Sociology: social identity

This is a write up I made on a message board. Figured I’d copy it here in case I want to expand upon it/improve it at a later date.

I get the general impression, based on a few observations that not many people major in sociology or some people laugh at the concept of sociology because they don’t understand the point of sociology. It’s kind of like “why bother?”

In a nutshell, sociology is the study of why people do what they do. There are multiple different approaches. Some sociologists might only be interested in studying something to understand it and others might want to understand and then see what can be done to improve it. (It being an issue or problem.) It’s the “applied” vs. “theoretical” that happens in all (?) sciences. Sociologists will study, research, and/or apply theories to pretty much any aspect of life. There are so many “social” things. Social psychology. Social problems. Sociobiology. Point being, sociology is actually very useful and can be very interesting; what matters is your perspective and the perspective you choose to take. An interesting one for the internet is social identity.

From a sociological perspective identity is a number of concepts rolled up into one, for starters:

1. Who you, yourself, think you are
2. Who you are perceived to be
3. Who you think others perceive you to be
4. Who you want to be perceived as

All of those can be broken down further. Some things that effect your identity, even on the Internet, are gender, race, age, religion, occupation. Others include your hobbies, interests, job, residence and SES (socio-economic status.

Therefore, saying that someone is nothing but what they they want to be is not true, it’s at least not true in any social setting. And what setting is not social? Another example of this (from a book I read for my social problems class) is a little black boy growing up a housing project in Chicago who wanted glasses. He didn’t need glasses, but with glasses the teacher might see him as smarter and more studious and would pick him to do things like run errands more often. Or if you want another example, the saying that “clothes make the man,” can be referenced. How do you know people are homeless?

You might think this isn’t the same for the Internet, but because identity includes what you perceive and how you identify yourself, it is. If you identify as black, or female, handicapped, or as a computer programmer you might view what someone has said differently than someone who identifies i any way differently from you.

The internet makes this so much fun because you have more control – but not total control – over how people perceive different things about you. The tricky part is realizing how much goes into it. For example, you (you the person reading this right now ) have drawn conclusions and formed opinions about me just because of simple things like my avatar, sig, forum name and forum title, and that’s just the beginning. There are plenty of things people on this board don’t know about me; but that doesn’t stop them from forming opinions or conclusions about me based on my actions and what they think the reasons for those actions on. The same goes for me.

To make an example specific to this community: it’s not uncommon for someone to be labeled as stupid, immature or just ridiculous if someone else doesn’t understand the reasons for their actions or words. Once someone has been labeled as such, the community is likely to hold onto that and not let it go. (Much like a rabid pit bull!) That labeling then affects everyone involved.

And the related concepts of labeling, being labeled, and understanding labels opens a whole other can of worms. From there you can dive into the symbolic interactionist approach to sociology. That’s even more fun on the internet, especially when you are talking about drama on the internet. I can explain some basic/big theological approaches, including symbolic interactionism in a different post. This looks long enough for one post.

Hopefully there’s no glaring errors/typos/etc and sorry if there’s anything especially confusing or weird. Never actually written up an explanation like this.

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~ by ofia on May 5, 2008.

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