Research Review In What Ways Do Social Factors Shape Identities? Your name

ResearchReview: In What Ways Do Social Factors Shape Identities?





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Identitycan be defined as a process of how groups or individuals define andsee themselves, and furthermore, how other groups or individualsdefine and see them. Socialization process is the basis of identityformation and shaping in individuals and in the organizations (Lawler2008, p.45). Moreover, social institutions such as the system ofeducation, mass media, and also the family affect how identity of anindividual is formed. It is important to study the social factorsthat affect identity formation and shaping because it is the onlyaway that people are able to establish both their identities andthose of other individuals and groups. In this way, people are ableto know the factors responsible for identity similarity anddifference in individuals and at the work place (Robert &amp John2000, p.90). This in turn forms social connections with others. Howpeople perceive themselves influence the kind of people they interactwith both individually and at the work place. The community, friends,and groups that people belong to and relate with, are determined byhow they perceive themselves. Therefore, the concept of identity isessential because it provides the means in which people relate withthe significant others such as neighbors, peer groups, people theycome across at the work place, and the communities they live in.Therefore, identity helps an individual to fit in the environmentthey live in, whether it is at the workplace or in individualrelations.

Theattitudes and responses of others, and individual choice are elementsthat governs the identity of a group or of an individual. The ethnicgroup, social class, sex, and race are social factors that affect howindividuals view themselves or how others perceive them. Thus, thereis no freedom of choosing or adopting an identity that one likes(Epstein 1998, p.78). Acceptance and recognition of a person’sidentity by others is not merely determined by the identity that anindividual may want to assert, or wish others to perceive (Berzonsky2005, p.130).People assert different identities, thus it is possible for anindividual to have multiple identities in different socialcircumstances. For example, an individual may define himself as aChristian in his community and family, at the workplace as adirector, as a homosexual in his sex life, or as a golf player in hispeer group. Identity of an individual changes over time. People viewthemselves different when they become older compared to when theywere young (Crook 1992, p.30).

Postmodernistresearchers argue that identity is not static and that thesignificant others shape and influence the inner core of anindividual. Postmodernism create a sense of that self is fluid andshifting. Identity is multiplistic, dynamic, relativist, fragmented,and specific to the context (Berzonsky 2005, p. 130).Furthermore, ina postmodern world that is fractured, identity may act as anappropriate direction in which people express themselves from apersonal standpoint.

Theaim of this paper is to discuss howsocial factors have affected the formation and shaping of identitiesat the workplace, in a comprehensive manner. Also the paper willdiscuss the methodologies that were used to study this topic.


Thispart will look and explain various studies that were conductedconcerning origin, creation, and social factors that influenceidentity formation and shaping at the work place.

  1. Origin of identity

Epstein(1998, p.40) suggest that the issue of Identity has historicallynovel complex of meanings derived mostly from the work of Erikson inthe nineteen fifties. By the nineteen seventies, the word used inthis sense had acquired highly successful life of its own in ordinarylanguage and many social science disciplines. Under the influence ofpostmodernism and debates over multiculturalism, the late 1980s and1990s found historians, anthropologists, and most of all humanitiesscholars relying ever more heavily on the aspect of identity as theyexplored the cultural politics of race, class, ethnicity, gender,sexuality, citizenship, and other social categories (Robert et al.,2000, p.67). Over the last years, symbolic interactionism has evolvedand concentrates more on self dynamics than interaction and symbols.In social setting, peoples’ interaction behavior with others ismostly governed the conception they have about themselves. Selfaccording to symbolic interactionism serves to keep individualsbehaviors in line and consistent (Ernst 2006, p.90). Symbolicinteractionism theory further emphasizes that the society motivateindividuals to verify their identities from the perceptions ofothers.

Overthe last few decades the issue of identity became an important notionto reconceptualize self. Self in general is now viewed as a seriesthat has a set of identities (Baumeister &amp Muraven 1996, p.408).These identities can be invoked simultaneously or individually invarious situations. The actions of individuals are thus directed atverification of others. Moreover, identities filter selectiveinterpretation and perception. According to Bell (2011, p.38), thisprocess occurs when people takes roles with one another in a mutualmanner. According to these theories, people assess other peoples’reaction for the sake of the need to have their own identitiesverified. They behave in a manner that is consistent with identitiesthat are socially acceptable to others (Kroger 2007, p.300).

Individualand society are inseparable because no two individuals have exactfeatures. Each individual has unique talents, values, and interests.In addition, each individual has many groups in which they belong to.Being human dictates that one is able to live with the significantothers. Groups provide basic needs for people. Language, values,customs are learnt in a group. Also in groups, people satisfy theirneed to belong, find people who can comfort in time of trouble, andalso find companions with the same beliefs and dreams. Althoughdifficulties may occur when individuals want to define theiridentity, the group they belong to attach labels to them, which aredifferent from those they think they possess. Therefore, human beingsinteract with others to create their realities. Individual’sidentity is derived from interacting with others (Clifford 1998,p.89).

