TO WHAT EXTENT IS AN INDIVIDUAL’S SOCIAL IDENTITY SHAPED BY FACTORS OUTSIDE THEIR CONTROL? HOW MIGHT YOUR ANSWER INFLUENCE THE WAY YOU WORK WITH INDIVIDUALS, FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES IN THE FUTURE.
This assignment will critically discuss and analyse the extent to which social identity is shaped by factors outside the control of the individual and how this might influence the way a social worker works with individuals, families and communities in future. In answering these questions, the assignment will define social identity, explore basic sociological issues and approaches, critically appraise theories and ideas by other writers and determine how social workers can adopt various tools to support people in an anti oppressive manner, and help them challenge inequalities of power.
The emergence of sociology as a discipline in the 18th and 19th centuries focused particularly on individual identity. From here social identity has been shaped from pre modern (traditional) society through modernity to the contemporary (post modernity). Social identity can be defined as “the individual’s knowledge that he or she belongs to certain social groups together with the emotional and value significance to him or her of this group membership” (Tajfel, 1972, p32).
Social identity theory offers a social psychological explanation of intergroup prejudice, discrimination and conflict. Its origins lie in the work of Tajfel and Turner (1987) concerning the relationship between self and society. So the key to understanding prejudice, discrimination and conflict is found in an individual’s social identity as defined by group membership.
The social psychological perspectives seek to understand the process that enables individuals and group members to influence each other and develop shared norms and values. The group shapes how the individual defines and evaluates himself providing norms and values and directly affects how they behave in specific situations which are salient. So social identity involves a process of depersonalisation where the self becomes interchangeable with other in-group members (Turner, 1985). People shift from defining themselves at the level of personal identity to the level of shared social identity. Self categorisation theory argued that shared social identity qualitatively changed the nature of people’s relationships. This view is not always straightforward because at different times in different situations people define who they are in different ways. When there is a shared social identity there is a motivation to act in ways that advance the group’s collective interests. We are defined as much by what we are not as by what we are. The definition of both varies with the psychological and social context within which it is made.
From the above this essay has found that since social identity is based on shared values, the person may not be forced to be part of that association, but actions by other members whether positive or negative will have an impact on the individual in the eyes of others who are not part of the group.
Major issues affecting social identity include the notion of nature and nurture. Nature will include the biological and physiological make up of a person. Issues pertaining to nature are already outside the control of the individual. These factors include race, ethnicity, sex and disability. In modern times people have more abilities to change their situation than in the past, although in some cases this has proved extremely difficult. To some extent people can change their nationality, but it might be harder changing a social class position, where wealth is a major determinant for a poor person to move up the social ladder. People can also change their religion and, in a behavioural way, sexual orientation, particularly in more fluid and liberal societies.
The assessment of how far people are created by factors or forces outside their control, as against how far we are free to make choices about who we are or what we want to become is known as the structure/agency dualism in sociology.
Dominant group members can use persuasion, authority and coercion (which are the three processes of power) to control others. These indicators of control flows from leaders, institutions, authorities and elites acting in line with the rules, laws, principles and beliefs that people are supposed to share. However, a critical examination might demonstrate that it is these elite groups that developed rules, laws and beliefs in the first place. In the traditional model of power, control of resources leads to power, and power leads to influence. This theory argues that group identity leads to influence, which in turn is the foundation of power. The issue of power may then be out of the control of most individuals, as these are normally held by a smaller group of elites.
This essay will now highlight in detail some of the factors listed above which has been used as means of controlling others, and how this might influence working with individuals, families and communities. Particularly in the sense that social workers support people from diverse disadvantaged groups in the UK. One of the purposes of the support is to combat inequalities, support people in having basic rights met, help people to have more control over their lives and safeguard disadvantaged communities, families and individuals from exclusion. The analysis will comprise of ethnicity, class, religion, gender, disability and national identity. The social worker’s awareness and knowledge of these factors, and how inequalities of power can affect groups of people is important. It is also important to challenge oppressive and discriminatory practices using the GSCC code of practice, national policies and legislation in every day practice.
