Summarise two theories of identity and compare their usefulness for explaining the real-world issues discussed in Chapter 1,'Identities and diversities'.
Identity is a complicated concept with theories taking different viewpoints to try and define the processes that produce it. Psychosocial identity theory and social identity theory have similarities and differences and vary in their usefulness for explaining real-world issues. PIT is based on formation of individual identity in a historical and community context and sees identity developing through stages as a result of identity crisis. SIT on the other hand is based on the formation of social identity through intergroup relationships, self stereotyping to act in accordance to appropriate rules of the group.
Erikson (1902-94) developed a psychosocial theory of identity from clinical and naturalistic observations and biographies of famous men (Phoenix, 2007). He theorised that identity is formed by the historical and community context in which a child or adolescent lives in through the development of a consistent stable sense of self. This core identity has a sense of continuity with past and the future direction and develops as a lifelong process (Phoenix, 2007). Erikson believed that identity developed in eight stages, with the fifth stage in adolescence being crucial. He thought that identity crisis takes place at this stage and different identities can be tried out before committing to one, which forms a secure identity known as ego identity. This theory views personal and social identities being interlinked by needing to identify with a group’s ideals, but concentrates on personal rather than group aspects of identity (Phoenix, 2007). Erikson thought that a threat to identity can mean over-identification with a group and resulting in prejudice to a outgroup and that identity is most apparent when it is not possible to take it for granted, such as soldiers fighting in wars.
Social Identity theory was developed by Tajfel (1919-82) who believed intergroup relationships are key to understanding social identities as a separate entity to personal identity (Phoenix, 2007) . He saw social identity being comprised of self-descriptions which we believe define the social groups to which we belong. He believed we self-stereotype ourselves, defining appropriate attitudes and behaviours to conform to the stereo-type and so recognise difference and diversity (Phoenix, 2007).
He used experimental laboratory studies to create artificial minimal groups. He found that categorising individuals into groups is enough to produce between group prejudice and he applied these findings to large scale social categories, seeing social identity at the root of prejudice as outgroups are viewed as inferior to increases self esteem. Groups viewed as inferior try to improve their status, changing socially through social creativity which promotes a positive image of a group to improve its status, or by social competition (Phoenix, 2007).
The two theories have similarities and differences in the way they address real world issues and the aspects of issues they address, being useful in explaining elements of identity formation but failing to account for all aspects.
Both theories are similar in their view identities as being produced through social relationships, historically and geographically located, with people being active in constructing their identity (Phoenix, 2007). A fundamental difference is that PIT focuses on individual identities, whereas SIT examines group identities. PIT overlooks large scale group identities such as race or gender whereas SIT addresses the social process by which people identify with particular groups but assumes that all identities are group associated (Phoenix, 2007). PIT using methods of naturalistic observation and study of biographies whereas SIT using experimental research.
The point at which