Identity is influenced and shaped by many factors. These can be by agency, the choice of factors we make or by structure, the factors that we are given. Social structures can be seen as influences that we may be born into or given and difficult if not unable to change. There are several structures that influence identity of which gender, nationality and ethnicity are three.
The structure of gender is often seen as the difference of sex, either male or female. This is the biological labelling that is used on traditional identity documents such as birth certificates and passports. The birth certificate is the document that is primarily used to obtain the other identity documents that you may need throughout your life. The birth certificate only takes into account your external biological appearance. It has no bearing on either your internal construction or your future feelings. There are varied influences on gender ranging from the perceived social class you are from to your cultural and ethnic background. As you grow and are influenced by childhood experiences of the roles and symbols shown by others, your perception of your gender may change. There are clichéd characteristics that have been used to identify feminine and masculine qualities, even to the point of colour coding girls and boys as pink and blue. These characteristics provide us with differences of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and this leads to diversity. The level of these qualities in different people is varied and gives us a far greater spectrum of gender.
Nationality can be seen as the country of your birth or your parents’ birth if living elsewhere. This allows you to identify with a country and culture and from this nationality will come language and legal value that you will be constrained by its laws and statues. Your birth certificate will give your place of birth and this in turn will aid you in getting a passport another official document that is structured. This can seem confusing to others when checking these documents if the place of birth is different from your given nationality. Your perception of where you come from will be the influences from the family and society you are brought up in. The nation will have a history and this will have helped shaped the society of that nation. You will be able to identify with the symbols and labels of others with the same nationality through a common language and the values that the country promotes.
Your ethnicity and race can be linked to your nationality and place of birth along with your family cultural background. As you grow and develop you can identify with various symbols and roles that are stereotyped to your ethnic group. These stereotypical attributes may be re-enforced by your family or experiences at school. All these experiences will enable you to recognise yourself and sense belonging to that ethnic group. As the nationality and place of birth may change for these ethnic groups the social influences may affect cultural beliefs and the ethnic group may form a further ethnic group as differences and similarities are found. This can be seen from the changing census categories within this country over the period 1971 to 2001 from the Office for National Statistics, 1999 (Lewis et al, 2004 p 138-139). These categories expanded and ethnic groups were further sub divided into more ethnic groups. This can be seen as ethnic groups finding a collective identity from either shared discrimination or shared similarities and gaining recognition from classification.
Although structure sets us on a road to identity there are certain elements of agency that people are able to use to help change lanes. Even biological factors that govern sex and give us gender can now be changed by surgical procedures. Either can select the majority of typical roles that are seen as being female or male and over time these typical roles may change