The main premise concerning the concept of identity reads: self-identity
and group-identity may be defined only with regards to relations with others,
because there is no »me« which is not a part of »we«
(E. Leach), i.e. it is necessary to determine where one belongs in order
to discover his/her identity. However, the concept of identity has become
too complex in the modern age, because the breakdown of the traditional
close society has liberated a multiplicity of identities (status, class,
professional, generational, ethnic, confessional, etc.), and pluralism
of forms should be taken into account, for modernism is marked with difference
and diversification. But post-modernism once more emphasizes the question
of choice of identities, being a »generalized affirmation of pluralism
and heterogeneity« (G. Mehennan).
Moreover, the problem of identity becomes particularly visible in times
of social and civilizational crisis, when all the old values are questioned
and the established life schemes destroyed; and a new search for identity
is needed. Living precisely in a turbulent age, we have become aware of
the significance of the problem of identity; therefore, social sciences
nowadays focus their attention on the problem.
A developed personality who has attained self-identities characterized
by: individual traits, the contents of a person’s thoughts and actions,
his/her ideas and convictions, as well as personal interests and aspirations
(Nuttin). But one of the main problems arises when speaking about the relationships
of personal and group/communal identities (the dialogue between liberal
and communitarian theories). The antithesis of individualism and sociologism
is nothing but a reductionist point of view, which denies the fact that
human beings have both a personal and social existence.
The concept of identity is usually defined as an »organization
of mental structures of both cognitive and affective characteristics, which
represent an individual’s perception (and also group perception) of himself
as a different being« (P. Massen); or as »the complete consciousness
of oneself as a person«, who has continuity in time as a unique personality.
A exceptional role when the concept of identity is concerned is played
by the sense of belonging and of autonomy, which at first glance are opposed
to each other. However, they represent two complementary dimensions of
an individuals’ development and maturation. This is because personality
formation does not go on in a vacuum but assumes close ties with the community.
Therefore, self-identity depends on both perception and recognition from
the others, to whom one is linked with common ties.
The author distinguishes the concept of identity from identification.
The latter denotes the process of imitation when a child regards oneself
as identical to his/her parents in terms of unconscious acceptance of cultural
norms and demands; it is merely the first phase in the constitution of
an identity, because it develops primarily a sense of belonging without
independence and autonomy, i.e. it appears only as the process of the individuals’
adaptation to society and its standards. Identity presumes the individual’s
capacity to distinguish between self-recognition and recognition by the
others, as well as the awareness of one’s own dispositions irrespective
of others’ images of the same person. When the process of personality development
ends with identification, it produces an oversocialized person, cutting
off the possibility of his/her individuation.
Identity formation is a continuous process and not a state, because
individuals go through different life-spans and develop different needs
and interests which may oppose one another; in order to reach integrity
they should be modified and reconciled. The capacity to perceive one’s
own self is a unique feature of man as a human being; thereby, identity
is a specific anthropological category.
Another aspect which the author deals with is how personal and group/collective
identities meet. It is the question of the »measure« of one’s
adaptation to one’s own culture and his/her self-reflection by which he/she
succeeds in becoming removed from environmental demands in order to constitute
one’s own unique essence. Personal maturity is attained when no one is
lost in the self-other relationship but each contributes to the affirmation
and actualization of the other. This process consists of different levels:
psychic, social and moral maturity. Self-identity thus represents realization
of the ego in terms of its own biography (A. Giddens).
However, any human identity is social identity, because it relates
to meanings which are always a matter of convention. Collective identity
represents a continuity of generations’ experiences and the »common
memory« of the collective history. Origin and history are related
in the collective identity, as well as past and future, strengthening the
sense of belonging and solidarity. The following collective identities
may be differentiated: group identity, class identity, social and cultural
identity, ethnic/national identity and professional identity. In this context
the problem arises: how to reconcile certain fundamental dilemmas of human
existence such as: how to solve the opposition between an abstract, depersonalized
institutional order and an active life and individual consciousness; how
to make an appropriate relationship between a common, collective identity
and an individual, unique identity, i.e. how to reconcile sameness and
difference; how to enable socialization to continue in terms of individuation;
that is, how to make congruent cultural determinants with individual dispositions.
The answer may be found in the interaction of individual and collective
identities, because personal and social dimensions are the complementary
foundation of human existence; although many individuals fail to reach
self-identity due to their overidentification with socio-cultural surroundings.
