Major Theories Regarding the Nature of Personal and Social Identity

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Major Theories Regarding the Nature of Personal and Social Identity

Richard Jenkins said that ‘Without social identity, there is in fact, no Society’. Sociologists see identity as related to the society in which people live. They believe that our identity is formed against a social background, which tries to make social interaction meaningful, understandable and organised by categorising people in order of the group they belong to. Because we are categorised in such a way, we become recognisable as people such as mothers, daughters, students etc.

The nature of identity is seen as a social phenomenon and a key factor of our social lives because our identities are also based on where we work,
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For symbolic interactionists, such as Cooley who developed the ‘looking-glass self theory’, he stated that once an individual had established his own self-awareness, they would then use the behaviours of others towards them as a ‘mirror’ in which is a reflection of the image the individual is and this creates their identity. This theory is similar to that of the self fulfilling prophecy idea in that if you are labelled as something you then ‘live up’ to that label.

George Herbert Mead another interactionist, argued that the perceptions and behaviour we produce is influenced by the social groups in which we belong and that our identity (our self) is only meaningful to ourselves because we interact differently in each social group we are a member of. Therefore, what one person perceives us to be, another may not. For example, if I am a daughter my mother will most likely see me as innocent and precious where as if I am a teacher my pupils should hopefully see me as a person of authority and in charge and not innocent and precious. As a result of this our self-image only really applies to ourselves as we have many different images that we portray in society but it’s important to note that without the existence of social groups ‘the self’ would not develop because we would probably only have one identity.


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