Social workers who work with individuals, families and communities should also be fully aware of the issues that cause oppression, inequalities and discrimination in order to combat them. Coulshed and Mullender (2001) stated that difference both within and between groups should be promoted. “A celebration of difference can lead to the discovery of a great variety of new strengths and skills which a diversity of women, black people, older workers and others can offer…” Coulshed and Mullender (2001 p 225)
Conflict with an out-group or minority can be used to directly create or reshape in-group identity. The same is true when one discriminates against a minority group. Prejudice against a minority can be used to reshape the mainstream identity and place oneself at the core and increase one’s power. (Subasic, Turner and Reynolds, 2007). Social workers should be aware that in looking at ethnic differences where people live there is an interesting correlation between crime and the deprivation score (Karlsen, Nazroo and Stephenson, 2002). Ethnic groups with the most crime had the most deprivation. Out of four ethnic groups, the most area of crime and deprivation are Pakistani, and then Caribbean, while the least is white areas and then Indian.
Modood et al (1997) said one in eight ethnic minority people in the UK experience racial harassment. While Nazroo (2001) stated that 20 per cent of ethnic minority say they have been refused jobs for racial reasons, and almost 75 per cent of those surveyed said this has happened more than once. White people also said they have been prejudiced more by Asians than by Caribbean people. The Race Relations Act 1976 meant that oppressed racial groups could benefit from a fairer access to resources, jobs and pay.
In terms of religion, Fulcher and Scott (2007) analysed Marxist interpretations of how religion had created a social identity which ensured that the poor would not challenge the wealth of the rich by creating a labyrinth of myth, mysticism and smokescreen which determined that people’s lots in life were already divinely determined and thus which man can do little to alter. This assignment sees this as a misinterpretation of religious values and doctrine by Marx, because a true analysis of say the bible actually criticises the rich, ill-gotten wealth and supports individual fulfilment irrespective of position, class or race provided there is obedience to God. The real problem Fulcher and Scott should have addressed is how a particular group of people used religion as a tool for their own advantage.
Emile Durkheim who is one of the founding fathers of sociology took a functionalist approach to religious value practices. Functionalists believe that religion is a conservative force in creating a harmonious society. This view is again only partially correct because the early days of the Christian movement were characterised by radicalism, upheaval and direct confrontation with the status quo, which the bible relates will occur again in future. When the Roman status quo through power suppressed dissenting Christian views, they in turn readopted it, using it in the manner prescribed by Marxism and functionalism. Macionis and Plummer (2008) followed on from Durkheim who sees religion as a social identity focusing on the importance of shared norms, beliefs and values. Burns (1992) suggested that Eirving Goffman challenged the structuralist and functionalist school of thought using an interactionist approach to state that the individual is an active agent in shaping society and their own social identity.
Durkheim actually predicted the gradual decrease in formal world religions viewing the functions of social solidarity and collective consciousness as being taken up by other institutions, evolving into new forms of religious experience (Macionis and Plummer, 2008). This can be seen in contemporary societies where activities such as supporting a football team can be considered as taking up the mantle of religious values as groups within society are united under a common belief enforcing solidarity and shared experiences. This is a pointer for social workers to recognise the importance of certain religious and social beliefs and fanaticism among people supporting its positive implications and challenging them when it becomes divisive.
Macionis and Plummer (2008) stated that Max Weber took a different view from the Structuralist approach (Marxism) and the functionalist approach. He said that religion is used as an engine of change by determining that Protestantism gave rise to the capitalist state. In my evaluation this argument is actually similar to what Marx stated above in terms of how religion was created to keep the masses subservient to the rich. However, the collapse of religion may actually not be happening as sociologists have indicated, because they have taken a more Eurocentric view. There is a rise in fundamentalist practices mainly in third world countries promoting Islam and the new Born-Again Christian movement in Africa. Parts of this also occur in the US. This evaluation is supported by the works of Gellner (1993) who foresaw Islamic fundamentalist groups playing a more prominent global role.
Therefore in terms of religion social workers should be mindful of the Religion and sexual orientation Act 2003, and be mindful of the above religious developments and practices when dealing with people who have particular religious leanings, understanding that everyone has a right to belief or abstain from all religious practices. Social workers are neither allowed to impose there on beliefs on the people they come in contact with, but support such people in promoting their religious practices, which should be contained in assessments and care plans being drawn up.
