Outline Two Different Psychological Approaches to Identity. What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each? Essay

Outline two different psychological approaches to identity. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? The process of attaching meaning to the concept of identity is arguably a subjective one. Is an individual’s identity a self-perception, or should identity be considered more in terms of a summary view of how others perceive a individual? If an individual identifies themselves as holding certain characteristic traits, yet others do not associate those traits with that individual, then what is that individual’s true identity?

Similarly, if an individual may hold personal beliefs that they choose not to project onto their public persona, do those beliefs form part of that persons identity? Further to these questions, there are issues with regard to the classification systems that should be applied to identity. For example, should emphasis be placed on an individual’s gender, or perhaps sexual orientation? Are such identifications only relevant in certain situations? The concept of identity is a complicated and it can perhaps be suggested that no general approach to identity can be made.

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However, two key questions can be raised. Do individual’s hold a core-identity, a fundamental set of characteristics true to that person which do not change according to social situation, or should more emphasis be placed on social identity (or identities) rather than personal identity? Secondly, when and why is individual’s identity realised or developed? I shall now consider two different psychological approaches to these questions.. Psychosocial theories of identity are part of the wider theory of psychosocial development as articulated by Erik Erikson.

Although Erikson saw the formation of identity as a lifelong developmental process which passes from infancy to late adulthood, he considered it to be particularly important during adolescence, the fifth psychosocial stage. Erikson suggested that development is marked by eight stages throughout an individuals life, where these stages are sequential and can broadly separated on the basis of age. In each stage of development, a crisis is encountered between individual needs and social demands and between positive and negative developmental possibilities [Miell et al. P. 53]. The way in which a person reacts to this crisis will effect their later stages of development; a challenge which is not successfully overcome may be expected to reappear as problems at a later stage. The psychosocial crisis of identification is addressed by an individual during their teens and into their early twenties. Adolescents go through a socially approved period of psychosocial moratorium in which they will explore their identity through trying out different social roles to find personal preferences.

By the end of adolescence, healthy development of an individual requires they hold a clear sense of ego identity, know who they are and what their social role is. This sense of identity may be further developed as an individual reacts to the crisis they may face throughout different stages of their lives, but the suggestion is still made that a fundamental core-identity, first realised during adolescence, exists and is carried through an individual’s life.

In this light, psychosocial theory effectively separates personal identity and social identity into two separate spheres and it this which provides the theory with certain strengths and weaknesses. The theory allows for a stable personal identity, which can be seen as a strength of the theory, but the counter-criticism that can be made is that it neglects large scale social interactions and their effects on identity.

However, it can be argued that in the case that an individual’s identity is perceived to change as a result of social interactions, this is the simply the individual reassessing their core identity; their core identity does not change, just their opinion of it. Yet, this raises issues with regard to how core identities develop to begin with, and at what age core identities develop.. In contrast to the psychosocial approach, social constructionist theory does not distinguish between personal and social identities.

Social constructionist theory regards identity as being fluid, wide-ranging and subjective rather than solid and definitive. The suggestion is that an individual will construct their identity around social interactions which are regularly experienced. Identity is seen not just as an achievement (as in psychosocial theories), it is also a resource that we can use in interactions [Miell et al. , p. 77] . Moreover, social construction suggests that an individual can hold multiple identities, which vary according to the ifferent regular interactions that they encounter. For example, an individual will experience different interactions at work than in the home and so it is suggested that individuals hold two separate identities to account for this. This ability to account for multiple identities is seen as a strength of the social construction approach. One important element of social construction is discourse which is the process of communicating ideas in culture and is a way in which individuals can construct meanings.

How an individual constructs their identity depends upon the ways of thinking and talking about identity currently available in their society [Miell et al. , p. 73]. Discourse often reflects idealogical contexts and institutional representations as a result. Differences exist within different cultures and societies which affect the way people chose to identify themselves. This can perhaps be seen as a weakness of social construction; there is a lack of a sense of a core identity.

However, a response to this criticism is to suggest that individuals can acquire and maintain a distinctive and continuous identity by constructing an autobiographical narrative of themselves as one core centred identity. We reconstruct the past in ways that help us to understand the past, present and where we expect to be in the future [Miell et al. , P. 79]. WORDS: 939 References Meill D. , Phoenix A. , Thomas K. (2002), Mapping Psychology (Book 1), The Open University


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