Identity is created by a number of influencing factors, some of which are interpellated and some which we make a conscious decision to choose or exclude. It is argued that work is a contributory factor in the creation of our identities with work loosely being translated as either paid employment or being unemployed. The meaning of ‘work’, for the purpose of this argument, consists of sub factors such as income, unemployment, social class deriving from income, collective identities, the economy and status as a result of occupation.
Firstly, it has been argued that our identities are shaped by our income. Income allows us to consume and depending on the amount of income we generate this results in what we consume and our ability to selectively purchase goods. Bourdieu (1977 pg 107/8) argued that people are able to express their identities through consumption and also that as taste differs between social class then consumption will also differ. People in different social classes are unlikely to have the same consumption patterns, which leads to a difference in the ability to portray identity.
For example, the ability to purchase expensive clothing and material goods such as cars from being in a well paid job will create an identity of a middle class citizen compared to a shop assistant’s wage on which limited items can be purchased. Consumption preferences and abilities are highly symbolic markers of status and dividers in social class. Some sociologists have argued that consumption has replaced class and that this now is the key factor in the structure of social division and identity. It has also been argued that identity is created by socialisation.
Secondary socialisation is the socialisation process that takes place during the later years of life, for example in school and the workplace. Erving Goffman (pg 14/15) devised a theory concerning social roles. He observed that individuals adopt various roles throughout life and by responding to the reaction of others, the individuals will either adopt or discard a role (or identity) which they deem to be acceptable by others. Work related identities are therefore socially produced; we cannot have had such identities except in relation to others.
A sense of who we are or an understanding of ‘me’ is closely tied to having a shared position linked to work and in particular paid work. Being in a controlled group creates a collective identity in which people relate to others and begin to emulate others in the group. Personal and professional identities are created. Therefore paid work is a source of collective identity through relationships with colleagues at work, it could be argued that we are interpeallated into an identity when we are in employment e. . We must conform to dress standards, performance, attitude and conduct.
Conforming to the ‘boundaries’ that employment creates mould our work based identities and this identity is often very different from the identity that we perceive of ourselves, the identity we symbolise. Identities from paid work are also created by the way we feel about a job, our ability to socialise with colleagues and our relationship with others. Not being in paid work also results in identities being formed.
Jan Pen (pg87) created the ‘identity parade’ to help people visualise how income is distributed. His findings were that there are substantially more people on a low income than those on an average or higher than average income. Identities are created for the poor. They can often be perceived as lazy, uneducated or boring. Poverty has also been interpreted as a destruction of identity and has been argued that this is the bottom line in determining who we are i. e. , we cannot go any lower in terms of social class.
In the boom of the coal mining era the identities of the miners were strong, they were perceived as masculine, breadwinners, contributors to the social class. When the mining era was over, there was much uncertainty about their identity, had they lost their masculinity? They were no longer the breadwinner, with many being on state benefit or being in irregular work. They were interpellated into an identity, which had been created by the loss of paid work. They had been socially excluded from a society created by paid work and had lost part of an identity that work had created.
Class-consciousness is relevant to the understanding of identity (Marx pg98) Social class can provide us with a sense of belonging, it tells us who we are and who ‘they’ are and enables us to relate to the world around us. However many sociologists argue that class has lost much of its significance for identity. Working class identification was reflected in mass memebr ship of organisations such as the labour party, trade unions and work based social and political clubs.
In conclusion, I have looked at the main aspects of how work may shape a person’s identity, income, socialisation in the workplace, unemployment and social class. It is evident that work is a contributory factory in influencing and creating identities. However the identities which are created by work are not static, they are subject to constant change by economic changes, changes in employment and personal circumstances. There is an evident link between income, people’s behaviour and the way in which identity is created.