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This essay sets out to give a summary of the psychosocial and social constructionist approaches of ‘identity’. There are other theories. These two approaches may help us further our understanding of ‘identity’. They provide some answers, to the questions, what identity is or is not? Kroger (1989/1993) argues that ‘identity’ has ‘individual as well as social elements. Phoenix et al., suggests that ‘identity’ is a particular human issue’. Erikson’s (1902-1994) psychosocial theory mainly deals with an individual sense of identity. Social construction theorist Kenneth Gergen (1970) and others examine identity from a social constructionist perspective.
Erikson was one of the first too develop a psychosocial model of identity. His eight stages of identity development examined the individual from birth to death. He considered adolescents a defining stage, when young people would accept or reject adulthood. Erikson’s work was influenced by his own childhood experiences. Clinical psychologist James Marcia focused on Erikson’s fifth stage. He considered that this stage extended from 13 to 25 years. Marcia’s ‘twenty statements test’ allows researchers gain insight into how participant’s think and use language. Asking the question, ‘Who am I’? Helps us gain an insider view of identity. This indirect method is known as introspectionism. Phoenix et al., (2005) “personal experiences are only revealed through discussion”. An example of this, a young person is brought into state care. The case file shows that parents neglected the young person. What was happening in the family? The young person will have feelings. These feelings may lead too expressions of aggression. How will they be expressed? The test requires language understanding and usage. The participants must be willing participate. If not the research value will be limited. The ‘twenty statement test’ will only collect data if the young person can use language effectively. This testing method cannot be used in all situations.
Psychosocial theory is helpful in understandings identity? It acknowledges eight stages of development and the fifth as the period where different life styles are examined. Erikson suggests if we have experienced a ‘crisis’ it may affect how our identity develop. An equally plausible reason for this might be prevailing social / economic conditions. Compelling them make decisions. In post war Ireland and Britain young men and women entered the work force. They usually worked in similar jobs to grandparents and parents. This would suggest that the stages of development are less importance that economic and social conditions. It would appear identity closure is really about survival of the strongest. Should we recognise adolescents as an important closure period. How can the theory address changes taking place later in life? Should we think of adolescents only as a launching pad for future identity growth and development? It is accepted during adolescents our brain under goes major physical restructuring. These neurological changes can present challenging behaviours. The historical context too much of Erick Erikson’s work was that of post war Germany. He researched in a period where life choices were made at an early age. Most were set in careers in there 20s. This was resulted from high mortality rates. Life expectancy at the start of the twentieth century was 30 – 45 years. In 2010 average life expectancy is 67.2 years. These life expectancy changes have allowed adults greater choices and control over how identity develops. It is difficult to explain these inconsistencies. How after adolescents adults continue too change, partners, careers and appearance.
Social construction theorists consider that identity is socially constructed rather than naturally occurring. Each of us constructs our own identities through social and personal relationships and no distinction is drawn between them. Language is used from the earliest stage of child development and significant. How we see the world. How we interact with others. Sue Widdicombe (1998) suggests that language is used as a resource in the development of ‘identity’. Hall (1996) we try to find life balance in telling and reconstructing our personal and social stories. These stories give a private and social representation of our past, present and how we see the future. Phoenix et al., (2005) Identity has the characteristics of being multiple, decentred and changing rather than singular, centred and stable. Power relations are an important part of ‘identity’ change. This may be influenced by parental expectations, religion, cultural / social norms and values. An example of this is a ‘student’ who seen by himself and peers in contradictory ways. He may be seen at different times as lively, a risk taker, studious, lazy, free spirited, adventurous, a protester.
These fluid ‘identities’ become challenged when prevailing social, economic, cultural conditions dictate. Kenneth Gergen (1970) talks of how when technological changes happen we are forced too modify our identities. We only maintain identities for as long as the conditions necessitate. When the effort becomes too much we change. Life experiences can alter our view of self-identity. Identity helps maintain a sense of who and what we are and is dependent on time and social context.
Social Construction theory is helpful in understandings identity? It shows that our daily interactions combine to maintain and inform new ‘identities’. It is a combination of the personal and social, however there is no distinction between them. The method used by social constructionists is ‘discourse’ talking and thinking about identity. So why should our genetics makeup not impact on how our identities develop? This is not addressed by social construction theory. Our height is not determined by social construction. Yet through out our lives it will have an impact on how we are treated in social situations. We may be perceived as having high or low social status. Tanner, JM (1986) ‘a lack of variation in height can be an indicator of social equality. This is not explained using social constructionist theory. The approach presents the concept of social categories where there are many groups some with high and low relationships of power. These inequalities may determine how our identities change over time. If we look at children with low reading and language skills they will suffer inequalities through out there lives. Reading and language skills are important in how we see ourselves. It is clear that social constructionist theory can in some way address how ‘identity’ is formed and maintained.
In this essay I provided a summary for the psychosocial and social constructionist approaches too ‘identity’. These two approaches help in furthering our understanding of ‘identity’. However they are unable to address all the issues.
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