Friday, October 7, 2011

sociology

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I believe that we are born with an identity, and as we move through life our identity is reproduced through direct and indirect relations with others. Direct being our personal relationships with family, friends, teachers, peers etc. Indirect being the media and the norms of the society in which we live. We learn how to be from observing those around us.


When we are born we immediately have an identity ascribed to us. If we are born in Australia, then we are Australian. If we are born to the Smith family, then we are a Smith. If we are born into a Catholic family, then we are a Catholic. We are called either male or female, and then given a name. When we are a baby, our identity is who we are to others, as we have not yet formed a sense of self, a sense of who we think we are. We are who others say we are. Our identity is external, and later becomes internal also, as we develop a sense of self, and our own opinions, thoughts etc.


As we move through life we are socialised. We learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from the approval and disapproval of others. “Group members who conform to norms tend to be socially approved of, whereas those who deviate tend to be disapproved of and in the extreme may be punished and excluded from the group.” (Turner, 11, P. ). We learn to comply with the ‘norms’ of our society. We learn that if we adhere to the ‘norms’ of our society then we are ‘normal’ if we don’t then we are ‘deviant’.


Another way in which our identity is formed is through the way we think others perceive us. “According to Cooley, from early childhood our concepts of self develop from seeing how others respond to us ‘In the presence of one whom we feel to be of importance, there is a tendency to enter into and adopt, by sympathy, his judgement of ourself.”’ (Baumeister, 1, P.6). “When people are asked how they know that they possess certain characteristics, a typical answer is that they have learned about them from other people. A more formal theoretical statement of this view has been articulated by the influential school of thought known as symbolic interactionism. This theory proffers the idea of a ‘looking glass self’, and asserts that one’s self concept is a reflection of one’s perceptions about how one appears to others.” (Baumeister, 1, P.5). Two elements of this looking glass self are “the imagination of our appearance to the other person and the imagination of his judgement of that appearance.” (Baumeister, 1, P. 6). These perceptions of how others see us may or may not be true. We may imagine that others see us a certain way, when in fact they don’t see us that way at all. For example, after giving a speech, someone may say that they had been nervous during it, when, to us, they appeared calm.


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We also learn to identify ourselves as part of a group. For example, if we are a member of a Lutheran church, then we would identify ourselves as a Lutheran. Now that consumerism is so much a part of our lives, we also can identify ourselves as being ‘a Toyota man’ or a ‘Maybelline girl.’ I believe that all people have a need to belong, to feel accepted by others. We have a need to feel that we are not alone in the world. “…our whole self-concept � our sense of who we are � contains not just our personal identity (our sense of our personal attributes and attitudes) but our social identity. Having a sense of “we-ness” strengthens our self-concept.” (Myers, 16,


P 407).


Much of our identity is formed through observation of others around us. We may have a role model, someone whom we aspire to be like. Sometimes this may be a family member or friend, but often, it is a media personality or rock star. I remember going through a stage as a teenager when I was beginning to form my own identity, separate to the one my parents tried to give me, and part of this process was emulating rock stars. Sometimes, this can be quite a harmless thing, but sometimes a young person may aspire to be like a celebrity who promotes violence and deviant behaviour. For example, in her “Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society”, Tipper Gore quotes Blackie Lawless of the band W.A.S.P. “I like to drink blood out of a skull and torture females on stage.” (Gore, 187, P. 47). As torturing females is not acceptable, probably in most societies, then we wouldn’t want too many young people aspiring to be like Blackie Lawless.





We are often told by the media who we should be. What we should look like, what car we should drive, and what type of deodorant we should use. We are told that if we use these products, then we will take on a particular identity. If we use this type of deodorant then we will be irresistible. If we drive this type of car, then we will be socially acceptable.





In her “Where the Girls Are”, Susan J. Douglas writes about the changing face of women in American pop culture over the past 40 years and the influence this has had on shaping (and confusing) the identity of women. “Our collective history of interacting with and being shaped by the mass media has engendered in many women a kind of cultural identity crisis. We are ambivalent toward femininity on the one hand and feminism on the other. Women today are a bundle of contradictions. Because much of the media imagery we grew up with was itself filled with mixed messages about what women should and should not do, what women could and could not be. This was true in the 160s, and it is true today. The media, of course, urged us to be pliant, cute, sexually available, thin, blonde, pore less, wrinkle-free, and deferential to men. But it is easy to forget that the media also suggested we could be rebellious, tough, enterprising, and shrewd.” (Douglas, 14, P.8,).


Although we are born with an identity, much of the identity we acquire through life comes through relations with others. We learn how to be through observation, teaching, and socialisation. We are moulded by the society in which we live. However, I believe, that as we grow older we can also choose whether to comply with the norms of that society or not, and we can also help to mould that society.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


Baumeister, Roy F., The Self in Social Psychology, (1), Taylor and Francis, U.S.


Douglas, Susan J., Where the Girls Are � Growing up Female with the Mass Media, (14), Times Books, U.S.


Gore, Tipper, Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society, (187), Parthenon Press, Nashville.


Myers, David G., Social Psychology, 5th Ed., (16), McGraw Hill Companies Inc., U.S.


Turner, John C., Social Influence, (11), Open University Press, Buckingham.


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