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Sociological Theories of Identity. - The idea of personality comes from the Ancient Greek Theater . The term “ personality ” derives from a Latin word “ persona ” and is itself an adaptation of an Etruscan word which designated a mask .

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- The idea of personality comes from the Ancient Greek Theater.
  • The term “personality” derives from a Latin word “persona” and is itself an adaptation of an Etruscan word which designated a mask.
  • In the Ancient Greek Theater the mask represented a character with psychological features.
  • This character should be immediately recognized by the audience as soon as he appeared on the stage. These characters were a real symbolism for the Citizens.
Bearded Mask

(pornoboskos or procurer)IIIrd - IInd century B. C.

Old Woman Mask

End of IVe siècle B. C.

Dionysos MaskYoung Man Mask IInd – Ist century B. C.

Young Man Mask

(« effeminate soldier »or « blond young man »)

About 150 B.C.

Peasant Mask

approx. between 300 and 280 B.C.Material : Terracotta

Examples of Ancient Greek masks from Louvre Museum

House of Atreus

House of Labdacos

The 2 families represented in the Ancient Greek Theater

Plays acted during :
  • Dionysia = March
  • Lenaia = December

Celebrating Dionysos


Comments about the events

  • History of the Greek City
  • rules and duties to be respected by the citizens
  • The Chorus represents citizens
  • The actors represent the divinities and some other secondary characters of the story

The plays show what happened to the famous characters when they didn’t follow the prescription of divinities

aim sanctimonius = give an example to the citizens

Ancient Greek Theater is cultural and religious

Personality is something :
  • closely interrelated to a group  for instance the community
  • it is directly related to a set of characteristics
  • it depends on a rule
  • which iself depends on :
    • a position in the city
    • the relationships engaged toward protagonists
    • age, sex…
Sociology  Many theories using the concept of identity or giving definition of identity
  • Link between identity and personality :
  • The identification :
    • To a group = whish to belong to a group
    • To a character = parents, friends, teachers, famous persons…
    • To an ideal = features corresponding to what we suppose to be necessary, or commendable… good/bad, beautiful/ugly, loveable/abhrorrent…
  • All that is also :
  • closely interrelated to a group
  • related to a set of characteristics
  • depending on a rule
Main differencies between sociological theories of identity :
  • one point of view first considering social pressures
  • a second point of view considering individual’s social actions

Both of those 2 approaches can be seen on three main points of view :

  • macro-sociological  considering institutions, norms and laws prescribed…
  • meso-sociological  considering middle groups,

relations between them

between those groups and institutions,

rules, organizations, conventions…

  • micro-sociological  considering individuals and their relations with groups, institutions, with the rules, the organizations, the conventions, the laws, the norms, etc. and how they can change or influence them



(Political institutions, Laws, Religion, Philosophy, Ethics and Morals,


(Social relationships, Social classes, …)


Middle groups

Small groups

2 principal approaches - a process of evolution

Social links under different levels of consideration

  • According to the points of view and the approach :
  • More or less power is supposed to be possessed by Institutions, or Groups, or Individuals
  • More or less choices for individuals to move in society
Historical process of construction of sociological theories

Historical process of societal evolution


(Economy, Politics,Thought…)

Production relationships Constraints

(Subtructures) (Superstructures)

Theories of middle and small groups

Mass Production and consumption

Erosion of Social Conscious

Micro sociology

And theories of « actor »

Mass Education


Capitalism, Industrialization

Capitalism, Industrialization

Social classes(Marx)

Three interpretations of the process :
  • Karl Marx Revolution process from capitalism to communism
          • As liberation from high class domination
  • Max Weber Rationalization process from Community to Society
          • Gemeinschaft // Gesellschaft
          • change of social relationships
          • constraints to contract
  • Norbert Elias Civilization process from collective forms to individualised forms
          • symbolic forms of identification
          • (Ourselves//Myself)


Individual forms and conceptions

« I, Me, Myself… »

Domination of private or individual illustrations

Domination of« Individual » processes of socialization

Individual Identifications and Identification to Individual forms (persons, « individual » constructions…)

Collective forms and conceptions

« We, Us, Ourselves… »

Domination of collective illustrations

Domination of Collective processes of socialization

Collective Identifications and Identification to collective forms (groups, classes…)

What does-it mean concretely ?

