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To what extent are social psychologists in agreement about how best to approach an understanding of the self?

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Introduction

To what extent are social psychologists in agreement about how best to approach an understanding of the ?self?? How do you define self? Some may say it is personality or characteristics that form an identity but what about somebody suffering with dissociative identity disorder ? which personality defines who they are? If we believe our personality or characteristics form an identity and make up our ?self? ? well how do we form an identity; how do we gain the knowledge to make ourselves unique and an individual so much so we can term it as ?me?? Postmodernists believe family and religion position people, (Holloway, 2007, p.122) this is evident especially when we look at Middle Eastern people from the Muslim faith, growing up in a devout all-Muslim family and society ? how easy or even possible would it be to say ?I want to be catholic?. Within some countries and/or societies many aspects of creating a totally unique self have already been decided through social constructs within the individual?s society (i.e religion, occupation, freedom of choice with arranged marriages). Western sociologists have termed this complex process of social transformation as individualisation ? producing individuals with freedom of choice, self-reflection and the capacity for autonomy, however western culture is fraught with an illusion of an idealistic version ...read more.

Middle

So how can you truly know that the embodied self being described in such detail is not a ?self? that the individual is choosing to portray to the psychologist? The social psychoanalytic approach attempts to deal with this using the Free Association Narrative interview which asks open but specific questions, these simple questions elicit complex, rich data similar to phenomenological data collection and similarly, the material is taken as whole to avoid contextualisation issues. However, the key difference is the analysis ? phenomenologists do not analyse with an attempt to find causal relationships, they encourage a reflexive analysis in a hope to gain new insight, enough so to effect change (Finlay, 2007, DVD1). This is all good and well, but moving back to Goffman and Meads theory; people have the ability to withhold and distort information, consciously and unconsciously. Once data is collected from the Free Association Narrative interview, social psychoanalytic psychologists analyse in an interpretative manner, looking for logical contradictions that reveal unconscious defence mechanisms, taking account of the social setting, they try to understand hidden aspects of self. They believe many sources of motivation and action come from an unconscious place that is intersubjective (Holloway, 2007, p.128). ...read more.

Conclusion

These two different ontological approaches do share a common theme; they both believe that knowledge is situated within a time and place; knowledge, in this instance, is classified as our experience and social interactions and the meaning we make from them. It is agreed that this situated knowledge shapes and influences the ingredients that make up who we are. In conclusion, within social psychology there is no correct approach to dealing with ?self?, phenomenological and social psychoanalytic do agree on the dynamic, embodied, socially situated self and they both elicit rich data based on experience through a narrative or observation but it seems that depending on your ontological approach or what information you are trying to extract really dictates what methodology you choose. Holloway (2007) discussed binaries in making sense of self, one particular binary; conscious awareness or unconscious motivations, with the case of Vince, whose unconscious motivations were revealed to him through psychoanalysis ? what happens next? Phenomenology could take his newly discovered conscious awareness and reflexively help to ease a conflicted self. It seems that even though social psychologists do not always agree with methods or how we understand individuals the most important theme, that knowledge created from experience is reflective of the social context of time, is shared, after all self does not emerge from a vacuum. ...read more.

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