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Discuss (critically and with a range of examples) the notion that identity is bound up inextricably with the body

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Introduction

Discuss (critically and with a range of examples) the notion that identity is bound up inextricably with the body Traditional theory in the psychology of the individual claimed that personality could be categorised by pre-determined, inherent traits exhibited in people's behaviour. These traits had 'cross-situational consistency' and could be established through methodology such as intelligence tests and personality questionnaires (Eysenck, 1995). An example of this categorisation is Eysenck's (1970) extraversion and neuroticism study where people were classified into a particular category and it was believed that their behaviour could be predicted on this basis in any social situation. The new paradigm raised doubts about this traditional theory and emphasised the importance of context; this perspective was termed social constructionism. However, since advocates of this approach place so much importance on the influence of social interaction and norms and it has become so prominent, they fail to consider the significance of the body in forming identity. This essay will examine the social constructionist perspective, considering the importance of discourse and culture. It will then go on to look at how including the influence of body can be useful, including through gender. Finally, I will evaluate whether considering the body would provide a positive contribution to the understanding of the individual, or whether the current social constructionist perspective is sufficient. Firstly, it is necessary to highlight that social contructionism is an epistemological perspective; that is, it is not an explanatory theory but more of a 'philosophy' of understanding (Gergen, 1985). ...read more.

Middle

This is culturally specific as the English language has only one word for it, but I still think that whatever it is called the fact that semi-frozen water is falling down from the sky will still be there. All of this points inevitably to the idea that, for social constructionists, there is no actual 'truth'. Since everything only exists and has meaning in relation to the social context, nothing can be real. Latour & Woolgar (1979) and Knorr-Cetina (1981) (see Gergen, 1985) carried out participant observation on investigations in naturel sciences and concluded that what were seen as facts were themselves reliant on social microprocesses. However, although the social constructionist perspective is convincing, this is the first place where it proverbially shoots itself in the foot. If, as constructionists argue, nothing is 'true' or 'real' how can they say that their perspective is true and, implicitly, that the body has no importance? Especially when, if everything is culturally and historically specific, nothing they say be taken as truth or relevant to another culture or age, as they are also subject to the particular context in which they are situated. Sartre (1966) (see Synnott, 1993) said the body was the complete representation of the self: that was all we were. As much I think this is a little extreme, as I do think there is some social influence, I do agree that it has some importance. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, this is not to say that the social constructionist perspective should be ignored. On the contrary, I believe that a combination of the two is the only way to gain a complete understanding of the psychology of the individual, as those such as Burr (1999) assert. After all 'bodies are the intimate place where nature and culture meet' (Cromby & Nightingale, 1999, p.10) Hatcher (1994) conducted an investigation asking students which event they felt marked their transition into adulthood. Although 24% said it was physiological puberty, a higher 34% said it was moving away to college. I would agree with the majority as I did not feel as though I was an adult until I left home to come to university either. At the age of 11, when puberty began for myself and many others, I was far from becoming an adult; though a reliance on the body to determine this would say otherwise. In contrast, if I had decided that I wanted to have a child, this would have not been possible until I did experience physiological puberty. Hence, the latter was determined by my body and the former was socially constructed, emphasising the importance of a dual understanding. Therefore, if social constructionism continues to ignore embodiment and treat it as completely unimportant when studying the psychology of the individual, it will lose its prominent place as a perspective. Critics are beginning to realise this flaw and will reject the idea as a whole if social constructionists do not take steps to amend it soon. ...read more.

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