Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Cool Definition

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A lifelong biopsychosocial process.

“Identity is conceptualized as a broad biopsychosocial self-definition that encompasses the individual’s self-representation in the areas of physical functioning, cognition, personality, relationships, occupation, and social roles broadly defined. Normal, healthy(nondepressed) adults attempt to maintain positive views of themselves in these realms, preferring to see themselves as loving, competent, and good. This set of positive self-attributions is maintained primarily through the process of identity assimilation, which, as in Piaget’s theory, is defined as the interpretation of new experiences through the existing schema of identity. When experiences become sufficiently discrepant from an existing identity, the individual may then begin to make appropriate shifts through identity accommodation. According to the theory, as in Piaget’s, it is assumed that the ideal state is one of balance or dynamic equilibrium between identity assimilation and identity accommodation.” (Whitbourne, S. K., J. R. Sneed and K. M. Skultety. 2002)

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Tools for Studying Identity - Repertory Grids Supporting In-depth Interviews and Diary-keeping

Repertory Grids Supporting In-depth Interviews and Diary-keeping

Professor Jonathan Smith, at Birkbeck University, conducted an interpretative phenomenological analytic research study investigating pregnancy and the transition to motherhood. This research principally gathered data using in-depth interviews and diary keeping. However, the data gathered in the interviews and diaries were supported by data gathered using repertory grids. The repertory grids were used to explore the way in which the participants perceived or constructed their personal and social worlds, with the elements of the grid representing important aspects of a participant as well as significant others in their life.

References relating to this study, repertory grids and interpretative phenomenological analysis can be found at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tools for studying Identity - Using Lego

Using Lego to Explore Identity

David Gauntlett, Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Westminster, discusses, in his book "Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences" several creative visual research methods where people are asked to make things as part of a process of exploring their identities, influences, relationships etc. There is a particular focus on the Lego identity study, where creative construction of objects facilitated an unlocking of feelings and insights into the participants' everyday experience, specifically looking at the metaphorical lego models participants built of their own identities.

Here are some more links for this work where Professor Gauntlett explains the process on youtube:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Identity in Sociohistorical Context

Any investigation of identity-related concepts should take account of the cultural and sociohistorical contexts that influence these concepts. The manner in which humans perceive themselves has a history as long as we have been self-aware or have been able to experience a reflexive consciousness. The perception that an individual has of themselves as ‘a person’ has come to be one of the most cherished conceptions that any individual holds (Carrithers, Collins and Lukes, 1985). The conceptualisation of individual identity has varied over time and is affected by numerous factors such as the prevailing culture or the “social institutional constraints and their associated normative expectations”, within which individual’s exist/have existed (Kashima and Foddy, 2002, pp. 181; Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996).

