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Studying identity in social psychology : Some thoughts on the definition of identity and its relation to action

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The present paper discusses the concept of identity in social psychology. It is suggested that identity is a particular form of social representation that mediates the relationship between the individual and the social world. Identity makes the link between social regulations and psychological organizations (i.e. identifications/self-categories) and constitutes the organizing principle of symbolic relationships. Its functions are to inscribe the person in the social environment, to communicate peoples’ positions and to establish relationships with others (social recognition). Thus identity is a cyclical process constituted by three actions: knowing, claiming and recognizing. Social psychologists have started their investigations of identity by emphasizing different aspects of this process: self-knowledge, claims and recognition and have focused on processes of socialization, communication and social influence.

Finally, it is argued that through their active participation in the social world (by knowing, recognizing and claiming), individuals construct a set of knowledge about the world and themselves: their identity. To protect from, provoke or respond to changes to this knowledge people act in the name of identity. Thus, identity constitutes the social psychological context within which worldviews are constructed, through which these worldviews are communicated and for which battles are fought.
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Keywords: communication; identity; recognition; self-knowledge; social influence; social psychology; socialisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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