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Social Psychology of Identities

Author(s): Judith A. Howard

Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 26 (2000), pp. 367-393
Published by: Annual Reviews
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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2000. 26:367-93
Copyright( 2000 by AnnualReviews. All rightsreserved


JudithA. Howard
Departmentof Sociology, Universityof Washington,Seattle, Washington98195;

Key Words social constructionof identity,language,intersectionsof identities,

social cognition,symbolicinteraction
* Abstract In thischapterI reviewthe socialpsychologicalunderpinnings of iden-
tity,emphasizingsocialcognitiveandsymbolicinteractionist perspectivesandresearch,
andI turnthento key themesof currentworkon identity-social psychological,so-
ciological,andinterdisciplinary.I emphasizethe social bases of identity,particularly
identitiesbasedon ethnicity,race, sexuality,gender,class, age, and (dis)ability,both
separatelyandas theyintersect.I alsotakeupidentitiesbasedon space,bothgeographic
andvirtual.I discussstrugglesoveridentities,organizedby socialinequalities,nation-
alisms, and social movements.I concludeby discussingpostmodernistconceptions
of identitiesas fluid,multidimensional,personalizedsocial constructionsthatreflect
sociohistoricalcontexts,approachesremarkablyconsistentwith recentempiricalso-
cial psychologicalresearch,andI argueexplicitlyfor a politicizedsocial psychology
of identitiesthatbringstogetherthe structuresof everydaylives andthe sociocultural
realitiesin whichthoselives arelived.

"Identity... is a concept thatneitherimprisons(as does much in sociology)

nor detaches (as does much in philosophy and psychology) persons from
their social and symbolic universes, [so] it has over the years retaineda
generic force thatfew concepts in our field have."
(Davis 1991:105)
"[I]dentityis never a priori,nor a finishedproduct;it is only ever the
problematicprocess of access to an image of totality."


"Identity"is a keyword of contemporarysociety and a central focus of social

psychological theorizingandresearch.At earlierhistoricalmoments,identitywas
not so muchanissue; when societies were morestable,identitywas to a greatextent
assigned,ratherthanselected or adopted.In currenttimes, however,the concept of
identitycarriesthe full weight of the need for a sense of who one is, togetherwith an
often overwhelmingpace of changein surroundingsocial contexts-changes in the

0360-0572/00/0815-0367$14.00 367

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groupsand networksin which people and theiridentitiesare embeddedand in the

societalstructuresandpracticesin whichthose networksarethemselvesembedded.
Social cognitionand symbolic interaction,two of the prevailingperspectivesin
sociological social psychology,providethe theoreticalunderpinningsof traditional
understandingsof identity.In the past severaldecades, the concept of identityhas
been takenup morebroadly,both within sociology andin otherdisciplines. In this
essay, I review key questions and recent researchon identity in social cognition
and symbolic interaction,then take up key themes of currentsocial psychological
work on identity:identityand social inequalitiesparticularlyas expressedin race
and ethnicity,gender,sexuality,and othersystems of social stratification;research
on how these multipleidentitiesintersect;identitiesbased on locationalindicators
such as geography,place, cyberspace;questions of the (in)stabilityof identities;
and the politicizationof identities.


Social cognition is a theory of how we store and process information(Fiske &

Taylor1991, Augoustinos& Walker1995). Social cognitionhas close rootsto psy-
chology and a relianceon experimentallaboratorymethodologies.Severalcentral
assumptionsunderlie social cognitive theories of identity:that human cognitive
capacitiesare limited;that,therefore,we process informationas cognitive misers,
streamlininginformationto manage the demands of everyday interaction;that,
following fromthis need for cognitive efficiency,we categorizeinformationabout
people, objects, and situationsbefore we engage memoryor inferentialprocesses.

Cognitive Structures
Cognitiveschemas,abstractandorganizedpackagesof information,arethe cogni-
tive version of identities. Self-schemas include organizedknowledge aboutone's
self, the cognitive response to the question of identity:Who am I? These include
the characteristics,preferences, goals, and behavior patternswe associate with
ourselves. Groupschemas (analogousto stereotypes)include organizedinforma-
tion about social positions and stratificationstatuses, such as gender, race, age,
or class. Because the social positions we occupy have immediate consequences
for our sense of self, group schemas play a major part in processes of identifi-
cation. Self and group schemas illustrateboth advantagesand disadvantagesof
categorizationsystems. They allow us to summarizeand reduce informationto
key elements;thus, they also entail losing potentiallyvaluableinformation.And,
categorizationsare almost always accompaniedby systems of evaluationof some
categoriesas betteror worse. Schemas are notjust perceptualphenomenona;they
can serve as explanatorydevices andjustificationsof social relationships(Tajfel
1981). Thus, social identities are embeddedin sociopoliticalcontexts.
Social identitytheoryfocuses on the extentto which individualsidentify them-
selves in termsof groupmemberships(Tajfel& Turner1986). The centraltenet of

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social identity theory is that individuals define their identities along two
dimensions: social, defined by membershipin various social groups; and per-
sonal, the idiosyncraticattributesthatdistinguishan individualfrom others.Social
and personalidentitiesare thoughtto lie at opposite ends of a continuum,becom-
ing more or less salient dependingon the context. Deaux (1993), however,argues
for an interplaybetween the two, suggesting they are not easily separable.So-
cial identitiesprovide statusand enhance(or not) self-esteem. Because people are
motivatedto evaluatethemselves positively,they tend to evaluatepositively those
groups to which they belong and to discriminateagainst groups they perceive to
pose a threatto their social identity.
Empirical support has relied heavily on studies using the minimal group
paradigm (Tajfel 1970), whereby people are classified into distinct groups on
the basis of an arbitraryand trivialcriterionunderconditionsfree from otherfac-
tors usually associatedwith groupmemberships.Underthese minimalconditions,
people do discriminatein favorof in-groupsin allocationof variousrewards.The
most sociologically relevantrecent studieshave extendedthis traditionto socially
meaningfulgroups and situations.Simon et al (1997), for example, demonstrate
that being in a numericalminority (a predictorof identificationin this tradition)
does not lead to identificationunless the in-group-out-groupcategorizationis sit-
The more positive, andmorepersonallyimportant,aspectsof the self are likely
to be bases on which a person locates her- or himself in terms of collective cate-
gories (Simon & Hastedt 1999), demonstratingthe relationshipbetween catego-
rizationandevaluation.This pointstowardmoresuccessfulattainmentof a positive
social identityfor those in dominantsocial groups.This process is a challenge for
membersof stigmatized,negativelyvaluedgroups,who may attemptto dissociate
themselves, to evaluatethe distinguishingdimensions of in-groupsas less nega-
tive, to rate their in-groupas more favorableon other dimensions, or to compete
directly with the out-groupto producechanges in the statusof the groups.Much
of this researchaccordsconsiderableagency,both cognitive andmaterial,to social
One relevantline of researchexploresthe psychological consequencesof iden-
tifications with ethnic in- and out-groups.Fordham& Ogbu (1986), for exam-
ple, suggest that academic failure among African-Americanstudentsrepresents
a desire to maintain their racial identity and solidarity with their own culture.
High-achievingAfrican-Americanchildren develop a "raceless"persona, but at
the cost of interpersonalconflictandambivalence;adoptionof "raceless"behaviors
and attitudesdo have negativepsychological consequencesfor African-American
students (Arroyo & Zigler 1995). Direct impression managementstrategiesin-
tendedto counternegativeevaluationsof theirin-groupalso increase,one of many
indicatorsof the interdependenceof cognition and interaction.The focus on psy-
chological consequences of identificationspeaks also to the interconnectedness
of cognition and emotion. Thus, for example, individuals'prejudicesmay shape
not only their own identificationsbut also theircategorizationsof others.Racially
prejudicedindividuals do appearto be more motivatedto make accurateracial

