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A great deal of discussion about identity in a-level Sociology can be fairly abstract and concerned with the mechanics of construction: how and why, for example, particular identities are created and assumed.

In the midst of all this some relatively simple questions sometimes get obscured – an idea addressed by Adams and Marshall (1996) when they suggest five functions of identity: here the focus on what identity does for the individual and, by extension, society, ‘rather than how identity is constructed’ – and we can use a relatively simple education example to illustrate these functions:

1. Structure: Identities provide a ‘framework of rules’, used to guide behaviour when playing certain roles, that helps us understand our relationship to others.

2. Goals: We develop a sense of purpose by setting goals for our behaviour. A ‘student identity’, for example, involves the desire to achieve goals like educational qualifications.

3. Personal control: Identities provide a measure of ‘active self-regulation’ in terms of deciding what we want to achieve and how we plan to achieve it. An A-level student, for example, understands the need to take notes to help them remember the things they might be tested on in an exam.

4. Harmony: When adopting a particular identity (such as teacher or student) we have to ensure the commitments we make (the things others expect from us) are consistent with our personal values and beliefs. A teacher or student who sees education as a waste of time is unlikely to be able to successfully perform this particular role.

5. Futures: Identities allow us to ‘see where we are going’ in terms of likely or hoped-for outcomes (what we want to achieve). A student identity, for example, has a future orientation: the role may be performed to achieve the goal of going to university, which requires the passing of A-level exams, with the eventual aim of securing a particular type of employment.

Update

If you prefer your learnin’ with some funky backbeats and the full “Countdown To…” treatment that’s already been meted out to stuff like Culture and Revision (not necessarily in that order) then you will probably lose your mind over Countdown to Identity…

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