The aim of this essay is to evaluate the claim that identity is determined by relationships. This will be done through descriptions of identity and relationships’ and how they are intertwined with each other to form an individual who is unique. There are many theorists who have worked extensively on theories of identity and this essay will only cover a small sample of these to evaluate the claim. Firstly a definition of identity which (Erikson cited in Hollway 2009, p 252) defines ‘as a sense of one’s continuity over time…complemented by his conviction of the importance of change in understanding identity’.
Erikson acknowledges that change is a part of our identity and as we change during our life course, our opinions and perceptions of our identities change. This may happen through various life events that affects an individual such as a birth of a child, the passing of a loved one, marriage, these all have bearings on how we perceive ourselves and will shape who we are and what we are to others, i. e. mother, daughter, aunt, grandmother. It is in fact these identities that become relationships that define who we are.
Hollway (2009, p255) defines identification as ‘ the act, conscious or not, of accurately imagining oneself in another’s place’. Many young people refer to this when they make comments like I would not do that with my children when they are being critical of their parents’ skills regarding upbringing. We are all influenced by our upbringing in both positive and negative ways and these have a bearing on our future skills of nurturing others. Erikson (cited in Hollway 2009 p 257) suggests ‘a person’s identity changes over the course of a lifetime because of the conflict produced by ordinary life circumstances’.
Identity construction begins with our parents influences but is variable as we go through life our perceptions and priorities change. Hollway (2009) identifies the change during motherhood and is the basis of an empirical research project on the identity changes in becoming a mother for the first time. This research was looking at the changes in perceptions of women, becoming mothers for the first time; it involved interviewing them at various stages and also used observation techniques. Consent and an ethical framework were utilised.
The subject initially placed herself outside of her extended family prior to becoming a mother but on the birth of her child she noticed a shift in her priorities in that she no longer put herself first, her child took priority and she began to associate more with family members who also had children and even noticed the types of clothes that she wore changed on becoming a mother for the first time. One might see this as conforming to the social norms within her family as she took on the responsibilities and matured in line with her new responsibilities and adapted her lifestyle accordingly.
A difficulty I encountered with this piece of research was the use of the extended family, the subject was of Indian descent and they have different family values to those of British descent in that the extended family is much more involved within the family. British women would not be so influenced or involved with their extended family as it is not of such importance to them. The subject herself initially felt that she did not fit into her ethnic background, however on the birth of her child she began to value her family’s opinion and have more respect for her elders who had also experienced motherhood.
Hollway (2009) identified the subject moving away from western clothes to her traditional Indian clothes as one process in changing practices; it was also observed that her group identification changed. Bilig (cited in Hollway 2009) talks about the process of being bound to a social group and the subject found this too as she socialised more and respected opinions of her extended family. Thus the subject had changed her identity through the new relationship with her baby, she changed her practices due to motherhood and her priorities completely changed.
Another part of identity is ones ethnicity, where we have come from and how that influences our lives. Fanon (cited in Hollway 2009) in the 1950’s was one of the first to look at racism and how the colour of one’s skin affects how others perceive us, he was interested in how a black person was perceived by a white person and the effects of racism on black peoples identity. Fanon who was a psychiatrist reported that ‘all I wanted was to be a man among other men’ but he felt he was ‘imprisoned’ by his ethnicity and that when people looked at him they
saw a ‘black man’, ‘I was responsible at the same time for my body, my race, for my ancestors’. Fanon’s experiences made him feel inferior to white people and he felt this ‘penetrated’ into his and other black people’s identity through social relationships. It was not actually about the physicality of his colour but about others perception of his colour that affected his identity and thus the relationships he had based on this assumption of seeing a ‘black man’ rather than a ‘man’ who made him feel inferior to a white man.
Change regarding identity can be altered in other ways such as cosmetic surgery, bodybuilding, a change in hairstyle or colour of hair but these changes are made through choice, aspects of the ageing process however are not but we become familiar with whom we are at a specific time in our lives and most people generally respect these as part of the ageing process. Relationships can also be influenced by others perceptions of us and how we are perceived as shown by Fanon example previously and also shown in Hollway research on motherhood.
Identity can also be related to where we have come from in the world and if people bring traits of a different country when they move. Raghuram (2009) identified that migration was encouraged by institutions such as the National Health Service (NHS) in the 1960’s and 70’s who encouraged migrant doctors to come to the UK in order to fill skill gaps within the NHS. This still continues within the health service today as many come to the UK for experience and to continue their professional development.
They bring with them different cultures and ways of living that is different to ‘Britishness’ . Clarke (2009) reports as being something that has ‘changed over time and continues to give rise to confusion and debate’ this is reflected also in his opinion that ‘the diversity of modern British society is a much debated issue, raising questions about who ‘we’ are and how ‘we’ might live together. He continues to identify being British by ‘being part of the British race’.
There are now tests such as Citizenship that can be taken by people who are not British but want to become a British citizen. Being part of a country is part of our identity as it is part of our patriotism to the country we love and respect. It also becomes a part of our relationships as we identify with the country from which we feel we belong to it becomes an inherent part of ourselves and who we are thus part of our identity and interlinks with the relationships we form during our life course. Conclusion
During this essay different aspects of identity and relationships have been formed and brings to the conclusion that relationships are part of a person’s identity and they shape who we are through parenting, ethnicity, maturing and life course, which we also pass on to our children if we have them. Relationships whoever they are with influence the way we live our lives in both positive and negative ways, past relationships may influence future relationships depending on their positive/negative effects and therefore form part of who we are as they are our unique experiences.
Individuality, Britishness, ethnicity all have bearings on us as individuals so the evidence shows that our relationships due guide us in how we as human beings see ourselves, so who we are is defined by the various relationships we have throughout our life course, we never stop learning, adapting and changing throughout our lives to all sorts of different challenges and obstacles and this journey is what makes these experiences unique to us as an individual. Who we are is formed by experience and the relationships are the tool from which we learn.