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categorizations,both in-groupand out-group,than do nonprejudicedindividuals

(Blascovich et al 1997); accuratecategorizationsmaintainclear boundariesbe-
tween groups.
Strong identificationwith a group need not, in principle, be correlatedwith
out-grouphostility. Only under conditions of intergroupthreatand competition
are in-groupidentificationand out-groupdiscriminationcorrelated(Branscombe
& Wann1994, Grant& Brown 1995). Social identitytheorymaintainsthatit is in-
group identificationthat causes out-groupbias. Realistic conflict theory (LeVine
& Campbell1972), on the otherhand,maintainsthatout-groupthreatandhostility
lead to in-groupidentification.In a studyof Black SouthAfricans'ethnic identifi-
cationsbefore andafterSouthAfrica'stransitionalelection in 1994, Black African
identificationwas related only to attitudestowardAfrikaansWhites, not whites
in generalor English Whites (Duckitt& Mphuthing1998). Longitudinalanalyses
suggest that attitudesaffected identifications,more consistent with realistic con-
flict than social identitytheory,a useful cautionto overly cognitive approachesto

Cognitive Processes
Cognitive processes are also implicated in the construction,maintenance,and
change of identities.Attributionprocesses, thatis, judgmentsof blame, causality,
or responsibility,are particularlyrelevant.One key question is whether attribu-
tionalpatternsarebiased in accordwith intergroupidentificationsand allegiances.
Many studies show a patternof in-groupfavoritismsuch thatpositive behaviorsof
in-groupmembersare attributedto internalfactors and negativebehaviorsto ex-
ternalfactors;some, but fewer, studies show out-groupdiscrimination,that is, the
opposite patternsof attributionsaboutthe behaviorof out-groupmembers(Islam
& Hewstone 1993, and see Howard1995). Consistentwith social identity theory,
when social categorizationsare salient,these attributionalpatternsintensify (Islam
& Hewstone 1993).
Cognitivestructuresandprocesses come togetherin Moscovici's (1981) theory
of social representations.Accordingto this perspective,knowledge structuresare
collectively shared, originatingand developing via social interactionand com-
munication(Augoustinos & Innes 1990). This approachreframesthe concept of
schemas,which have generallybeen seen as conservativeand resistantto change.
Given an increasingemphasison social processes, one may expect to see contin-
uing recasting of social schemas as more flexible and more groundedin social
Althoughthe experimentaltraditionhas been centralto establishingthe tenetsof
these theories,validationof these principlesin sociologically meaningfulcontexts
is crucial. Variousof the studies cited here have been conductedin situationsof
real groupmembershipsandreal conflicts,underscoringthe Spearset al (1997a,b)
assertionthatcognitiveperceptionis meaningfullystructuredby groupsandgroup
life. One emphasisof this review is that cognitive and interactionalprocesses are

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intimatelyintertwined;identity managementstrategiesare often used to manipu-

late groupcomparisonsfor purposesof social identifications(Doosje & Ellemers


The basic premiseof symbolic interactionis thatpeople attachsymbolic meaning

to objects, behaviors,themselves,and otherpeople, andthey develop and transmit
these meanings throughinteraction.People behave toward objects on the basis
not of their concreteproperties,but of the meanings these objects have for them.
Because meaningsdevelop throughinteraction,languageplays a centralpart(see
discussion below). Identitieslocate a person in social space by virtue of the rela-
tionshipsthatthese identitiesimply,andare,themselves,symbolswhose meanings
vary across actors and situations.
Interactionistapproachesto identity vary in their emphasis on the structure
of identity, on the one hand, and the processes and interactionsthroughwhich
identities are constructed,on the other. The more structuralapproachrelies on
the concept of role identities, the charactersa person develops as an occupantof
particularsocial positions, explicitly linking social structuresto persons (Stryker
1980). Role identitiesare organizedhierarchically,on the basis of theirsalience to
the self and the degree to which we are committedto them, which in turndepends
on the extent to which these identitiesare premisedon our ties to particularother
people. The second approachemphasizes the processes of identity construction
and negotiation.Negotiations about who people are are fundamentalto develop-
ing mutualdefinitionsof situations;these negotiationsentail self-presentationor
impression management(Goffman 1959, McCall & Simmons 1978). Identities
are thus strategicsocial constructionscreatedthroughinteraction,with social and
This traditionarticulatesspecific interactivemechanismsthroughwhich identi-
ties are produced(Cahill 1998). These processes are also always shapedby social
hierarchies,as detailed in Goffman's ideas about how externallyrelevant status
hierarchiesare gearedto "interactionalcogs," for example, in his concept of hier-
archicalobservation,the varyingdegrees to which people can controlinformation
others have about them. Membersof total institutionsare subject to compulsory
visibility, and to "normalizingjudgments,"contrastingthem to an ideal of a men-
tally healthyperson, a law-abidingcitizen, and so forth.Althoughthese processes
are most evident in total institutions,Goffman conceives these as more general,
occurringin all institutionalsettings, even in informalinteractions.

Identity and Language

How is identity "done"?The interactionistliteratureon identity articulatesthe
construction,negotiation,and communicationof identity throughlanguage,both

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directlyin interaction,anddiscursively,throughvariousformsof media(McAdams

1995). At the most basic level, the point is simply that people actively produce
identitythroughtheirtalk.Many studies (generallyethnographic)analyzeidentity
work through everyday interaction.Identity talk is organized around two sets
of norms, one concerning respect for situated identities and a commitment to
basic moralprecepts,and the second concerningways in which people deal with
failure to endorse these basic moral precepts, throughdenials of responsibility
and other attributionaltactics (Hunt et al 1994). Identity work is a micro-level
performanceof social (dis)order.Hunt & Miller (1997), for example, examine
identity constructionthroughinterviews with sororitywomen, focusing on their
talk aboutpersonalappearance.Theirdatarevealnormativeordersassociatedwith
dress and appearance;these women communicate,maintain,and repairidentities
througha "rhetoricof review"thatprovidesgroundrules for critical assessments
of appearance.(For other examples, see MacPherson& Fine 1995, Freitas et al
Many such studies focus on populationsexperiencingidentity struggles, es-
pecially managingthe stigma of social inequalities(see Goffman 1963, O'Brien
& Howard1998). Andersonet al (1994), for example, identify two distinct types
of strategies used by homeless people to avoid stigmatization,many of which
rely on language.In-grouptechniquesused among streetpeers include drinking,
cheapentertainment,hangingout, andpositive identitytalk.Out-grouptechniques,
which reducethe impact of the stigma on public interactionswith domiciled oth-
ers, include passing (presentingan appearancethat masks their homelessness),
covering (minimizingthe impactof theirstigmatizedstatus),defiance,and, some-
times, collective action, as in recent homelessness movements. Cherry's(1995)
and Tewksbury's(1994) studies of people with AIDS also show how their re-
spondentsuse languageand identityperformancesto controland guide the social
consequencesof this discreditedstatus.
In contrastto this emphasis on normativeorder,identity can be viewed as a
more flexible resourcein verbalinteraction.Using conversationalanalysis,Antaki
et al (1996) show how identities change as interactionproceeds, that is, how
contextualvariationsshift identity claims. Their examples (drawnfrom tapes of
naturalEnglish conversationbetween friendsover drinks)show speakersnot only
avowing contradictoryidentitiesbut also invokingboth groupdistinctivenessand
similarity.They argue strongly for working from participants'own orientations
to identity,ratherthan analyticallyderived social categories. Verkuyten's(1997)
study of how ethnic minorityidentity is presentedin naturaltalk, based on focus
groupsof Turksliving in the Netherlands,suggeststhe fruitfulnessof this approach.
Critiquingsocial identitytheory,Verkuytenshows thatpeople constructandcross
bordersof variouscategoriesin definingthemselves;respondentsdid not use fixed
categories,and differentiationswere not always oppositional.
Languagethus links the cognitive and interactivetraditions.Hermans(1996)
proposesdevelopmentof a voiced conceptionof identitythat integratesthese tra-
ditions, a conceptionthatpoints to collective voices (social dialects, professional

