The concept of identity

Identity is about how individuals or groups see and define themselves, and how other individuals or groups see and define them. Identity is formed through the socialization process and the influence of social institutions like the family, the education system and the mass media. 

The concept of identity is an important one, as it is only through establishing our own identities and learning about the identities of other individuals and groups that we come to know what makes us similar to some people and different from others, and therefore form social connections with them. How you see yourself will influence the friends you have, who you will marry or live with, and the communities and groups to which you relate and belong. 

If people did not have an identity, they would lack the means of identifying with or relating to their peer group, to their neighbours, to the communities in which they lived or to the people they came across in their everyday lives. Identity, therefore ‘fits’ individuals into the society in which they live. 

The identity of individuals and groups involves both elements of personal choice and the responses and attitudes of others. Individuals are not free to adopt any identity they like, and factors like their social class, their ethnic group and their sex are likely to influence how others see them. The identity that an individual wants to assert and which they may wish others to see them having may not be the one that others accept or recognize. 

An Asian woman, for example, may not wish to be identified primarily as an Asian or a woman, but as a senior manager or entertainer. However, if others still continue to see her primarily in terms of her ethnic and gender characteristics, she may find it difficult to assert her chosen identity. Similarly, the pensioner who sees him or herself as ‘young at heart’ may still be regarded as an old person by others. —

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