Although the distinction (and relationship) between personal and social identities is an important way of understanding this concept in A-level Sociology, if you want to take your understanding a little further you need to think about two additional, complementary, ideas:

1.Being: This way of thinking about identity focuses on how social identities, considered in terms of ideas like class, age, gender and ethnicity, are lived in terms of the meanings they are given in various cultures. “To be” male or female, young or old, middle class or lower class” and so forth involves understanding the various cultural characteristics and expectations associated with these identities. Having been given socially-ascribed statuses such as “young male” or “young female” you might want to reflect on the cultural associations and meanings they hold.

2.Doing: A second, more-nuanced, dimension to identity is the work we have to do in order to maintain such identities – both on a personal level (how do I interpret my identity as a young male or female?) and a social level (what do others expect from me once they understand this particular aspect of my identity?). Think about the work you have to do, as a young male or female, to maintain this particular identity. It might also be helpful to compare your ideas with your male and female classmates.

In this respect, if “being” involves understanding the cultural norms surrounding a particular form or aspect of identity, “doing” involves thinking about the work that has to be done to conform to, or challenge, these forms (and, in terms of the latter, the likely consequences of such challenges – how do people react, for example, to young men / women who attempt to step-outside these cultural identities?).

As further reading, Harman and Cappellini’s (2014) study of middle-class mothers is a relatively simple way of understanding the relationship between identity being and doing because it illustrates how women work at both class and gender identities through everyday, mundane, activities such as preparing school lunchboxes for their children: “lunchboxes are cultural artefacts influenced by classed notions of good mothering”.

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