Many sociologists have argued that society is characterised by class inequalities which are fundamental to most people’s identity. Marx and Weber shared a belief that class inequalities gave rise to significant social classes. The critique for this suggests that social changes have led to a decline in class identity. (Giddens and Diamond, 2005, and Wikinson, 2005) The Equal Pay Act 1970 has helped in some ways to challenge employment opportunities by enabling poorer people get access to jobs, promotion and fair rates of pay.
The feminist approach then sees their group identity in relation to power dynamics with men, requesting for equilibrium in structural and internal relationships. It criticised sociology for being dominated by white middle class males, and also criticised some of the influx of white middle class females coming into the profession for failing to take into account diversity among men and women in terms of social class , age, disabilities, sexuality and global power dynamics (Abbott et al, 2005). Sexual difference is a socio-cultural construction while biological and physiological differences justifying and maintaining women’s inferior position. Biological sex is the identity we are born with as male and female then gender identity is how we are nurtured by socialisation where socially acceptable gender roles are defined by men, according to Abbot et al (2005). The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) meant women could benefit from equal status with men, while the Sexual Harassment Act outlawed physical and psychological sexual abuse against women. However, innate sex difference in terms of aptitudes for certain types of work or level of career may well always remain.
Disabled people are among the most disadvantaged groups of people in the society. They have suffered segregation, inequalities and exclusion from social amenities and facilities other able people take for granted. In the past disabled people have been routinely raped and abused in asylums, but the long stay hospitals which came afterwards were seen as agents of exclusion. The disable movement and their advocates who include professionals and families have fought to keep the rights of disabled people on the agenda. Disabled people can suffer inequalities in health care and treatment, housing, employment and access to community facilities. The various Valuing People documents such as Valuing People with learning disabilities (DH, 2001) and Valuing People Now (DH, 2007) promotes the social model of disability based on rights, choice, independence and inclusion, and complete control for disabled people over the very issues that affect their lives. Social workers should be aware of these developments in the lives of people with disabilities as well as promoting the social model of disability to challenge oppressive and discriminatory practices and encourage quality services for disabled people. The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) helped people with mental health problems, physical and learning disabled people to enjoy fair access to resources and facilities and the job market.
The 21st century is marked by constant change which challenges our assumptions about who we are, where in society we belong, and what we can expect. There are two groups where one looks for old certainties and another decides to live with difference and construct new identities. The new thinking on citizenship tends to lean more on the latter, particularly in dealing with the decline in community and the subsequent problems of social order (Jones, P, 2003). This will have an impact on the knowledge and awareness of social workers in using the citizenship model prescribed by the Labour government to help communities and people reshape their social identity with factors they have little control over. This will affect some people from ethnic minority backgrounds where aspects of the new citizenship (national) identity clashes with their traditional belief. For instance, their religion may preach propagation of their faith and an abhorrence of other faiths, while the citizenship model supports secularism. Also, some ethnic traditional beliefs may include strict discipline for children in order to prevent future social disorder among the youths, but this type of discipline in the UK will be termed as child abuse. Central to post modernity is the idea of choice, rights and independence in shaping the new citizen (Hall, S, 1992).
In conclusion, this assignment critically determined the extent to which social identity is shaped by factors outside the control of the individual establishing that there are issues regarding nature (the identity which shaped the individual biologically and physiologically) and nurture (the identity in which the individual may determine himself, but in some cases may struggle with). The assignment also found that power differences, discrimination, control and influence can lead to inequalities by dominant groups against disadvantaged ones. The key groups analysed where social workers may come into contact with are people from ethnic minorities, the poor, religious groups, disadvantaged women and disabled people. The assignment also found that some of the tools social workers use to promote anti oppressive and anti discriminatory practices when working with such groups will include knowledge and awareness of the person’s social identity and how this might have been affected by inequalities, promoting diversity and anti oppressive traditional practices (while recognising the importance of national identity) and quality of services for disadvantaged groups, using codes of practices, national policies and legislation to support people and advocate for their rights as citizens in the UK.
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