  1. Creation of identity through symbols

Accordingto Friedman (2001, p.45) Symbols help individuals and groups toidentify themselves. They have the potential to construct individualand group identities. Expressions and experiences help individuals tosearch their own identities. In most cases, identity is expressedthrough a system of personal symbols. Mead explains how developmentof self is derived from self consciousness that emerges from the useof symbols.

Humanbeings live together because they need one another. The success ofthis situation is achieved by them learning gestures and signs of thesignificant others. Individuals read body movements and facialexpressions of others as signs and symbols of behaviours to follow.Symbols therefore, help people to become experienced about specificpeople and view their identity as different. Mead further describesthe first stage of development of self as the act of self awareness(Willis 2007, p.45). He characterizes it as the stage whereindividuals take the attitude of others and internalises them astheirs. When general demands are internalized, the process is termedas the act of imitating the attitude of the generalized other. Thegoal of this type of attitude is to unify different types ofbehaviour portrayed by a person, into a body of conduct that isunified. This process forms the second self stage that reflects aperson with personal identity, character, and also self concept(Berzonsky 2005, p.120).

Unifiedselves are created by unified conduct. Common goals of others thatcome from the solidification of demands from others help us to make ageneralization of the internalized others into generalized other.Organization of associations makes the demands organization possible.Mead refers this to an institution. There is an activity organisationfor every attitude we take from the generalized other. This meansthat an institution is essential for identity formation.

  1. Gender and identity

Genderidentity can be said to be similar to other socially createdidentities. This is because it is highly dependent on physicalembodiment. The relative location of an individual within theirsocial environment mediates their gender identity. In this instance,individuals’ identity is governed by how others judge them andtheir ultimate concern of gender identity, is the perception thatpeople have about their identity with regard to gender. Masculinityis most of the time negotiated and constructed at the workplaces.Close investigation of the positions that men hold in an organizationreveal that the status they hold is closely tied to their identity(Lawler,2008,p.78). Also, masculinity is closely related to the structurallocation where people come from. For example, a man working in aforeign country may be seen as an immigrant labourer of colour. Insome societies, dangerous and dirty men are viewed as hardworking andtough. They are perceived as to be honourable and worthy. The notionthat they display is that they are ready to do anything within theirreach to provide for their loved ones. Callused and dirty hands aretheir pride because it symbolizes that their performance and dutiesare responsible, dignified, and tough (Singer 2002, p.87). On theother hand masculinity identity is viewed in a different manner.Therefore,Individuals internalize gender roles and institu&shytionalizedgender aspects and then they make a negotiation about their owngender identity in relation to the dyadic gender model.

  1. Occupational and individual identity

Occupationalidentity seeks to understand the activities that occur in a specificoccupation and what that occupation contributes to the society(Allahar1996, p.83).Occupational culture includes the ideas, values, norms, artefacts,and also procedures that shape an individual’s both occupationalactivities and identity. Occupational ideology on the other hand, isdevised by its spokespersons or occupational group with the intent oflegitimizing the related interest that are commonly held by groupmembers. Sarup (1996, p.50) findings show that occupational ideology,identity, and culture shape how an individual’s identity is formedand developed. For example, soldiers have different responsibilitiesthat define their identity (Willis 2007. P.47). some soldiers portrayoccupational identity where threatened or actual deployment ofammunition is conducted for the interest of the entire state.Occupational culture is reflected by soldiers undergoing training,force images presentation, arm bearing, disciplined nature of highquality, following of orders and instructions without questions, andlastly individual identities suppression (Rosenau 1992, p.127). Theoccupational ideology that they create is that they are the mostloyal, bravest, and finest women and men that exist in the society asa whole.

Thistype of identity formation and development can is highly contestedbecause it overstate both the positive aspect and the unity held bycultures and it reproduces patterns of racism, ethnocentrism, andsexism. Furthermore, when members’ collective identities overlapwith ethnicity, race, and gender as collective identities, it isdifficult to conclude that this type of identity formation iseffective (Warde 1994, p.882). Occupational identity, culture, andideology maintain patterns that focus on disadvantages, advantages,and marginality, thus certain groups are excluded.

  1. Management and identity

Managersinfluence the identity formation of their employees. They controltheir identities through organisational narratives and discourses.Discretion of employees is most of the time controlled by discourses.Managers discourage some behaviour and also encourage others (Kroger2007, p.335). Management of worker’s identities become a norm atthe work place. The level of identification of an employee withentities that relate to workplace influences his or her behaviour andexperiences at work. Bio-power, governmentality, and disciplinarypower are familiar concepts from Foucauldian, which demonstrates themanagerial control.

  1. Identity commercialization

Commercializationensures that the identity of an individual or product is preserved.The system maintains and segregates the integrity of commodities orindividuals with the aim of enhancing the final product’s value.

  1. Race and Identity

Thephysical characteristics that an individual has, influences his orher identity in strong way. For example, multiracial individualsreport that hair texture, shape of the nose and eye, and skin tonedefines who they are and how others perceive them. Whether anindividual is white enough according to the significant othersdetermines whether they will be associated with a particular group.Social stereotypes normally link physical characteristics to culturalbackground assumptions (Giddens 1990, p.36). Mixed race individualsare being ignored and treated in a hostile manner especially inracial dominant societies. This in turn affects how their identitiesare shaped and performed.


