Exploring Psychology DSE212 Identities and diversities

Although the course texts themselves aren’t overly massive, there are a number of other resources that look like they could take the workload up a fair bit (e.g. the workbook and SPSS) so I’m making an early start on revision for the course with a view to produce a version of my ED209 style of notes as I go along. I’ll be producing a PDF version of these notes in due course.

The exam will be asking for definitions of what are listed as key topics throughout the books and I’ve highlighted those in the notes. As with ED209, my aim is to produce an average of about a page of so of notes for each chapter i.e. something that is of a useful size for revision.

Chapter 1, Identities and diversities, runs to 44 pages and is partly an introduction to psychology and the social sciences and partly a proper start on the course itself following the introductory chapter which is essentially a whistle-stop tour of 21st century psychology and how the subject got to this point. The essay in TMA1 is based around this area of the field, in particular asking how social identify theory and social constructionism describe identity and consequently these notes will probably be a bit better for those two topics.

The chapter starts off with how one might find out what someone considers their own identity to be and introduces the Twenty Statements Test in which participants are given 12 minutes to write 20 statements about themselves. The categories which people provide to this fall into a range of categories including characteristics (e.g. gender), social roles, personality, interests and tastes, attitudes and current state (e.g. “I am tired”). Although it’s very popular it has the downsides that only answers that come to mind and there are many things that only get mentioned when they go wrong (e.g. disabilities).

Moving on to embodiment it considers the changes that can be made in our identify in terms of clothing, body building, plastic surgery, and brain damage and the changes that this can make to our identity. In terms of clothing it mentions group identities formed by similar clothing. Disability receives its first mention in the context of the social model of disability which states that the consequences of disability aren’t purely down to the biology but rather due to social limitations e.g. buildings requiring legs to access rather than being wheelchair accessible.

Understanding personal identity introduces several theories notably the psychosocial theory of Erikson which links the aspects of psychological identity social identify and in particular our core identity which is literally what is at our core, what makes us “us” and runs throughout the other identities that we may have in different contexts i.e. our core values and beliefs. Erikson, working with WW2 veterans saw identify being created by way of resolving conflicts that arise throughout our lives. Notably, these conflicts arose in adolescence when typically we are involved in negotiations with others with a psychosocial moratorium period where we are trying our various social roles which eventually gets us through our identity crisis but, if we do not establish a solid identity at that point can lead to a drifting identity involving role diffusion. During this period we can become identified as part of various groups which can give rise to conflict with those outside our group. Marcia went on to develop the Identitity Status Interview which is a semi-structured interview that explores the commitments and crises that people have at various stages of their lives, identifying identity diffusion (low commitment, low exploration), identity foreclosure (high commitment, low exploration), moratorium (low commitment, high exploration) and identity achievement (high commitment, high exploration).

Moving on, we come to Social Identity Theory which considers how people come to be identified with some groups and not others. This addresses the limitations of the Erikson/Marcia approach in that 1) they considered the personal & social identities linked yet their theories treated them separately and 2) they didn’t consider the large-scale groupings such as race/gender/etc. Yet again, this arose out of WW2 but looking at the Holocaust rather than veterans. This considers personal (e.g. parent/child) and social identity (e.g. man/woman, black/white) to be separate with a social group being made up of people who shared a common identification. This led to the concept that you needed to both know who you are and also who you are not. His approach used experimentally established groups generating concepts such as the ingroup, outgroup and minimal group (the minimum conditions required for the group to form which, perhaps surprisingly, created conflict even in groups decided by the toss of a coin). Notably, there was discrimination in favour of the ingroup even when there was no benefit in doing so. Elliott (1968) used the blue eye/brown eye categorisation in a class setting as a segregation demonstration.

The third identify theory is social constuction does not have a single originator and considers that our identities are artificial constructions between ourselves and others that we meet in social situations. It recognises that a single individual can have conflicting identities e.g. one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist and, of course, these identifies can change with time. Moreover, how we describe ourselves in our life stories changes over time and different cultures will reflect different identity constructs (e.g. collectivism vs individualism). These identities can even change for different audiences that we are telling our stories to i.e. we can have multiple, potentially conflicting, identities at the same time (e.g. Judge Thomas was black, a man and conservative).

So how do these theories cope with explanations of disabilities? There’s the issue of calling people disabled vs calling them people with a disability for a start. Erikson/Marcia with their core identity would highlight the profound change in identity that can happen with someone who becomes disabled i.e. they have suddenly changed identity to a disabled person thud provoking an identify crisis. SIT and social construction allow more for changing identities as one goes through life e.g. in a special school, autism isn’t a particular identity if many of the children are autistic.

For the exam, the key topics for this chapter are highlighted above and are:

  • Social identity theory (SIT)
  • Social constructionism
  • Minimal group
  • Embodiment
  • Core identity

Next up is Evolutionary Psychology which, all being well, will be available in a few weeks.

Citing this:

Stewart, J A (2014), Exploring Psychology DSE212 Identities and diversities, Foreign Perspectives, 15 October 2014 [Blog], Available at http://www.foreignperspectives.com/exploring-psychology-dse212-identities-and-diversities/2014/10/15/opinion.htm (Accessed dd mm, yyyy)

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