Self-Identity & Group Identity:
Why do people subscribe to group identities?
Nowadays, people express their identity through the people they socialise with, and often the interests they share with them. We don’t invent our identity, we choose one. We never invent our own fashion or lifestyle, we just copy others’. If you create your own style you are one of a kind, you are rootless and therefore alone. Whatever our claims of being individualistic, no one really desires this.
We don’t primarily choose brands, we choose a culture, or rather the people associated with that culture. Whether you wear torn jeans or like to recite poetry, by doing this you make a statement that you belong to a group of people. This is how we really choose who we are, by deciding who we want to be like and demonstrating this to other’s in various often subtle ways. These links to various groups of people are enormously important. A group serves to reinforce the attributes that mark you as part of the group.
Group identities act as bonding of a person into its social context. There are many varieties: town/state/nation, university attended, preferred football team, racial groups, ownership of material possessions, car driven, clothes worn etc.
· The strength of the bonds to group identities is in an inverse relationship to individual responsibility. The stronger the identity, the lower is the individual responsibility.
· It requires effort to move from one group to another
· The person ‘hides’ behind the group and justifies its own actions in the conceptual framework of the group. This makes it acceptable for a person to commit destructive acts that it would otherwise detest.
· A group identity is always stronger than an individual alone.
· Group identities are self-reinforcing
identities are usually clustered around a centre
e.g. interests, leaders
traumas, others or one’s own, are often used as a means of building and
reinforcing the group
e.g. Hippies reinforced by horror of war
· Individual Persons often have multiple group identities to which they subscribe during their lives.
· Group identities allow persons to identify and categorise the strangers they meet in order to learn how to behave in relation to them.
The 'ravers' from the eighties are a good example of a group
identity. During the late 80s, young people with bandannas, brightly coloured
clothes and a crazed look in their eyes were being presented as the next youth
subculture. For the ravers (also known as clubbers) the shared experience is
attending a rave and possibly taking ecstasy which has
become synonymous with the rave culture. It could be that many youths wanted a form of 'escapism' to get away from the norms of every day life.
Group identities are born out of our needs as social beings. Patton and Griffin (1981), who studied interpersonal communication in action, suggest that:
"we depend on other people to confirm our views...to the extent that...we are able to grow, find out identity, gain self-esteem and feel we are firmly in touch with reality."
Maslow (1954) condenses all human needs into a hierarchy. He described social needs (as demonstrated in the subscription to group identities) as:
"a desire for companionship, acceptance, friendship and love."
His theories allowed for human need for esteem from others e.g. recognition.
Schultz (1966) points out three main needs, and of specific relevance, the need for inclusion. The main reason why people see it as better to be part of a group identity is because of their need for inclusion.
Group identities often have certain ways of dressing (i.e. shoes, clothing and hairstyles), speaking (i.e. slang), listening to music and gathering in similar places i.e. skateboarders at skate parks and ravers at dance clubs or outdoor raves. It is then assumed that shared activities reflect shared values. Firth states that "culture is all learned behaviour which has been socially acquired"
My research has explored the reasons behind the existence of group identities. The conclusions I can draw are that as social beings, we desire to be part of group identities because they provide us with a feeling of belonging, are stronger than an individual alone, bond a person into their social context, and satisfy our affiliation, social, self-esteem, control and safety needs.
They confirm our opinions and reinforce our status in society. Group identities are pervading so many aspects of life and therefore it can be said that attachment to the institution of a group can caused by a feeling of 'being left out'.
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