Describe any one approach to identity. Discuss how this approach can help to explain the identities of people with disabilities.

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Describe any one approach to identity. Discuss how this approach can help to explain the identities of people with disabilities.


Identity is the term used to describe who a person is in the way they see and react to the world around them.  Identity is constructed by how we see ourselves and how we think other people perceive us.  For decades, (the first psychological theory of identity being created by William James, 1890) psychologists have conducted research into this field in order to understand how people make sense of the world and how they go about their everyday lives.  

At the present day there are three main approaches to identity: Erik Erikson and James Marcia’s psychosocial approach; Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory (SIT); and Social Constructionist theories.  All three approaches can be applied to the identity of people with disabilities but for the purpose of this essay I will be focusing on the Social Constructionist theories.  This is mainly because I feel that social constructionism it is the theory that allows a more fluid approach to the identities of people with disabilities.  For example, Erikson and Marcia’s psychosocial approach, although has scope to explain the identities of those with disabilities in adolescence through normative crisis, it can be argued that it then ignores any significant changes in later life.  Therefore, does not take into account when a person becomes disabled succeeding adolescence.  Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory allows for a significant change in any stage of life and could well have been a good choice of an approach to identity for the purpose of this essay.  However, I think that the criticism of this particular theory is that it could be seen to trivialise major social differences, such as disability, due to it being based on laboratory-based studies from simplified social processes.  Social constructionism focuses on how we negotiate embodied identities by analysis of day-to-day discourse and so can tackle the diversity of the subject of disability in a natural setting.  Also, even though social constructionism and SIT both agree that group relationships are important to our identities, social constructionism allows the group to which we belong to be subdivided, highlighting differences in social categories, such as black and disabled and therefore addresses the diversity in the identity of people with disabilities.  

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Social Constructionism

There are many social constructionist perspectives in many disciplines and therefore there is no one author to this approach, unlike the other theories mentioned above.  The main aspect of this approach is that there is no division between social and personal identity, and they are not treated as different systems.  As personal identity is dependant on social identity, identity must be wholly social.  Social constructionism means the construction of identity through social processes: how society treats certain groups of people; discourses (the language we use); and how we see and interact with other people.  We ...

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This essay aims to discuss identity theory in relation to disabled people. There is some good work noted