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jargons, languages of generationsand age groups) and facilitates greaterrecog-

nition of the dynamics of dominance and social power. Rapley (1998) aptly il-
lustratesthis last point in his analysis of AustralianMP Pauline Hanson's first
speech to the AustralianParliament(in 1996). Rapley addressesthree questions:
how speakers construct themselves as representativeof the audience they wish
to influence, how the appearanceof truth/factis constructedin political rhetoric,
and how Hanson constructedher case as representativeof and credible for her
audience. Rapley shows how Hanson treats identities as discursive resources in
her strategicmanipulationof identityclaims to membershipcategoryentitlement,
claims thatcontributedto the mobilizationnecessaryto herelection. Rapleymakes
the intriguingpoint thatidentitywork and facticity work are mutuallysupporting,
and often inseparable,componentsof successful mobilizationdiscourse.
Other scholars in this traditionextend the terrainto other forms of discourse,
especially visual media. Epstein& Steinberg(1995) analyzethe feministpotential
of the OprahWinfreyshow throughdeconstructionsof the show in relationto two
themes, a presumptionof heterosexuality,andthe use of a therapydiscourse.They
note the show's emphasis on individualpathology (ratherthan social processes).
Hollander's(1998) analysis of a datinggame show, "Studs,"shows how both ver-
bal andnonverbalgesturesdo the identityworkof gender,most obviously,butalso
of heterosexuality,race (in the show's homogeneity), and class. In one of the few
empiricalstudies of discourse about social class, Bettie (1995) analyzes the class
dynamicsof sitcoms. Bettie suggests thata patternof recentshows, in which work-
ing class women are cast as lead charactersand men are eitherabsentor buffoons,
reflects demographicshifts towardmore women in poverty. Analyses of media
portrayalsacknowledgehow languageworkstogetherwith nonverbalexpressions
and interactionalcontexts as partof the interactiveconstructionof identities.

Identities Across Time

Withtheiremphasison conservationof cognitive energy,theoriesof social cogni-
tionhaveunderemphasizedhow identitiesshiftovertime. Interactionistapproaches
addressthis questionmore adequately.One model (Cote 1996) links identityshifts
to historicalculturalconfigurations,arguingthatcertaincharactertypes areencour-
aged by culturesthroughdifferentialsocializationpractices. Helson et al (1995)
addressa more limited temporalrange, contrastingidentities of women raised in
the 1950s with those raisedin the 1960s. Theyreportdifferentidentitytypes, which
show differingdegrees of stabilityover time. Anotherapproachto the mutability
of identities entails studyingidentity shifts duringlife transitions,periods of lim-
inality. Karpet al (1998) reporta great deal of interpretiveeffort by high school
seniorspreparingto leave home for college, as they anticipateaffirmationof some
identities,creationof new identities,anddiscoveryof unanticipatedidentities.The
authorsalso reportracialsimilaritiesin concernsaboutidentityandindependence,
but markeddifferencesby social class, especially in the meaningof independence
from family.

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Anotherprovocativeapproachto the instabilityof identitiesis to focus on what

identitieswe distanceourselvesfrom.Freitaset al (1997) examinewho we say we
are not, and whethersuch negative identities are merely an antithesisof identity
or point to more complex identity ambivalences.They find complex patternsof
identitiesthatcut acrossdimensionssuchas age, temporality,gender,sexuality,and
ethnicity,raisingquestionsaboutthe primacyof so-called masterstatuses.Identity
instabilitymay also signify multiple,and contradictory,identitygoals. Miles et al
(1998) focus on consumerismas a process throughwhich young people attempt
to fit in their peer groups, but also to maintainindividuality,buying some goods
in orderto "stick out."(The methodology of this study is exemplary,combining
focus group interviews, individual questionnaires,and participantobservations
over a sustainedtime.)

Muchof the workon identityhas emphasizedsingle dimensionsof social identities.
In the sections that follow, I discuss the literatureson these separatedimensions,
emphasizingthe particularlynuancedwork on racialand ethnic identity,and then
I addressthe literatureon intersectionsamong identities.

Ethnic Identities
Phinney (1990) reviews more than 70 studies of ethnic identity. The great ma-
jority of these articles assume that identity developmentis particularlycompli-
cated for those belonging to ethnic and racial minoritygroups,owing to negative
societal stereotypesand discrimination.Phinney considers the major theoretical
frameworksof ethnic identityformation(social identity,acculturation,and devel-
opmentaltheories), key componentsof ethnic identity (ethnic self-identification,
a sense of belonging, attitudestowardone's own ethnic group,social participation
and culturalpractices), and empiricalfindings on self-esteem, self-concept, psy-
chological adjustment,ethnic identity in relationto the majorityculture,changes
related to generationof immigration,ethnic identity and gender, and contextual
factors. She arguesfor constructionof reliable and valid measuresof ethnic iden-
tity, for more work on the impactof ethnic identityon attitudestowardboth one's
own and other groups and on the role of contextualfactors such as family, com-
munity, and social structures.Phinney also notes the lack of attentionto mixed
ethnicbackgrounds;the decade afterher review has seen markedlymore attention
to multiethnicand mixed-racebackgrounds(see below).
Otherreviews emphasize developmentalprocesses and socializationinto eth-
nic identity (Spencer& Markstrom-Adams1990). Knightet al (1993) detail spe-
cific socializationpractices,includingmothers'teachingaboutthe ethnic culture,
parentalgenerationof migration,mothers' culturalknowledge and orientation,
languagespoken,and demographiccharacteristicssuch as parents'educationand

