The question ‘who am I?’ raises speculations about who we are as human beings and why we behave the way we do. This is of great interest to social psychologists. One particular theory about this social identity is that it is not fixed or innate but that it is something that changes over time and is constructed through our social interactions with other people. This essay will explicate the idea of socially constructed identities and consider the evidence for and against this view with examples of research studies from both social constructionism (Phoenix, 2007) and Social Identity Theory (SIT) (Turner and Brown, 1978).
Here, the term ‘identity’ refers to the individual personality (behavioural and characteristic) of a person. It is what
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The ways in which we use language can also be related to embodied identities and the ways in which society looks at people, for example, with disabilities. There is a sense of group identity with some disabled people which would support SIT’s theory, but in Keith’s account of suddenly becoming disabled (Keith, 2007) she reconstructs her identity and ‘remakes’ her life, which supports the social constructionists view. Theories in social construction bring to the foreground differences within social divisions i.e. most disabled people do not see themselves as being part of a group, but see themselves as individuals and strongly agree that they do not have a ‘disabled identity’ (Phoenix, 2007).
There are differences in people with the same identities, such as being black, male and British. We have multiple identities but we may relate to one identity more than another. Construction of our de centred and diverse identities through language and interaction with others can involve power relations as we relate to each other. The controversial account of Judge Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill (Hall, 1992) is a good example of multiple identities and power relations. There is also a place given to power according to SIT as people feel the need, and try, to improve status through social mobility etc.
According to Bruner (1990) we achieve these multiple identities through