Identity is what defines individuals. Each person is unique, and it is impossible to find two individuals who have exactly the same identity, however sociology focuses mostly on social facts. It observes the individuals as bearers of a culture that is marked by all the social relations. Indeed, individual identity forges itself in social life, and it partly depends on our characteristics: gender, age, occupation, diploma, standard of living, etc… Being a man or a woman, socialising in this or that family, but also the social environment, region, culture, religion, or having a particular type of occupation and specific social ties: the whole biography helps to forge the identity. Therefore there are very complex and intricate links between identity and belonging. For Marxist theorists, there is no real complexity though: membership (reduced mainly to class membership) produces identity. On the contrary, in a Weberian conception, membership (class but also religion) contributes to the identities’ construction. According to their affiliations and relationships, individuals generate representations of what they are, individually and collectively. Thus the resulting identity allows to adjust the membership in terms of what one wants to be. Furthermore, the identity of an individual is always both inherited, due to objective affiliations, and built, because of the image one projects and the personality that one produces. It should be added that the identity is multifaceted, and the work of identity construction is happening in all areas: gender identity, family, professional, cultural, political, or religious identity (Web 1).
I have decided to take as facets of my identity, gender and family, but for the third one I at first hesitated between culture and consumer. I opted to wait for the lectures on these subjects and see which one would make me react the most. Concerning the lecture I am: a consumer, I think I was expecting something else. Some theories appeared truly unbelievable to me, (for example Daniel Miller’s “making love in supermarkets” essay in A Theory of Shopping (1998)) and I realised that I could not really apply any of them to myself. Thus I decided to take culture as the third facet of my identity. It is obvious that our societies are composed by a multitude of individuals with very different identities, but my French identity affects and rules all my behaviours even if I am in another environment. But how is this social identity built? I tried to make a list of all that could have an impact on identity: socialisation, social class and the relationship between them, symbolic violence, domination, Bourdieu and his forms of capital, gender, generation, culture, conformity, and social control.
Even if I am still not sure how to think sociologically about culture, I suppose that it is a set of beliefs, habits and norms that you share with a group of people. For example, one shares a language, a history and/or a religion with people from the same country. According to Giddens (2009), culture is a way of life of a society, or of a group within a society. The question that needed to be asked is: is this way of life only learned, or also inherited? Giddens considers that culture comprises both imperceptible and perceptible aspects. The abstract aspects would be the beliefs and values, and the distinct aspects would be the symbols and objects that represent the values. Nevertheless, Giddens also identifies two different types of culture: traditional and modern culture. I have integrated the French culture because I speak French, I am proud that we cut the head of our king, that we are well-known for our writers, philosophers and gastronomy. These aspects constitute, as Bourdieu would say, my cultural capital. It measures all cultural resources of an individual, that can be divided in three forms: incorporated (knowledge and know-how, skills, forms of speech, etc.), objectified (possession of cultural objects) and institutionalized (titles and academic degrees). The analyses of Pierre Bourdieu have, in some way, attempted to bring the Weberian and Marxist vision together. This sociologist distinguished indeed a mode of social classification based on the greater or lesser detention of the three forms of capital such as economic (income and assets), cultural (level of education and cultural practices) and social capital (networking, prestige, knowledge of the ” rules” of social power). The combination of these three forms of capital is multifaceted and draws a social world characterized both by the overall volume and the composition of capital. Groups combining the three forms of capital at a high level have the strongest power of symbolic domination that allows them to impose their conception of the social order to the rest of society, internalizing the domination legacy and thereby strengthening it.
The first thing I was absolutely sure about when I found out that we would have to write a reflective journal about ourselves, was that I would have to talk about gender, sex and feminism. The lecture I am: a woman started with a really interesting activity. We had to draw a person with all the characteristics of a woman, and my group struggled to decide if we were going to draw a typical woman or not. My group decided to draw a nice woman with long hair and makeup, she was wearing a flower dress and heels and was carrying a baby. I completely disagreed but I was unfortunately the only one… A really interesting group drew a human being without any sexual distinctions, saying in a bubble comics “I am a woman”, and for all that, they wrote “I do not need long hair, makeup or children”. The only point I disagreed with in their drawing was that they also wrote “I do not need to have a vagina” and I think this is where the border between sex and gender is. Anyway, strangely I identified myself more in the second drawing than in my group’s one. I am now wondering what being a woman involves (without falling into all the stereotypes) and how I can analyse my gender position in a sociological way.
