough or just direct. The definition of identity has many areas and factors that come into play with too many to mention but the basic idea is that it is not enough to be classified by someone else, we have to take it up ourselves. Of all the major factors that can play a part in the make up of identity; gender, class, ethnicity, we all have personal ideas as to what the common knowledge idea is behind each factor and whether that idea is positive or negative.
Since all these are all variable contemporary society will have an increased uncertainty about identity. Our personality has as much to do with identity as society does. And just as our personality changes in reaction to society, society changes in reaction to people at large. That identities discussed however brief, clearly show how fast society changes and as much as we want to hold onto our identities we are influenced by society. Personally it is impossible to identify perfectly with an ever-changing world just as society finds it impossible to identify perfectly with ever changing individuals.