Identity Social Identity Is a Means to Research Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #97704359

Excerpt from Research Paper :


Social identity is a means to an end, the end being the maintenance of a community with flexible but strong boundaries. Ultimate objectives of social identity therefore include mutual protection against perceived threats, and strategic sharing of resources. This is why social identity often transcends geographic boundaries; in a globalized world, geo-political boundaries are actually less significant than social identity. The concept of social identity therefore becomes strongly connected with the sociological needs of in-group/out-group status and consciousness. Historically social identity was forged via top-down methods, within hierarchical societies. Usually the process of social identity formation occurred via political elites or rulers who "established their identity by differentiating themselves downwards," (Geller and Beruilly 47). Eventually, social identity becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon with "ruled micro-communities" differentiating themselves "laterally from their neighbors," (Gellner and Breuilly 47).

In other words, an in-group/out-group consciousness seems essential to community construction and is embedded in the process. Social identity is therefore the means by which communities are created and maintained. Community is the end goal; that is, the pooling of shared resources to be used for sustenance purposes like infrastructure or common needs for food and governance. Or, the pooling of shared resources may be used for necessities like national defense. Social identity is the means to the end because without a shared social identity, there is no psychological or sociological cohesion. Sociological and psychological cohesion are ensured "by lines of cultural affinity embodied in distinctive myths, memories, symbols and values retained by a given cultural unit of population," (Smith 30). However artificial social identity may be, it proves crucial for social survival.

The dissolution of social identity leads to the breakdown of community. This is precisely what occurs in Ukraine now, as the geo-political entity becomes fragmented according to the overarching needs of the community in the construction of social identity. Social identity in Eastern Ukraine is allied with Russian ethnicity, far more than with Ukrainian national identity. In Western Ukraine, social identity is the means by which the nation-state of Ukraine is created. Yet "nationalism is not the awakening and assertion of these mythical, supposedly natural and given units" like ethnicity (Gellner and Breuilly 47).

Social and political change does not preclude the stability of social identity. Therefore, community construction and maintenance can survive great change, and even catastrophe. As Anthony Smith points out in National Identity, "a sense of Greek identity and common sentiments of ethnicity can be said to have persisted beneath the many social and political changes of the last two thousand years," (31). Social identity persists throughout successive generations, as it is passed on as core components of community. Shared values, rituals, and worldviews are qualitatively and structurally different from the top-down method of social identity construction that may have taken place prior to the modern nation-state.

As Anderson points out, the modern nation state's brand of "official nationalism" is not necessarily new but its manifestation depends on historical and cultural context (104). Official nationalism would have been extant in ancient Greece, as Smith points out. At its very basic definition, nationalism relies on both the top-down and the horizontal reinforcement of social identity. Social identity can therefore be viewed as a tool.

A constructivist approach to social identity shows that it is used as a means to the end of ensuring social stability and thus, individual security. Social identity with the goal of nationalism becomes "an anticipatory strategy adopted by dominant groups which are threatened with marginalization or exclusion from an emerging nationally-imagined community," (Anderson 104). It is therefore relatively easy to see how conflicts and cognitive dissonance brews in places in which social identity and national identity become divergent. Ethnic minorities in oppressive majority states; versus ethnic majorities in oppressive minority (apartheid model) states have become commonplace especially within the modern nation-state framework.

Smith coins the term "ethnies," however pretentious and irrelevant, to refer to the fusion of ethnicity with social identity. Ethnies are "constituted, not by lines of physical descent, but by the sense of continuity, shared memory and collective destiny," (Smith 30). Herein lies the core difference between ethnicity and bloodlines: the core ethnies of the Jews, for instance. There is a knowledge of some familial lineage, but…

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