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degree of communityurbanization.In bringingtogethersocial interactions,cogni-

tive beliefs and attitudes,and ecological and structuralcharacteristics,this model
exemplifies contemporarymultilevel analyses of social identities.
One key questionconcernsthe implicationsof ethnicidentityfor psychological
adjustment.In anotherreview article, Phinney (1991) explores the relationship
between ethnic identity and self-esteem. Although findings do not add up to a
clear picture,Phinney assertsthat a strongethnic identity,when accompaniedby
some adaptationto the mainstream,is related to high self-esteem. A related ap-
proachpoints to the importanceof possible selves, the future-orientedcomponents
of self-schemas. Oysermanet al (1995) find markedlydifferentracial patternsin
whatfactorspromotethe constructionof achievement-relatedpossible selves: col-
lectivism predicts these possible selves for African-Americanstudents,whereas
for whites, individualismpredictsthe constructionof such possible selves.
Anotherissue concernsthe breadthof boundariesof ethnic in- and out-groups.
Recent debates about inclusion of the category "Hispanic"as an ethnic group on
the US Census, for example, assume this is a single, discrete category.Huddy &
Virtanen(1995) show that Latinos differentiatetheir own subgroupsfrom others
but are no more likely than Anglos to differentiateamong Latino subgroupsto
which theydo notbelong (here,CubanAmericans,MexicanAmericans,andPuerto
Ricans). Subgroupidentificationmay be more pervasivethan the developmentof
loyalties to the in-groupas a whole.
Consistentwith this critique,manycontemporarystudiesof ethnicidentitycast
ethnicityas fluid and ethnicboundariesas continuallychanging(thoughnot with-
out constraints).In her study of American Indian identifications,Nagel (1996)
stresses ethnic identificationas situational,volitional. Nagel characterizeseth-
nic identity as a dialectic between internalidentificationand externalascription,
or, as Bhavnani & Phoenix (1994: 6) put it, "[identity]is the site where struc-
ture and agency collide." Nagel casts identity also as multilayered,with differ-
ent identities activatedat differenttimes (e.g., for Native Americans-subtribal,
tribal,supratribal-regional, or supratribal-nationalidentities).Similarly,Espiritu's
(1994) nuancedanalysisassertsthe constructionof multipleandoverlappingiden-
tities amongFilipina/oAmericans,as they reworkdominantideologies abouttheir
place in contemporaryUS society. She maintainsthat ethnic identificationis a
dynamic, more complex process than either assimilationist or pluralist models
Populationshifts, especially immigrations,are a majorinstigatorof changes in
ethnic identities. One exemplary study examines the effects of relocation to the
mainlandUS on Hawaiianstudents.Illustratingsituationalethnicity,Ichiyamaet al
(1996) show shifts in ethnic identitywith the shift in social context from majority
to minority group status. Studentswho moved to the mainlandshowed a steady
decline in identificationwith being Hawaiian;still, their affiliativebehaviorwith
otherHawaiianswas not affected.Althoughethnicidentitymay decline in intensity
throughexposureto stigmatizedcontexts,the need to participatein affirmingsocial
situationsbecomes a way of combattingthese negative effects.

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Waters(1994) addresses generationaldifferences in pressurestoward assim-

ilation among black Caribbeanimmigrantsto the United States. She finds three
distinctpatternsof identification:as Americans(presumablywithoutethnicity?),as
ethnic Americanswith some distancingfrom black Americans,or as immigrants
unconnectedto Americanracial and ethnic categories. Factors such as parents'
class backgrounds,parents'social networks,type of school attended,and family
structureinfluencethese identifications.Waterscontributesto the growing litera-
ture on intersectionsamong identities in attendingalso to simultaneousclass and
ethnicidentitiesandto genderedcorrelatesof these patterns,notingthatgirls seem
to live with greaterrestrictionsand parentalcontrolthanboys, but that girls have
more leeway aboutchoosing a racialidentitythando boys. Anthias(1998) argues
for more attentionto history and context than such studies offer, maintainingthat
concepts of race andethnicityareoverly deterritorialized.ForAnthias,"diaspora"
is a more useful conceptualizationof the identity implications of transnational
Most of these studies assume individualsbelong to a single racial or ethnic
category. In contrast,recent work has begun to address a rapidly growing pop-
ulation in the United States: people with multiracialbackgrounds.The number
of biracial births in the 1990s is increasing at a rate faster than the numberof
monoracialbirths, and the "other"racial category on the 1990 US Census grew
more than any other category.Root (1992, 1996; and see Zack 1995) has done a
greatdeal of work exploringthe complex racialand ethnicidentitiesof those with
mixed backgrounds.The debate over how to representmultiracialindividualson
the census itself attests to Root's assertionthat US history repeatedlyshows am-
bivalenceaboutrecognizingmultiracialpeople. Root articulatesseveralpatternsof
identitynegotations:some activelyidentifywith both (or more)groups,experienc-
ing multipleperspectivessimultaneously;othersborder-crossactively by shifting
among differentidentities as they move among differentsocial contexts; and yet
others locate themselves on a border,experiencing"mestiza"consciousness (see
discussion below).
All of the abovemodels focus on racialandethnicminorities.In the past several
years scholarshave begun to pay explicit attentionto the racialand ethnic identity
of whites. Rowe et al (1994) point out both that many whites do not have a racial
identity and that white identity developmentmay not fit a developmentalstage
model (a model used with manyracialminoritygroups).Rowe et al focus on types
of white racialconsciousness, rangingfrom an unexaminedracialidentityto four
types of achieved racial consciousness, moving from strong ethnocentrismto an
integrative,morally responsible stance. Frankenberg(1993) proposes one of the
most widely adoptedmodels of white racial consciousness, beginning with "es-
sentialistracism,"emphasizingrace difference as essential, biologically derived,
and hierarchical;a discourseof essential sameness,or color-blindness(which she
links with power evasiveness); and race cognizance, in which difference signals
autonomyof cultureand values. From this last perspective,social structures,not
ascribedcharacteristics,generateracialinequalities(andsee Helms 1994). In these

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models, increasingmaturitysignifies increasingawarenessof the conditionsof op-

pressionassociatedwith race;these arethus explicitly politicized models of racial
and ethnic identity,a markedshift from earliersocial psychological approachesto
this question.

As Epstein (1987) observes, in a historicaljuncture in which group identity in
generalhas assumedmuch importance,and where sexualityhas become a central
dimension of identity formation,it is not unlikely that gay and lesbian identities
would arise. Sexual identitydiffers from racialidentityin that awarenessof one's
self as a sexual being, and especially awarenessof one's possible deviationfrom
sexual norms, typically occurs later in one's life than awarenessof one's race or
ethnicity.Althoughimplicationsof this differencehave not been exploreddirectly,
most models of sexual identity are similarto those of racialidentity.Cass (1983-
1984) proposes a six-stage model, beginning with identity confusion, moving to
comparison(withnonhomosexualothers),to tolerance,andeventuallyto synthesis,
includingpositive relationshipswith nonhomosexuals.
Kitzinger & Wilkinson (1995) propose a social constructionistmodel of les-
bian identity,suggesting that the process is not one of coming to recognize what
one always was, but ratherone of recognizing,negotiating,and interpretingone's
experiences.This model is framedin termsof discursivestrategiesandaccounting
mechanismsthroughwhich an identitychange is accomplishedand sustained,at-
testingto the centralrole of languageanddiscursiveprocessesin identityformation
and maintenance.D'Augelli (1994) also proposesa social constructionistaccount
but frames his model in a more explicitly sociopolitical context, referringto the
social and legal penalties for overt expression of this sexuality. D'Augelli also
emphasizesthatpeople develop andchange over the course of theirlife spans,and
thus that sexual identity may be fluid at some points, more crystallizedat others.
Epstein's (1987) model of gay and lesbian identity is also explicitly sociopoliti-
cal, in keeping with his emphasis on gay social activism. Because a considerable
stigma remainsassociatedwith this identity,Epsteinobserves, the attemptsto as-
sert its legitimacy and to claim that this is not groundsfor social exclusion have
the ironic effect of intensifying this identity. (For a general review of models of
sexual identity,see Gonsiorek& Rudolph 1991.)
Cain (1991) emphasizes the complexities of the sociopolitical environmentof
sexual identities,analyzinghow queerculturesrespondto the behaviorof passing,
of hiding stigmatized sexual identities. Cain notes that in recent years, openness
about one's sexuality has come in both professional literaturesand subcultural
communitiesto be seen as evidence of a healthygay identity,and thuspassing can
be seen as problematic.He critiquesthe failure of such approachesto recognize
the constraintsof social factors, implying in his analysis that people manage in-
formationabouttheir sexual identity,just as they manageinformationaboutother