British sociologist Ann Oakley explains that masculinity and femininity are not inherent in the individual, but are psychological and cultural attributes. They derive from a social process in which the individual acquires the masculine or feminine characteristics. She introduces the concept of gender as an analytical tool to allow the distinction between the biological dimension (sex) and the cultural dimension (gender). But even before Oakley, Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949, “one is not born a woman, one becomes one”. In The Second Sex, she describes and analyses how civilization and education affect children and lead them towards a male or female role that serves the social order even though girls and boys are not initially distinguishable. Maybe the concepts of masculinity and femininity are responsible for the masculine domination and the construction of the inequalities between women and men? It is important to note that the sexual oppositions are stronger when leaving the school system than at the entrance. These oppositions induce an unequal sharing of domestic and parental duties within the couple; these weigh on activity rates, working hours, women’s careers, and thus the salary.
During the lecture about the family, the first task that we had to perform was to make a list of the people that we consider as our family. I first decided to exclude friends, because they constitute a separate group in my life, and I must admit that I cannot understand when someone considers a brother or a sister as the best friend. So I included only blood relatives, but not all of them, because, to me, they have to be in my private sphere, celebrate special occasions, care for one another, and have a biological and/or emotional link. Now I am wondering if I would include my boyfriend in my family, but probably not, or after a really long time, so maybe memories have a role to play in a family. However, as Durkheim said, in modern societies based on organic solidarity, people are becoming more and more different, complementary, and in a way dependent on each other. Indeed, as individuals become more autonomous, the individual consciousness grows, and the needed complementarity strengthens social cohesion. Our main social institutions is our family, because it is the most important agent of primary socialisation during the child’s life (Macionis & Gerber, 2010). However, in the past decades the relationship between the individual and the family has been radically transformed: decline of marriage, rising divorce rates and the emergence of new forms of unions reflect a deinstitutionalization of the nuclear family. Even if the family is the main place of socialisation and social integration, it no longer counteracts social isolation, and it has lost its function as prescription standards of behaviour. Note however that the integrative role continues to manifest itself through more or less intense solidarity, such as financial aid between generations, trade in services, psychological and moral support etc.
But does it mean that I am determined by my family? Am I just the product of my primary socialisation? Pierre Bourdieu wrote in The Inheritors (1979), that social heredity and reproduction of class structures pass through the transmission within the family, and the capital in various forms. Economic capital promotes social inheritance in trade and industry, children often inheriting the tools and the parents’ socio-economic status. Cultural capital promotes social reproduction in intellectual occupations, in which the access is based on academic qualifications. This mechanism intervenes in families of teachers, but also doctors and lawyers whose children have a cultural immersion and socialisation adapted to a future career within the same environments. Social capital refers to other resources, such as the relational network mobilized or social knowledge (social ease, skills), which allow to enhance the economic and cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, it is the combination of these forms of capital that is the cause of the process of social reproduction.
To conclude, I do not think that it is possible to fully answer the question: Who am I? Nevertheless, by drawing on the gender, the family and culture facets of my identity, I understood that my social identity is the link between myself and the society I live in. It produces the relationship I have with others, either in terms of similarities or differences. One of the characteristics of identity is that it is both individual and social. On the one hand, the different facets of my identity (I am a woman, I am part of a culture, I am a member of my family) show who I belong to the social world. But on the other hand, these memberships are not reducible to my or someone else’s personality. Being a particular gender or having such national identity come from a historical and cultural identity. Thereby the social identity is the link between the society and the subject. Moreover, the primary socialisation, represented mostly by the family, is at the basis of the identity. It is during the childhood that one learns and integrates a culture, or some gendered behaviours. Indeed children’s books play a major role in fixing stereotypical attitudes and thoughts (Terras, 2014). The idea that all the little girls are princesses and the little boys are knights is spread by the society and incorporated by the children. It is the same process for culture. If a child hears, at home, a racist discourse, he/she will probably be more narow-minded and intolerant about any other “race” than the one he/she learnt was superior. It would be now interesting to look at the role of school as a place of social reproduction. Indeed, most individuals spend more than 15 years in a scholar institution, so it has to impact the social interactions, the internalisation of stereotypes, norms and values, and more generally, the social identity.
- Bourdieu, P. (1979) The Inheritors: French Students and Their Relations to Culture, University of Chicago Press
- De Beauvoir, S. (1949) The Second Sex.
- Giddens, A. (2009) 6th ed. Polity Press.
- Macionis, J. & Gerber L. (2010) Sociology 7th Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson Canada, pp. 104-116
- Miller, D. (1998) A Theory of Shopping. Cornell University Press
- Oakley, A. (1972), Sex, Gender and society, Londres, Temple Smith
- Terras, M. (2014) ‘Male, Mad and Muddleheaded: The portrayal of academics in children’s books is shockingly narrow.’ The London School of Economics and Political Science [Online] Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/ (Accessed: 10 March 2014)