Although Van Halen and Janssen (2004) refer to the changes that have occurred, over the centuries, in terms of how we view identity as being a commonly accepted conclusion in the self and identity literature, there are only a small number of theorists in the social psychology or identity studies areas who focus directly on this area (for example: Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996; Cote, 1996; Kashima and Foddy, 2002; Smith, 2002). The majority of those writing in this area agree that the concept of identity in the medieval era can be seen as having involved a view of the individual as a straightforward, easily perceived entity, and that this can be contrasted with the modern perspective where a perception of the individual as complex and difficult to understand predominates (Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996; Cote and Levine, 2002; Kashima and Foddy, 2002; Van Halen and Janssen, 2004). However there are others, for example Harbus, (2002) who see that view as being an overly simplistic view of identity in the medieval era.
Identity in the Medieval era can then be contrasted with identity in the 20th/21st century, where identity had changed from being something easy to see and know to being something that is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to know (Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996; Cote and Levine, 2002; Kashima and Foddy, 2002). In the past the context that an individual was born into determined their place in society. Now, due to the evolution of social reforms and other factors a development in thinking occurred that promoted the idea that individuals have the freedom to be whoever they want to be (Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996; Van Halen and Janssen, 2004). “Choice has replaced obligation as the basis of self-definition” (Cote and Levine, 2002, pp. 1). Modern self-definition now depends on a changing, uncertain mixture of choices and accomplishments, and identity is assumed, perhaps unrealistically, to contain the values on which these choices are made (Baumeister, 1987; 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996; Cote and Levine, 2002). Actively defining who one is has become a critical activity in Western culture. It is now necessary, due to a flexible and complex societal structure, to decide who one is, for example what career one will pursue, who one will marry etc. Therefore the process of self-definition is more psychologically demanding than in the past. As individual identity is treated more as a commodity individuals feel that they must actively manage their identity-structure by “reflexively and strategically fitting oneself into a community of ‘strangers’ by meeting their approval through the creation of the right impression” (Cote, 1996, pp. 421). This is made more difficult by the fact that previous “fixed set answers” (Baumeister, 1987, pp. 166; Baumeister, 1999; Baumeister and Muraven, 1996), for example those provided by religious faiths, or by the concept of work as a source of fulfilment, have lost much of their potential as a source of fulfilment due to modern organisation of work and the workplace, and are therefore increasingly being abandoned (Smith, 2002; Van Halen and Janssen, 2004). At a time when there is an increase in the perceived need for guidance in how to define oneself, there are less traditional frameworks to draw on in order to do so. This has led, in some cases, to individuals engaging with more extreme versions of traditional, fixed set answers, for example through religious fundamentalism. In the past secularism, science and technology were seen as a viable alternative to the ‘falling star’ of religious faith and its associated heavenly rewards, however people now perceive that these provide only a limited number of relatively shallow sources of fulfilment, and so turn to tried and tested sources of sociocultural support (Smith, 2002). Many individuals welcome the ability to make choices, but may not have developed the means to cope with the process of making those choices, being responsible for their choices and having to live with the consequences of those choices. This has, in many instances, led to the normalisation of emerging identity related problems for individuals such as “being: unsure about what they believe in; uncommitted to any course of future action; open to influence and manipulation; and unaware that they should pass a sense of meaning to their children” (Cote and Levine, 2002, pp. 2).

The modern sociocultural context in which people live is one of economic interdependence as individuals act as traders in multiple, but simple, relationships with others. This is in opposition to the Late Medieval Era, when individuals existed in a single social unit, producing and consuming good and services. The majority of individuals now exchange their labour for monetary rewards that are then used to obtain goods and services. This tendency towards sparse social networks results in individuals having relationships with different individuals and groups who may not have any relationship, exchange or social, with each other. This frees the individual from having to conform to a single, all-inclusive world-view, as those in a tightly knit medieval society did. Instead the individual may have to contend with multiple, perhaps differing, expectations of conformity from the different individuals and groups in their lives (Kashima and Foddy, 2002). From this situation evolves a heightened need for multiple self-representations, or a multidimensional identity-structure, to satisfy the different contexts that exist in one’s life.

An extended version of the above, along with references, can be found at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Identity in Proper Context

Some researchers discuss identity-related issues as if individuals were beamed in from Mars in some kind of factory set form. Issues that often don't seem to be properly taken into account are the point in the lifespan at which the individual is located (developmental context) and the particular cultural and sociohistorical context that has impacted on the particular individual or group under examination. A number of posts to follow will look at these areas.

Previous Research Experience

During my time in DCU, in addition to my own doctoral work, I also worked as a research assistant/senior research assistant on three substantial qualitative research projects. I worked as a qualitative data analyst on two projects, one that focused on Irish football players returning home after being released by British football clubs and one that sought to explore the psychology of highly successful female accountants. In 2003 I was involved in a five month research project that was funded by a large multinational catering company. The project examined the socialisation of employees in a number of sites in which this organisation operated. The research involved covert participatory observation coupled with a diary method to collect the observations of three researchers. I was highly involved in the data collection, data analysis and report writing stages of this project.

Educational Background

Just a little on my background:

I have a BA in Applied Psychology from University College Cork ( and a Phd in Social/Organisational Psychology from Dublin City University (

My doctoral work examined identity-creation and identity-management processes in organisational entrants (mature students entering an undergraduate degree programme) and was conducted under Dr. Finian Buckley ( The PhD thesis can be found at .

It was during the evolution of my doctoral work that I became enthralled by the concept of identity, by how people create an identity/identities, by how they manage those identities and by how identities can change over time.