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Analogousto the recent"discovery"of whitenessas an identity,heterosexuality

has also begun to receive attention.In 1980 Adrienne Rich published an essay
(laterto become a classic) challengingthe taken-for-grantednessof heterosexuality.
More thana decade later,Wilkinson& Kitzinger(1993) solicited shortreflections
from a numberof well-known feminists, many of them academicpsychologists,
about their heterosexuality.The responses indicated that "heterosexual"is not
a popular label, and these respondentsdid not claim this as an identity. Most
saw heterosexualand lesbian as points on a continuum,ratherthan recognizing
their political asymmetry:as Wilkinson & Kitzinger(1993) assert, lesbian is an
intrinsicallypoliticized identity and heterosexualityis not. Jackson (1995) too
notes thatheterosexualityis rarelythoughtof in termsof identityor self-definition
(and see Richardson1996a,b). At the same time, many identities that are widely
embracedarebased in heterosexuality:wife, girlfriend,daughter,mother.Jackson
points out the conundrum:to name oneself as heterosexual(as a woman) is to
problematizeheterosexualityand challenge its privileges, but for women, being
heterosexualis not a situationof unproblematicprivilege because the institution
entailsa hierarchicalrelationbeween women andmen. Althoughthese discussions
do not addressthe heterosexualidentities of men, for whom heterosexualitydoes
bringprivilege,thereis a considerablerecentliteraturein this arena(see Robinson
1996 for a helpful overview).
Herek(1995) connectsheterosexualidentitieswith an accompanyingideology,
heterosexism,which denigratesand stigmatizesnonheterosexualforms of behav-
ior, identity,relationship,or community.In his analysisof antigayviolence, Herek
maintainsthatheterosexistpracticesallow people to expressvalues centralto their
self-concepts,in this case normsbased on the institutionsof genderand sexuality.
Consistentwith principles of social identity theory,Herek suggests that antigay
violence may help heterosexistpeople feel more positive aboutbeing heterosex-
ual. And, antigay assaults also provide a means for young men (by far the most
common type of perpetrator)to affirmtheir own heterosexualityor masculinity,
serving an ego-defensive function.

Gender identities have been explored more extensively than other social iden-
tities; thus I give less attentionto this topic here and refer the reader to other
reviews (Frable 1997, Howard & Alamilla 2001, Howard & Hollander 1997).
Gender identities have been conceived either as gender self-schemas (Markus
et al 1982), in the cognitive tradition,or as constructedachievements(West &
Zimmerman1987), in the interactionisttradition.In eithercase, genderidentities,
in the sense of organizing a sense of self aroundthe perceptionone is female
or male, and internalizingpre- and proscriptionsof behaviors deemed cultur-
ally appropriateto these self-perceptions,are thoughtto be learnedthroughearly
socialization and enacted and reinforced throughoutthe life span. Common to
both perspectivesis the assertionthat genderis a social category and thus gender

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identity is about more than personality.Ashmore (1990) details components of

genderidentity,and Gurin& Townsend(1986) explore the relationshipof gender
identity to gender-relatedideologies. Most studies find few differencesin the ex-
istence of gender identity.In terms of content, a quasi meta-analysisby Kroger
(1997) finds genderdifferencesin identity structure,content,developmentalpro-
cess, and context. In an empiricalfollow-up, Krogerreportsthat the domains of
sexuality and family are somewhat more salient for women than men, but more
generally,therearefew differencesin identitycontent(this may be due to reliance
on a highly educated upper and upper-middleclass sample). Much recent work
emphasizescontextualinfluenceson the relativesalience of genderidentities(Ely
1995, Thorne 1993).

Class Identities
In a recent review Frable (1997: 154) reports:"Withfew exceptions, class as a
meaningful identity is simply absent from the psychological literature."To the
extent class identitieshave been consideredin the social psychological literature,
the emphasistends to be on class identitiesin interactionwith otheridentities(see
below), and on contextualeffects on the salience of class identities.Studentsfrom
working-class(and ethnic minority)backgroundsnegotiate their marginalstatus
at elite academic institutions (Lopez & Hasso 1998, Stewart& Ostrove 1993),
and later-generationimmigrantsare more likely than first-generationimmigrants
to have class identities similarto those prevalentin the U.S. (Hurtadoet al 1994).
Shockey's (1998) interviews with sex workers show a disjuncturebetween the
subjective experience of class and these sex workers' occupationalexperiences
and outcomes. Given the lack of attentionto class in any regard,it is not surprising
thatthere is virtuallyno researchon class identities of those in privileged socioe-
conomic circumstances.Suggestiveof the kindof approachthatwould be useful is
Eichstedt's(1998) analysis of the relationshipsbetween white andethnicminority
artists in a local art community,as they negotiatedissues of authenticityin the
productionof ethnic art and assimilationand culturalintegrityin the production
and recognitionof art.

Identities of (Dis)ability
Relatively recently, scholarshave begun to direct attentionto identities based on
physical and mental disabilities. Low (1996), for example, explores the experi-
ences of college students with disabilities. Her interviews show these students'
enduringdilemma, the desire to be perceivedas "normal"while at the same time
havingto negotiatea disabledidentityto deal with the variousbarriersto academic
achievement.Many of the tactics they use to accomplish one goal conflict with
accomplishmentof the other.
Charmaz (1995) explores identity struggles imposed by severe illness and
shows, in contrast,how people adapt their identity goals to respond effectively
to their physical circumstances.Processes of bodily assessments and subsequent

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identity tradeoffssum to a surrenderingto an identity as ill. Although Charmaz

characterizesthis as relinquishingcontrol to the illness, at least one theoretical
model suggests this is a way to exert secondarycontrol,ceasing a fight to achieve
an unachievableidentity(Rothbaumet al 1982). Consistentwith an increasingem-
phasis on identitiesas mutableandcontextuallysensitiveis Charmaz'observation
that these identity struggles are rarely a single journey; ratherthese individuals
experiencemany iterationsof these identity struggles.
Only within the past decade has therebeen explicit recognitionof a "disability
culture"(Scheer 1994). Scheer usefully outlines featuresthat distinguishpeople
with disabilitiesfrom otherminorities;they do not often grow up in families with
other members of this group, and they usually become a group member well
into their lives, often in isolation, featuresthey sharewith lesbians and gay men.
These factors can motivate a search for a disability culture, with its attendant
identityimplications.Scheernotes thatit is not clear whetherotherdivisive social
characteristics,such as race, gender, and class, have been muted by a common
identificationin disabilityculture.Gerschick(1998) speaks directly to this issue,
in an analysis of the gendered dynamics of some forms of physical disability.
Gerschickmaintainsthatmen withphysicaldisabilitiesstrugglewith anhegemonic
genderorderdefinedby the masculinitiesof those who are able-bodied.Although
many of his interviewees struggle for acceptance within these standards,some
reject hegemonic masculinityand attemptto constructalternativeidentities.

