How much control do we have in shaping our own identities?
‘An identity is ‘the set of behavioural or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognisable as a member of a group’. The amount of control we have over shaping our own identities depends on the relationship between the personal and the social and thus between agency and structure, and equally of our awareness of those structures. This essay will look at some of the ways in which our identities are formed, and how much control we have in shaping them.
Shaping our identities requires some active engagement on our part as we consciously or unconsciously choose to identify with particular identities or groups over others.(Freud) We do this through the use of symbols such as clothing (Williamson, 1986) and language, which allow us to recognise and mark ourselves as the same as those we share an identity with, and different from those we do not. Identity is marked by difference (Woodward). Therefore, our identity is important as it not only tells us who we are, but it tells others who we are, and who we are not.
Our ability to imagine how others might see us allows us to symbolise the sort of person we would like to be seen as. (Mead 1934). In situations such as job interviews, we can imagine the kind of candidate they will be looking for, and then identify with that image accordingly. While this ability offers scope for agency, we are restricted to using the language and symbols that already exist in society. Goffman (1959) said that we are like actors in a play. Through our daily interactions with people we may choose the role we want to play, but the script has already been written for us.
Sometimes the way we see ourselves is not the same as others see us, and in some circumstances we cannot choose the groups to which we belong, and can find it hard to move out of the identities that others recognise us by. For example Jade Goody proved herself to be an astute businesswoman...