Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

1.7: Aspects of Identity

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Every person has a range of identities, according to how they see themselves (and how others see them) in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and so on. This means that seeing an individual in terms of one aspect of their identity – as a black person, for example, rather than as (say) a black working-class woman who is also a social worker, a mother and a school governor – is inevitably reductive and misleading.

    Identities are dynamic

    The identities people assume, and the relative importance they attach to them, change over time because of both personal change in their lives and change in the external world (for example, as a result of changing ideas about disability). Consequently, identity should not be seen as something ‘fixed’ within people.

    Identities have different and changing meanings

    Aspects of identity may have different meanings at different times in people's lives, and the meanings that they attribute to aspects of their identity (for example, ethnicity) may be different from the meaning it has for others (for example, being black may be a source of pride for you, but the basis of someone else's negative stereotyping).

    Identities are contextual and interactional

    Different identities assume greater or less importance, and play different roles, in different contexts and settings, and in interactions with different people. Different aspects of people’s identity may come to the fore in the workplace and in the home, for example, while people might emphasise different aspects of themselves to different people (and different people may see different identities when they meet them).

    Identities are negotiated

    In constructing their identities, people can only draw on terms that are available in society at that time, which have meanings and associations attached. However, people may attribute different meanings and importance to those labels. This means people always negotiate their identities, in the context of the different meanings attached to them.

    Taking this view of identity, as a social process that people engage in, rather than as a fixed essence inside them, is not to deny that particular identities are extremely important for certain groups and individuals. Being a Sikh, or a woman, or gay, may feel like the most important and ‘deepest’ part of you. However, a more dynamic and social model of identity is useful because it makes it difficult to reduce people to any one aspect of their identity, or to use social identity as a way of explaining every aspect of their behaviour and needs, including their communication needs and behaviour.

    Key points

    Social identities, whether based on ethnicity, gender, disability or other factors, should be seen as:

    • lural
    • dynamic
    • contextual
    • negotiated
    • produced in social and interactional contexts.

    This page titled 1.7: Aspects of Identity is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by OpenLearn Diversity & Difference in Communication.

    • Was this article helpful?