Age Identities
Being aged is unique as a social category;essentially everyone moves from not
being in this group to being in it. Yet identities based on age have received lit-
tle explicit attentionfrom social psychologists. In one exception, Gatz & Cotton
(1994) speakto the identitydynamicsof aging:Age identitiesarebothascribedand
achieved;the boundariesof groupmembershipare permeable,but defined devel-
opmentally;and an influx of new membersinto the aged categoryis certain,with
numbersincreasingmuch more rapidlythan those of other minoritygroups with
permeableboundaries.The definitionof "aged"is itself flexible, both culturally
and personally.
The ubiquitouspatternis thatthe olderpeople are,the less closely theirsubjec-
tive age identity matches their chronologicalage. The proportionof people who
say they feel youngerthantheirchronologicalage increasedfrom 54%when they
were in their forties, for example, to 86% when in their eighties (Goldsmith&
Heiens 1992). Similarly,as people grow older, their definition of when old age
begins becomes older and older (Logan et al 1992). Older adults even engage in
greaterstereotypingof all age groupsthan do youngerpeople (Rothbaum1983).
One might conclude that greaterself-esteem is associated with feeling younger;
data suggest that life satisfactionis lower and stress is higher for those who see
themselves as old (Logan et al 1992), but congruencybetween subjectiveand ac-
tual age leads to greaterlife satisfactionfor older women (Montepare& Lachman

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1989). Evolving morepositive conceptionsof aging shouldlead moreolderpeople

to identify as old and to have more positive self-evaluations.


Analyses of identities based on single social positions, such as gender,race, eth-

nicity, class, sexuality, or age, have given way to a chorus of calls for analyses
of how identities intersect (see O'Brien & Howard 1998). Most of the empirical
studies focus on two co-existing, typically both subordinated,identities. (Most of
these essays elide the question of whether models of two identities can be ex-
tendedunproblematicallyto multipleintersections.)Most are ethnographic,qual-
itative studies. Many of these articles focus on race-ethnicityand gender (Reid
& Comas-Diaz 1990). Shorter-Gooden& Washington(1996), for example, ex-
plore identitiesof adolescentAfrican-Americanwomen, assessing the salience of
various identity domains-race, gender, sexuality,relationships,career,religion,
political beliefs. Racial identities were markedly strongly than other identities.
Further,these women's racial identities were quite positive, one of many indica-
tors thatthe societal context of racismdoes not necessarilytranslateinto negative
racial identities. Relationships,primarilywith other women, were also a strong
part of their identities. Woollett et al (1994) reveal fluid conceptions of ethnic
identities operatingacross gender, among young mothersof Asian origin or de-
scent, and speakalso to developmentalchangesin these identities,associatedwith
Takagi(1994) explores intersectionsbetween sexual and ethnic identities,here
lesbian and gay Asian Americans. She offers a theoreticalcontext for thinking
aboutthese intersectionsas, for example,in her analysisof how silence operatesin
both Asian Americanand queerhistoryand experiences.Greene's(1998) parallel
analysis of lesbian and gay African Americans points to culturalcontradictions
and the negotiationsenactmentof these identities entails; she stresses themes of
family and ethnic group loyalty, the importanceof parenting,a culturalhistory
of sexual objectifications,the importanceof community,and a culturallegacy of
homophobia.Rust (1996) also addressesintersectionsbetween sexual and ethnic
identities, focusing on bisexuality.She cautionsthat while developing an identity
as bisexual might be positive for some racialor ethnic backgrounds,it may not be
so for others, and she focuses on how bisexuals in marginalizedracial and ethnic
groupsmanage these interactingoppressions.
Beckwith (1998) also addressesconflicts between two identities,here between
class and gender as experiencedby working class women strikingagainst a coal
firmin Virginia.In this case, the collective identityof women was subsumedin the
contextof a widerworking-classcollective identity.Exceptfor an initialall-women
strike,no otherall-womeneventswere organized,owing to the UWMA'scontrolof
strikeactivity,a reminderof structuralconstraintson identityenactment.Beckwith
moves towardtheorizationof how multipleidentificationsmightintersect,and she

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argues that collective identity generally emerges in response to specific social

contexts and struggles.
Indeed, several different theories of intersectionalitysuggest that politically
motivatedidentity work generates attentionto intersectingidentities. Crenshaw
(1997) too arguesthatpoliticalinvestmentsandcommitmentsmotivateanalysesof
intersectionality.She sees intersectionalityas orientedtowardrecognitionof polit-
ical coalitionsamonggroups,explicit attemptsto resist all formsof subordination,
ratherthanrelying on particularpositions of advantageto resist only the subordi-
nation that directly affects a particulargroup.This emphasison political realities
underscoresa prominenttheme,thatanalysesof intersectionalitymusttakeinto ac-
count structuralinequalitiesandthe recognitionof multiple(dis)advantages.At the
same time, and in tension with an emphasison structuralinequalities,much of the
emergingtheoryof intersectionalitiesshows the influenceof a weak form of post-
modernism,in its recognitionof multiple, fluid identities (see discussion below).
The studyby Freitaset al (1997) of negativeidentities,for example,problematizes
the notion of a unified, rationalself and argues for the need to negotiate border
spaces, to conceptualizeidentities and identity work as tenuous, fragile, elastic,
ratherthanas fixedanddichotomous.The empiricalworkpointsto a lack of closure
between one masterstatusand another,between previousand futureidentities.


Space, both geographicand virtual,is anotherrecent basis of identities, a direc-

tion that attests to the interdisciplinarycharacterof recent researchon identities.
Some studies focus on literal space; Cuba & Hummon (1993a, 1993b) consider
"placeidentities,"thatis, identitiesbased on a sense of being at home. Key ques-
tions concernthe effects of mobility on place affiliationandintersectionsbetween
place identities and transitionsin the life course. Their empiricalstudy of immi-
grants'place identitiespoints to generationaldifferencesin people's relationships
to place. Lindstrom(1997) adds a structuralelement, consideringintersectionsof
place stratificationand place identity.One's home address,he argues,is a marker
of values and socioeconomic position. Espin (1995) connects questions of spatial
identity and spatial dislocations to intersectionswith national, gender, and sex-
ual identities, exploring how struggles about acculturationcenter on immigrant
women's sexual behaviorsand genderperformances.She suggests thatthe cross-
ing of bordersthroughmigrationsmay provide women the space to cross other
boundaries,here boundariesof sexuality and gender.These essays addressthose
who have some degreeof choice aboutwherethey live. Althoughpresumablythose
who have less choice, or those who do not have homes, undoubtedlyhave a place
identity,how these dynamicsdiffer when this identityis chosen or not remainsto
be explained.
Moving to a less literal conception of space, Ruddick's (1996) analysis of
reactions to a public crime suggests that public space is not simply a passive

