Social science begins to provide us with some of the answers to the question of how are identities are formed. There is no way to define exactly what an identity actually is or how an identity is formed as there are many different factors that together establish who we are and how we become who we are. This essay will look at what an identity is, how we become to form our identities and in conclusion what they are and the limitations of them.
Our identity is our way of portraying ourselves to others, either by means of doing this verbally, symbolically or subconsciously. Our identity is how we see our self’s and how we wish for other to see us; an image of who we believe our self to be. We also use our identity as a way to interact with the social world, to find similarities around us or to differentiate ourselves from others.
The building blocks of our identity start almost from birth. Depending on our genetics we are categorised as either being male of female in this we have no choice. Throughout our childhood we start to develop our own understand of our identity and begin to categorise ourselves but many of these categories have already been constructed by society for example children can express characteristics of femininity or masculinity through their choice of toys (cars and trucks for boys, dollies and prams for girls; home economic classes for girls and manual craft technology classes for boys) but this is influenced by the parents and or institutions making that choice available to be offered. Our identity may change with time and circumstances as we grow older we begin to understand the complexities of who we are. We use our identity to communicate how we see ourselves to others.
We begin to actively seek out associations with people, groups, cultures and use these to establish more of an identity, it may be we join a collective group and that group has a symbol that represents them for example the Rastafarian culture use their symbol of red, gold and green colours and or their appearance of dread locked hair, to associate ourselves with that collective we would use that symbol making it part of our image so that others can identify with us as we do to them as George Herbert Mead would describe as ‘symbolising’. But although we make the choice of affiliation we find we have to use predefined symbols.
Are there other factors in play when we form our identity? We could look at Sigmund Freud’s theory of understanding the subconscious to answer this as he showed in his studies that children that had their needs and wants repressed materialised these through dreams and slips of the tongue known as Freudian slips in later life and how it suggests that we bring childhood experiences even those that are subconscious into the decisions we make as adults (Woodward, K., 2004 p.16-17).
This could contribute to the choices we make but also shows limitations on our ability to completely control the identities we may adopt. Or maybe we could use the theatrical metaphor of Ervin Goffman where life is a stage and we are all actors reading from a script but just adding in our own interpretations playing out roles that we choose that suit our everyday interaction and communication with others (Woodward, K., 2004 p.14).
In conclusion social science tells us there are several factors that determine how we and why we form an identity to answer the question of “who are we?” through symbolisation, interaction and the sub consciousness. How we decide to use them to interact with the world around us referring back to Ervin Goffman’s theatrical metaphor but it also shows us that no matter how much free choice we feel we have to become who we are we are still controlled by factors of social constraints in one way or another. This limitation of free choice could in itself be a factor of the identity we choose and how we choose to use that identity within our lives.