Theresearch methodologies from the above literature review were pursuedfrom studies that address various questions that relate to factorsthat affect identity. To determine the origin of identity creationand development, qualitative and quantitative methodologies weremostly used by researchers like (Robertet al., 2000, p.67), Epstein (1998, p.40), &amp (Ernst 2006, p.90),to gather information. Majority of current identity research andtheory is mostly based on identity statuses (Kroger 2007, p.299).These identity statuses originated from various attempts that aimedat validating a construct of ego identity that was generated from theego psychoanalytic theory of Erikson in nineteen fifties.

Mostinformation about identity origin was generated from secondarysources like journals, books, and in the internet. This type ofcollecting data is preferred by many studies because it is readilyavailable and adequate, thus it is easy to access information, drawconclusions, and solve the problems (Gary &amp Bryman 2011, p. 30).Secondary data is cheaper to gather than to collect primary data.Moreover, the time used to search for secondary sources is much thanthat used to gather data from primary sources. Information gatheredfrom secondary data can be more accurate than information from thefield, though this is not always true. In addition, secondary data isused in exploratory stage of the research phase to define the problemof the research and in generation of a hypothesis. The problemsassociated with this type of data collection are that someinformation might be outdated. Also, some authors might be biased intheir results. Furthermore, definitions might vary depending ondifferent researchers (Bell 2011, p.56).

Ethnographicapproach was common in the research methodologies used. Kroger(2007, p.335) used participantobservations especially to investigate about how management influenceidentity of an individual. Participant observation necessitatesdirect involvement and engagement with the study environment.Conversational and informal interviews were used. These types ofinterviews help the researcher to ask questions in a naturalisticmanner and probe emerging issues (Gary et al., 2011, p. 35). Thenature of these interviews allows the researcher to elicit accountsthat are highly candid from individuals. Participant observation hadsome limitations because the respondents experienced the pressure ofbeing watched, thus reflecting the behavior they thought would pleasethe interviewer. Issues of biasness are likely to happen in this typeof observation, since the observer can only look at specificcharacteristics she or he wishes to study (Bell 2011, p.17).

Biographicalanalytical approach was also identified in Allahar (1996, p.83)researchto determine how identity of individuals is formed and developed overthe life course. Since there is a close relationship betweendevelopment of an identity and historical events narrated by anindividual, Autobiographicalnarrative interviews were used to investigate how identity is createdthrough various means. These types of interviews allow a researcherto have an insight of how people construct their identities and thoseof others, and how their identity changes over time (Bell 2011, p.30). The interviews were then analyzed and the analysis was based oncognitive figures, process structures, and presentation ofcommunicative schemes.

Theaspect of self was investigated through analysis of documentation andinterviews as seen in Berzonsky(2005, p.120) study.Consent was asked from respondents in writing, as to whether theyagreed that their interviews be recorded on video and used in variousscholarly presentations. There were problems of time constraints,some respondents were not comfortable to answer the questions, andbuying video recorders was a bit expensive. Open-ended questionnaireswere also used byWillis (2007, p.45) toproduce information in an analytical and descriptive manner aboutself. Bryman et al., (2011, p. 50), suggest that questionnaires arecheap and can be easily applied to collect data on large scale.However, some respondents see questionnaires as tedious and may notanswer all the questions. The right size of the sample might also bea problem.


Thisresearch paper has discussed various social factors and how theyaffect formation and shaping of identities. The research concludes that the aspect of Identity can be defined asa process of how groups or individuals define and see themselves, andfurthermore, how other groups or individuals define and see them.Socialization process is the basis of identity formation and shapingin individuals and in the organizations. Issues of ethnicity,culture, mass media, commercialization, race, physical attributes,religion and education were some of the factors that were discussed,as affecting individuals’ identity. The labels that are formed byothers about an individual can impose categories and boundaries asocial world that is infinitely complex. Therefore there is a needfor people to choose, define, and defend their identities.

Identityformation and shaping at the workplace has been studied by severalresearchers but there has been a theoretical disagreement about thenature of workplace identity. Further research should be done toemphasize on commonalities identified in different approaches, byillumination of various ways that can fill knowledge gaps in thisdifferent studies. This will help people and organizations to gain anoverall understanding of identity at the workplace and also help inbridging knowledge gaps within different studies. Researchers shoulduse survey methods and interviews to collect information. First, theinterviews will help in identification of potential factors thatcreate a basis for categorization of self. For example, skills,education, gender, race, and work area. After the identification ofthese bases, employees are divided into groups along the potentialbases. It becomes easy to investigate them because they formcollective identities.

Thequestion of whether individuals change their identities along withthe changes at the workplace should also be subjected to furtherempirical research. Qualitative methods of research would besuggested to observe the employees’ behaviors as some changes occurin the organization. The most preferred would be the non-participantobservation because it will ensure that the employees do not altertheir behaviors. After the observation, they will be notified aboutthe nature of the research that took place. The findings should thenbe analyzed to find out whether identity changes with the changes inan organization.


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