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arena for predeterminedsocial behaviors but rather an active medium for the
constructionof objective and subjective identities. McCorkel (1998) analyzes a
markedlyless literal conception, "criticalspace."Analyzing women's responses
to the intense social control of a drug treatmentprogramfor women in prison,
McCorkelpointsto the constructionof criticalspace,resident-initiatedsubversions
of formal structure,based centrally in interactionsamong residents. McCorkel
suggests thatmost people constructcriticalspaces in theirlives in orderto distance
themselves from the constraintssome identities pose for their personal sense of
Cyberspaceis anotherspatial arena in which questions of identity arise. Ex-
plorationsof these issues in cyberspaceask whetherpeople play with identities,
adoptingvirtual,online identities differentfrom their offline identities, when in-
teractingin virtual,thereforeinvisible, space. That is, do people try to "pass"in
new identitieswhen they cannotbe monitored?Kendall(1998a,b, and see O'Brien
1999) suggests the answeris no. In two years of participantobservationin a multi-
userdomain,Kendallshows thatpeople persistin seekingessentializedgroundings
for the selves they encounterand the selves they offer. Wherepassing does occur,
it is most prominentwith gender,buteven "gender-switchers" distancethemselves
from their online experiencesof differentlygenderedidentities.
McKenna & Bargh (1998) take an opposite tack but come up with a similar
answer. While Kendall's informantsare mostly young white men, McKenna &
Barghask whetherInteret participationoffers opportunitiesfor those with cultur-
ally stigmatizedidentities, here people with marginalizedsexual and ideological
orientations.Internetnewsgroupsallow these people to interactanonymouslywith
similarothers;membershipin thesenewsgroupsbecomes animportantpartof iden-
tity.Those who participatemost frequentlyexperiencegreaterself-acceptanceand
are more likely to come out abouttheir identity to family and friends. Both stud-
ies attestto a close correspondencebetween online and offline identities and to a
persistentpreferencefor stable identities.


Recent years have seen increasingattentionto strugglesover nationaland ethnic
identities, mirroringthe real world identity-basedethnic conflicts that have had
a resurgencein the 1990s. Comas-Diaz et al (1998) offer a comparativeanalysis
of ethnic identity and conflict in three Latin Americannations, Guatemala,Peru,
and Puerto Rico. Arguing that ethnic conflicts are intimately related to ethnic
identities,they link an explicit social psychology of liberationto indigenoussocial
psychologies. Rouhana& Bar-Tal(1998) ask why some ethnonationalconflicts
are more entrenchedthan others, using the Israeli-Palestinianconflict to argue
that societies in particularlyintractableconflicts form societal beliefs that help
them cope with, but also perpetuate,these conflicts. They also speak to ways in

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which social psychological work on social identitiescan change such beliefs, thus
contributingto immediatesocietal concerns.
The influence of sociopolitical forces is centralto nationaland ethnic identity
struggles.Perera& Pugliese (1998) chroniclethe activeattemptsby the Australian
Governmentand majorityculture to impose particularethnic definitions on the
Aboriginalpopulation,and Aboriginalresponses,claiming theirown conceptions
of theirethnicidentities.These havebeen bothculturalandmaterialcampaigns,the
latterprimarilybattles over land ownership.The authorsarguepersuasivelythat
Australia'sstated policy of multiculturalismis intelligible only within a mono-
culturalframeworkthat imposes the democraticConstitutionalgovernmentand
a nationallanguage. These struggles, of course, are analogous to those between
AmericanIndiansand the US Government(Nagel 1996).
Not all debates about nationaland ethnic identitieshave been as conflicted as
the Australian-Aboriginalor Israeli-Palestiniancases. The formationof the Euro-
pean Communityprovides a real-worldcontext in which to study identities and
social change. Breakwell & Lyons' (1996) edited collection addressesprocesses
and expressionsof nationalidentifications,and their significancefor understand-
ing sociopoliticalactions in variousEuropeancontexts. These articlesrangefrom
explorationsof currenttrendsin Spanishnationalismwithinthe contextof the his-
toricalconnectionbetween Spain and its Americancolonies (Torregrosa1996), to
analysis of how the Scottish NationalPartyhas attemptedto make the concept of
Scottishnessrelevantto Scots while underminingthe relevanceof Britishness(suc-
cessfully, witness the establishmentof a nationalScottishParliament)(Hopkins&
Reicher 1996), to Ruzza's (1996) discussionof the attemptsof the Lega Lombarda
movementto promotecultural,economic, and political self-determinationamong
NorthernItalians.The tendencyto adopta Europeanidentityvaries with the prior
power of the nation:BritishrespondentsperceiveEuropeanintegrationas a threat
and show almost no evidence of a sense of Europeanidentity, whereas Italian
respondentsshow a strongerEuropeanidentitythanan Italianidentity(Cinnirella

Social Movements
Identitystrugglesmay also generateexplicit social movements.One influentialthe-
ory of social movementshypothesizes a collective identity that motivatesgroup
action (Taylor& Whittier 1992). This identity requiresa perceptionof member-
ship in a boundedgroup, consciousness aboutthat group'sideologies, and direct
opposition to a dominantorder.Simon et al (1998) used an identity approachin
studying a movement of the elderly in Germanyand the gay movement in the
United States. Both showed two differentpathwaysto willingness to participate
in collective action, one based on cost-benefit calculations,the other on collec-
tive identificationas an activist. Bernstein(1997) reveals a strategicdimensionto
the use of identitiesin collective action,in her analysisof when andhow identities
that celebrate or suppress difference from the mainstreamare used in strategic
collective action aboutgay rights.

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Epstein (1987) also explores identity issues in gay activism; he equates his
model of gay and lesbian identity (discussed above) with an ethnic identity.Both
combine affective ties to a group with the pursuit of sociopolitical goals; both
groups direct activity towardthe terrainof the state; both are progressive, with
a goal of advancing the group position; lacking structuralpower, both groups
press demandsby appealingto and manipulatinghegemonic ideologies; and both
groupstend towarda local characterorganizedarounda specific geographicspace
or community.This is an excellent summaryof the parametersof contemporary
identitymore generally,especially in intersectionwith society.


Severalrecentarticleshave made significanttheoreticalcontributionsto an explic-

itly politicized social psychology of identityandprovidedanalysis of how identity
processes intersectwith the (re)productionof social inequalities(see Bhavnani&
Phoenix 1994). Langman(1998) analyzes how identityconstructionsserve hege-
monic ends; legitimating ideologies construct identities that obscure an aware-
ness of injustice. She asserts,accurately,thatrelativelylittle scholarshiphas been
devoted to understandingthe ideological constitutionof the self, the social pro-
duction of identities, and the legitimationof inequalities.Langmanidentifieskey
moments of child developmentas sites of colonization, a more politicized under-
standingof socialization.She identifiesparticulardesires as key forces in shaping
identity: to seek attachmentsto others; the pursuit of recognition and dignity;
feelings of agency and empowerment;avoiding fear and anxiety. While each of
these motivationshas been an importantlocus of social psychological research,
Langmantheorizeshow each is harnessedthroughsocializationto ensuredepend-
able citizens. At the same time, she is carefulnot to portrayindividualsas passive
Collective identities generallydo provide social and emotionalcompensations
for subordinatestatuses that sustain systems of inequality.Wolf (1994) explores
this theme, theorizingthatpeople in subordinatesocial positions attemptin a sort
of reality-constructionprocess to translatecoercive relationshipsinto dependency
relationships,throughmaneuveringtheiroppressorsinto acceptingobligationsto-
wardthem. Herempiricalanalysesof responsesof JapaneseAmericansduringthe
Relocation,African-Americanslaves, andnineteenthcenturyEuropean-American
women, show that the more successful they are, ironically,the more entrenched
they become in these dependentrelationships.

