Identity and identity formation

Austin, Jon (2005) Identity and identity formation. In: Culture and identity, 2nd ed. Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, Australia, pp. 7-15. ISBN 0-7339-7329-9


It seems that everywhere one looks at present, the notion of 'identity' is being discussed. From very dense intellectual publications to the popular press; from Pete Townsend asking, in the Who's classic 1978 track, 'Who Are You?' to Sandra Bullock's invisibility as a result of identity theft in the movie 'The Net', identity is a topic of contemporary significance.

Our identity is something we deal with and trade in on a daily basis, from the use of plastic cards to borrow books or hire movies, to numerical representations of that identity in PINs to the production of formal certification of our identity. For intending teachers, the importance of establishing our identity for the purpose of establishing our suitability to work with children is but one example of this focus on identity.

Many everyday uses of the term 'identity' fit within the types of scenarios described in the preceding paragraphs. However, when one thinks a little more deeply about this, one comes to realize that what is really meant here is not 'identity' but 'identification' - what we produce and wear, key-in or display more frequently identifies us: we carry and can produce suitable identification. These things
are not more than a (very small) part of our identity, and that part is usually only the legalistic, surface-level labeling of each of us as individuals. Our names, ages, perhaps addresses reflect some aspects of who we are, but these things in and of themselves are not who we are. For example, names may hint at the types of background we have (witness the difficulties faced by Australians with
'Middle Eastern-sounding' names after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 200 I). Our birthdate and age may suggest certain characteristics or features of our attitudes, clothing styles and music preferences. Our photograph may promote ideas about our racial, ethnic or cultural location. All of these are but superficial markers of an assumed identity: features or characteristics that other people take to mean that we are such-and-such. We still need to know what is meant by 'identity'.

As it plays itself out across the social landscape, the question of identity at all sorts of levels presents
as a very good example of what Raymond Williams termed a 'key word'(Williams, 1976), a word or phrase that both captures and directs social discourse or discussion. One thing, though, is apparent: 'identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to befIXed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience ofdoubt and uncertainty' (Mercer, 1990, p. 43). This is perhaps a good starting point for unraveling what is meant in this text by the word 'identity'.

The current era is characterized by a sufficiently large number of features such that many social theorists, including historians, consider it a particular and peculiar period in history. The most common description of this era is 'postmodernity', and while this is not a book concerned with the particular details of the postmodern period, it is important to understand something of the essential features of this time in history, primarily because they impact on this thing called 'identity'.

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Chapter 1. Permanent restricted access to paper due to publisher copyright restrictions. 3 print copies held in USQ Toowoomba Library, 3 at Fraser Coast Library and 2 at Springfield Library at call no. 306 Cul.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2008 01:33
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2012 04:50
Uncontrolled Keywords: identity; identity formation
Fields of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130199 Education systems not elsewhere classified
16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education
20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200204 Cultural Theory
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390399 Education systems not elsewhere classified
39 EDUCATION > 3902 Education policy, sociology and philosophy > 390203 Sociology of education
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4702 Cultural studies > 470207 Cultural theory

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