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Psychosocial theory of identity

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 910
  • Category: Identity

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The process of identity formation was examined in a qualitative project employing thematic interview analysis. Previous research found was that the ego is influenced by personal as well as social factors. Individual needs and social demands will lead each person to encounter conflicts and normative crises throughout life, which have either positive or negative effects on the development of identity. The results found have been used in support of Erikson`s stage theory of identity development and undermined that unresolved crisis results in role diffusion and difficulties later on in life.

Also it undermined Erikson`s supposition that the acquisition of identity is a lifelong process and is not bound to age. `Identity can be understood as our own theory of ourselves, created from many sources`- as Phoenix (2002, in Phoenix A. In: Miell, D. et al (eds), 2002, p. 47) says, there are a lot of factors that are taken into account when defining identity. It is a complex issue that has lead to various, primarily holistic theories trying to clarify the process of its formation, which as in most areas of psychological research provide no single perspective giving all insight.

Three major perspectives developed in identity research: psychosocial theory, Social Identity Theory and social constructionism. Social Identity Theory (SIT) draws on the experimental work of Wundt and focuses on the social processes by which people come to identify with groups and separate themselves from others. A popular study of it was `The classic `minimal group` experiment` by Tajfel et al. (1971), which dealt with intergroup discrimination.

Social constructionism, which is part of the `second cognitive revolution` within psychology, is concerned with the ways in which we understand the world and that we view it not just as `natural`, but constructed between people in social interactions. `Freedom fighter` vs. `terrorist` is often mentioned as an example (e. g. in Potter and Wetherell, 1987) as well as Kenneth Gergens (1999) account of how his own identity was affected by social changes.

The area of research that will be focused on in this project is psychosocial theory, which has been chosen for it is more concerned with how we develop our individual identities rather than group identities and allows simple access to test theory. It can be traced back to William James`s (1890) theory of identity and Freud`s psychoanalysis. Erik Erikson was the first to consider identity as psychosocial, meaning that the ego is influenced by personal as well as social factors.

In his view identity must be regarded as historically and culturally specific. One of his core assumptions was that its acquisition is a lifelong, developmental process and that individual needs and social demands will lead each person to encounter conflicts and normative crises throughout life, which lead to change. Especially in late adolescence he considered `identity crisis` as an inevitable conflict, which Marcia took up later on to develop the Identity Status Interview, a method that allows Eriksons ideas of this stage to be measured.

Following Freud, Erikson (1968) considered the development of identity in a predetermined order, which he divided into eight distinct stages (a full copy is provided in appendix 1) starting from birth and ending in old age. Each stage withholds a normative crisis that needs to be tackled. Depending on the way it is managed, sets the foundation for being able to resolve upcoming crisis and can thus either have a positive or negative effect for development. Failure to successfully conclude one stage may lead to `role diffusion` and the impossibility to achieve a secure ego identity.

The thematic analysis reported here will explore the issue of individual identity formation according to Erikson by a thematic analysis of interviews conducted with Tony and Jo, a middle-aged couple which as children experienced the Second World War. The emphasis is on revealing how Tony and Jo understand their own identity by addressing the research question: `What do Tony and Jo reveal as being their principal `identity` and how does this relate to Eriksons`s stage theory of identity development? `

A videotape showing extracts from three interviews with a married couple in their sixties called Jo and Tony as well as a detailed transcript of the interviews were provided. Each interview was conducted by a different interviewer using basically the same questions and semi-structured interview technique to show how different research relationships can affect the material. The first interviewer was Jane, a long term acquaintance of the couple, the second Dan who met the participants for the first time. Both times Tony and Jo were asked to reflect on their identity.

The third interview was conducted by Carol to ask the participants how they experienced the precedent interviews. The researcher treated the data obtained from the participants as strictly confidential. The researcher who conducted the project is a 30-year-old OU student who thematically analysed the material in a hermeneutic tradition. The participants gave their full permission for the use of the material for study reasons. Non-verbal aspects of the interaction in the interview of the participants were added to the transcripts to broaden insight.

The data was explored in detail by reading and re-reading the interviews and watching them repeatedly. Patterns of meaning were identified and highlighted in different colours. The analysis followed in relation to the research question and was done manually. For ethical reasons it should be taken into consideration that the work conducted is filtered through personal and theoretical interest of the researcher and that it is an individual interpretation meaning. Not all aspects could be considered.

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