Much of the literaturediscussed above makes several key assumptions:Identi-
ties have an intrinsic, essential content, defined by a common origin or a com-
mon structureof experience, and often, both. When identity struggles arise, they

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generally take the form of redefining negative images as positive, or of deci-

pheringthe "authentic"identity.An alternativeapproachemphasizes the impos-
sibility of authenticidentities based on a universallysharedexperience or origin
(Grossberg1996); identitiesarerelational,definedby theirdifferencefrom some-
thing, processual,and multiple.
Hall (1996, Hall & Du Gay 1996) notes that this deconstructivecritiquedoes
not supplantinadequateconcepts with "truer"ones, and thus thatthere is no way
to avoid thinking about the former concepts. He argues that identity is such a
concept-something that cannot be thought about in the "old way" but without
which certain key questions cannot be thought about at all. For Hall, identity
moves awayfrom signalinga stablecore of self, to becominga strategic,positional
concept: "identitiesare points of temporaryattachmentsto the subjectpositions
which discursivepracticesconstructfor us" (Hall 1996: 6).
Key principlesunderlyingthis approachstandin markedcontrastto muchof the
traditionalliterature.Fragmentationemphasizesthe multiplicityof identities and
of positionswithinany identity.Hybridityis also key, evokingimages of liminality
and border-crossingsin which a subalternidentityis definedas differentfrom ei-
therof severalcompetingidentities.Disaporais anotherkey idea, resonantwith the
discussion above of geographyandidentity.Diasporaemphasizesnotjust transna-
tionalityandmovement,but also political strugglesto "definethe local... as a dis-
tinctive community,in historicalcontexts of displacement"(Clifford 1994: 308).
Anzaldua's(1987) early discussion of these ideas in Borderlands/LaFrontera
has been especially influential;she emphasizesthe constructionof a mestiza con-
sciousness, a destabilizationof a unified identity, espressed in the language of
fluidity,migration,postcolonialism, and displacement.Bauman(1996) connects
this conception of identity directly to the conditions of postmodernity.Bauman
paintsa dismal picture,askingwhat chance of moralityor of engaged citizenship,
such a world allows. Hall, Bauman, and Grossbergall seek ways to articulatea
notionof democraticcitizenshipthatcan be effective in a postmodernworld.They
focus on questions of agency and possibilities for action, and they argue for a
conception of identity based in people's existence in specific communities and
contexts. Identitiesbecome the problemof citizenship.
As an example of what sorts of questions this more explicitly policitized ap-
proachmight point toward,one consistentcritiqueof social cognition takes issue
with the seemingly naturalcharacterof categorizationand with the seeming ob-
viousness of which dimensions become bases for categorization.Asserting that
a category "race"would not exist without racist ideology, Hopkins et al (1997)
arguethat racializedcategories are socially constructed,and they arguefor a so-
cial psychology thatfocuses on the social processes throughwhich categoriesare
constructed,includingthe powerrelationshipsand social practicesthataffect who
is able to act on the basis of their category constructions,make them heard,and
impose them on others.As empiricalsupport,they analyze the speech of a police
officer accused of expressingracist views in a public school, using this linguistic
analysis to reveal the social constructionof racializedcategories.

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Regardless of where one aligns one's self in terms of these models of iden-
tity, there is no question thatcontemporaryresearchreveals and analyzes various
crises of confidence. One response to these crises is an increasedinterest in au-
thenticity,as a commitmentto self-values.Erickson(1995) arguesthatauthenticity
has capturedboth culturaland sociological imaginations,partlydue to the power
of images and mass media. Maintainingthat postmodernismdoes not do away
with selves and identitiesbut ratherdirects attentionto how they are constructed,
Ericksonemphasizesmeanings-what it means,for example,to be white, female,
or gay-and the challenge of achieving authenticityand meaningwhen most hu-
man actors experience simultaneouslya multiplicityof relationshipsand identi-
ties. She also arguesthatmembersof oppressedgroupsaremore likely to confront
"problems"of authenticity,being more often faced with dilemmas that require
them to choose between acting in accord with their self values or in accord with
the expectationsof powerfulothers.Ericksonarguesfor a conceptionof self thatis
both multidimensionaland unified,both emotionaland cognitive, both individual
and social-a notion not so far afield from traditionalconceptionsof identity.The
postmoder element is that authenticityis no longer a question of being true to
self for all time, but ratherof being trueto self in context or self in relationship.


Attemptingto derive an overall picturefrom these many and diverse approaches

to understandingidentities is impossible. These are several strong traditionsof
theoryand researchon identities,traditionsthatco-exist but rarelycome together.
The more traditionalsocial psychological literaturereflects a modernistapproach
to identities,casting them as specifiable,measurable,ordered,and, in some sense,
rational.Whetherfroma cognitive or an interactionistperspective,orperhapsmost
fruitfully,from some synthesis of the two, this approachsees identities as gener-
ally stable, although sensitive to social context, as relevantboth for individuals
and for social groups, as having both cognitive and affective components,as cog-
nitive structuresbut also resourcesavailablefor interactionalnegotiations,and as
motivatorsfor social action.
The deconstructionistliteraturereflects a postmodernistapproachto identi-
ties, casting them as multiple, processual,relational,unstable,possibly political.
Although this identity is elusive, Hall's (1996) comment that certain questions
cannotbe thoughtaboutwithoutthe concept of identity is well taken.Whatthose
questionsaddressis the possibility of agency and social action,questionsthathave
not been centralin social psychology.In anticipatingfuturedirections,it is difficult
not to arguefor some degree of interchangeamong these seemingly unconnected
literatures.There is room, indeed need, for studies of social identities that are
both theoreticallyand methodologicallyrigorous,in touch with the contemporary
world, and directedtowardadvancingboth theory and progressivesocial action.
Frable(1997) concludes her review of researchon social identitieswith a call for

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"seeing people as whole," referring to the need to address gender, racial, ethnic,
sexual, and class identities as multiple identities of whole people. In the same vein,
seeing people as whole means recognizing that both our everyday lives and the
larger cultures in which we operate shape our senses of who we are and what we
could become. For most social actors, the details of our everyday lives are rela-
tively predictable and orderly. The details of our larger cultural environments may
be markedly more unsettled and shifting. Both contexts are part of our experiences
of identities. In anticipating the next century's approaches to identities, then, we
might look to analyses that bring together both the structures of everyday lives
and the sociocultural and sociopolitical realities in which those lives are lived, but
without imposing a false coherence on that synthesis.

I want to express deep gratitude to Ramira Alamilla for her invaluable assistance
in procuring, summarizing, and being so enthusiastic about hundreds of references
on identity, only some of which are represented in this review, as well as for her
insightful comments on this essay. Many thanks as well to Jodi O'Brien for her
ever-incisive comments, and to Carolyn Allen for always reminding me that social
psychologists don't corer the market on the concept of identity.

Visit the Annual Reviews home page at

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