Roughly, two opposite considerations :
  • A strong social belonging
  • The Individual’s identity is only determinated and prescribed by the collective wish
  • complete subordination to social code
  • no transgression admitted
  • any deviant has no choice but suicide or voluntary exile
  • Social relationships based upon negotiation or special interest
  • The Individual’s identity is determinated by values consciously selected
  • social and individual codes depend on rationality
  • some transgressions are admitted
  • deviants can create some changes in social habits

Those 2 forms are supposed to correspond to an historical evolution from « primitive societies » to « modern and advanced sociology »

Sociology generally distinguishes 2 forms of socialization :
  • Primary socialization mainly by family and relatives during childhood
  • Secondary socializations different places and moments : shoolship, friendship, work, other relationships such as neighbourhood, associations, sport and leisure, politics commitment…

This rough opposition has been abandoned

because it didn’t reflect the reality

  • Forms of identification are mixed :
  • part of collective prescriptions and identifications
  • and part of individual considerations and identifications

But Identity is constructed by several steps which represent different process, or different phases of socialization

So, many symbolic summons and injunctions

are transmitted by those places, means, institutions

Which symbolic forms, for instance, can be considered as an injonction in modern European societies ?

  • Fashion, for instance is not a duty, a law or even a rule.. But it is not possible to avoid it completely…
  • Language : could you use any level and any style of language ?
  • Ways of being, of walking, of speaking, of standing, of behaving, of dressing speak about you and your social belonging
  • Those elements = habitus concept from Pierre Bourdieu

What does-it mean for the individual’s identity ?

Identity = social construction
  • Personality usually considered as an intimate issue
  • Combining different psychological features
  • For instance :
    • Way of speaking, walking…
    • Values mainly influenced by tastes
    • Tastes influencing choices
    • Temper
  • Elements which are considered as natural
Those elements enter in the definition of habitus and they are considered by sociologists and anthropologists as :
    • Social families, groups, institutions
    • Cultural main cultures and subcultures
    • Historical moving in time and historically constructed
A typical example of something

considered as natural

Directly linked with

  • Personal and individual choices
  • Unavoidable = no control possible

Love/union= wife/husband choice

In fact, marriage is a social matter

    • The idea of a natural choice is constructed upon the myth of romantic union
    • In the Ancient monarchies existed a real
    • spatialisation on unions
Sociologists usually that unions are still


In the same circles

  • People choose according to : values for instance
  • They often meet at
    • Work
    • School/university
    • Parties organised by friends
    • Weddings
  • So, they still meet persons who
    • Look like them
    • Have the same values, habits
    • Frequent the same places
Furthermore what constitute habitus is a social element of judgement to choose relations, friends and wife/husband
  • The way women/men speak, the way they walk, their dressing habits, their leisures, their knowings…

= social codes translated consciously or unconsciously

In vocational guidance how does it work?
  • Same process
  • Choose profession/training according to social criteria depending on :
    • Families positions in society
    • Examples of different professions
    • Historical changements
What else?
  • Sex/Gender for instance

= discrimination criteria

Society organised upon

sexual division of Work

Men = production / outside / hunting, building…

Women = reproduction / inside / « care »

Going against = transgression / deviance

From their identity

Social and historical constructions

always disappear

behind a principle / a process

of essentialisation

2 main dangers for coaching :

  • Essentialisation / naturalisation of tastes wishes / choices…
  • Too much attention to social origins
    • Notion of « social handicap » (sex, social class, ethny)