Then one may speak of an identity crisis. Having in mind these two dimensions
of identity, it is necessary to see the dynamics of its development in
terms of both the process of socialization and a complementary process
– individuation. Still, the process of socialization does not automatically
lead to individuation, so one may speak of unsuccessful socialization,
because merely adapting to the socio-cultural environment is insufficient
to the formation of self-identity since an individual »revolt«
and »departure« from the collective identity is what one needs
The first phase of socialization is the so-called mirror phase (»looking-glass-self«).
This, according to P. Berger, is a proto-cognitive phenomenon, for an individual
automatically accepts certain general truths about his/her society; the
second phase is the internalization of the objective structure of reality
into the personality structure, i.e. the process of maturation progressively
advances from merely a physical identification to the individual’s recognition
of his/her subjective qualities, capacities and activities. But here the
cognitive and motivational aspects are closely linked, that is, identity
is constituted through the sense of identity, by the subjective feeling
that he/she belongs to the unique personality. The following levels of
identity development may be designated: identification, introjection and
projection, but one author also mentions repression as such a phase when
the individual recognition of the mental contents becomes unconscious (Storr).
The theory of symbolic interactionism is one which links social structure
and an individuals’ actions and may give a more complete answer to the
question of how the formation of identity takes place. In this perspective
both the structure of a situation and personality structure are seen in
their mutual restructuration, which changes the matrix of both group and
The next problem which the author considers concerns the question:
how different types of modern societies influence the formation of personal
and collective identity, i.e. whether the opposition of individualism and
collectivism is transcended in the modern era, or is it rather more expressed;
whether the idea of the alienation of modern man is still actual and in
what way; why the discovery and realization of self-identity becomes subversive
in certain types of modern societies; whether the tendency towards globalization,
which certain authors characterize as a »new imperialism«,
hides behind liberalism the thesis on the omnipotence of society over individuals?
These are the problems of the effects of modernization on the development
of personality and autonomous collective entities. A simplified division
of the complexity of contemporary civilization into liberalism (individualism)
and communism (collectivism) loses sight of the fact that growing conformity
and institutionalized depersonalization are taking place in all modern
societies, because the contradictory striving towards both individuality
and loyalty to the group/basic collective (in particular the nation) has
not yet been reconciled.
The quest for identity comes about when one is not sure where he/she
belongs, i.e. identity is the name for escape from insecurity (Z. Bauman).
Identity crisis, therefore, results from uncertainty and anxiety and is
produced by social and cultural turbulence; it is expressed in terms of
the disturbance of the continuity of meaning and uniqueness when individual
identity is in question, and interferes with the basis of a common feeling
of belonging to a wholeness when group/collective identity is concerned.
The plurality of options which contemporary civilization offers has a twofold
effect: on the one hand it fosters the development of personal and group
potentials, but on the other, it generates confusion, uncertainty and insecurity
about which choice is the »right« one. Two aspects of the identity
crisis may be mentioned: 1) civilizational and socio-cultural, and 2) ontological
insecurity. When does the identity crisis in terms of culture arise? The
answer may read: a) when the given cultural patterns come to the clashes
and challenge the existing paradigms; b) when a vacuum of cultural values
appears, along with a disruption of the patterns of culture that create
standards and norms of behaviour, and c) when the state imposes certain
norms as the sole frame of reference without a possible choice. As far
as the identity crisis as ontological insecurity is concerned, it is always
present in a latent form as being a part of the existential contradictions
of »human nature«; and it may be overcome only by constant
individual effort to resolve the inner conflicts in the process of continuos
formation which is never fully completed. The solutions that the post-modern
era offers are nothing but illusions, because they do not concern the question
of how to construct identity but rather how to escape fixation (Z. Bauman).
The extreme relativization of all values is double-edged, because it denies
any firm strongpoint, while a human being cannot survive without relying
upon certain general values and criteria. Therefore, one should be aware
that post-modern civilization confronts individuals with new problems and
dilemmas. However, it sends us a message that identity can no longer
be considered the old way (Derrida).
In the further discourse the author reconsiders the following issues:
civic and democratic identities, and ethnic/national identity vis-à-vis
the genesis of neonationalism at the end of the 20th century.
In the conclusion the author states that multiculturalism in modern
times is what can offer solutions to the problem of the development of
both individual and collective forms of identity in their plural forms.
Intercultural communication in a multicultural community offers much broader
possibilities to individuals and social groups for the establishment of
a modern post-traditional identity, which is liberated from isolation,
closeness and monolitism.