1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6

what can social science tell us about the formation of identities

Extracts from this essay...


What can social science tell us about the formation of identities? "Identity offers a means of thinking about and understanding how the personal and social are connected" (Woodward, 2003, p 19). The concept of identity in social science has many personal and social dimensions to be accounted for. For instance, gender, social class, nationality, and ethnicity. Some aspects are formed through official documents such as a passport or birth certificate. According to Woodward (2004, p 8) Madan Sarup uses passports from different stages of his life to convey some aspects of his identity. All three passports reveal his name, gender and categorize him as to what nation he belongs to, suggesting continuity to his identity. The passports also reveal his physical appearance. The question, "which is the real you?" by Sarup's friend, suggests that identities are not fixed but changing over time, acquiring multiple identities is possible. Woodward (2004, p 151)


These experiences would resurface in later life, and influence the choices an individual makes. In turn, limiting the control over the identities that they adopt. However, according to Woodward (2004, p 17) Freud argues that therapy can help to understand those repressed early childhood experiences and regain agency. A weakness of his theory is that he used "unrepresentative samples and techniques which were not fully objective". Most of his cases studies were adult women. Therefore, Freud's theory on identity formation is flawed (Hill, p 72). Louis Althusser claimed that identity is formed when the individual is "interpellated" into. The individual would decide which identity fits them. For example, a mothers identity can change with time. In the 1950's a mothers role would have been housewife, in contrast to the present day many women have separate careers as well as the role of mother and housewife. The structure of society is important in shaping identity. Class, gender, and ethnicity are important dimensions because they demonstrate the constant conflict between agency and structure.


Peter Saunders (1984), sociologist, argues consumption cleavages of 1980's replace class as being responsible for shaping identities (cited in Woodward, 2004, p 106). Furthermore, Woodward (2004, p 33) claims identity is marked by personal or social similarities that are shared. For example, 'so you think im a mule?' a poem written by Jackie Kay. The poem questions Kay's origin. Despite Kay's Glaswegian accent and claims to be from Glasgow, the woman outcasts her on the basis of skin colour. The woman believes that black people cannot be genuinely British, suggesting that white have superiority over black, highlighting the uncertainties and diversities that people face in a multicultural society. Social class, gender and ethnicity are key concepts in understanding how identity is formed. Although, changes lead to uncertainty and diversity, this means new identities are formed. Formation is not just reliant upon the characteristics of the individual, social structure also relies on it. Hence, linking the personal to the social. In conclusion, social science can tell that the formation of identity is not fixed but dynamic.

The above preview is unformatted text

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • Over 150,000 essays available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Over 180,000 student essays
  • Every subject and level covered
  • Thousands of essays marked by teachers
  • Over 180,000 essays
    written by students
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to write
    your own great essays

Marked by a teacher

This essay has been marked by one of our great teachers. You can read the full teachers notes when you download the essay.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review on the essay page.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review under the essay preview on this page.