Minna Nevala & Matylda Włodarczyk University of Tampere and Adam Mickiewicz University “Exploring social identities in public texts.”

The concept of social identity

This special issue focuses on the public representations that people create for themselves or others create for them. However, rather than employing the notion of ‘representation’, we utilise a concept originating from social psychology, ‘social identity’, as something constructed by both self concept and membership in a social group or groups. According to Tajfel, this means “the individual’s knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to him of the group membership” (1972: 292). In other words, it involves psychological belongingness, but also both how we act as individuals and as parts of a collective.

Tajfel – Turner’s Social Identity Theory (SIT; 1979) is based on three separate mental processes. The first one, social categorisation, involves the categorisation of objects in order to understand them and identify them. Similarly, we categorise people (including ourselves) in order to understand the social environment by using such (often) binary social categories as black/white, Christian/Muslim, and student/teacher. In the second process, social identification, we adopt the identity of the group we have categorised ourselves as belonging to. For example, if someone categorises themselves as a student, they will adopt the identity of a student and begin to act in the ways they believe students act. They will also conform to the norms of the group, which ties their self esteem to group membership. The third process entails social comparison. After categorising ourselves as part of a group and identifying with that group, we tend to compare that group with other groups. In order for our self esteem to be maintained, our group needs to compare favourably with other groups. […]

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