The formation of one’s self begins with answering the question “who am I”. The self-conception presents a set of concepts by which one determines what he or she is. This is the central part of the process of socialization that develops in the course of human interaction with other people.
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The sociologist Ralph Turner clarified and expanded the ideas of Cooley, Park, and McPartland by pointing out that when a person says or does something, he or she tends to get an internal state of readiness for certain types of reactions that may follow in his or her address from others. For example, if one meets a professor, asks a friend, or visits a psychologist, he or she expects that the other person will respond to the conducted actions accordingly. This is caused by the impulse.
Receiving the response or reaction from another person, one enters the stage of checking and reviewing his or her expectations and perceptions. In doing so, a person attributes certain significance to the encountered behavior and, in accordance with this, plans the subsequent actions. For example, if another person did not react in an expected way, the communication may be interrupted, and it is likely that one will try to return to the starting position and recheck impulses and intentions.
By “real self” Turner means the locus of one’s sense of genuineness, accountability, and responsibility (Branaman 242). It is also interesting to note that Turner distinguishes between institution locus and impulse locus that compose the loci of self. In particular, the author identifies seven distinctions, the most essential of which refers to the fact that institution locus is enclosed solely when a person fully controls his or her behavior. In its turn, impulse locus allows revealing true self merely when inhibitions are reduced or rejected.
Along with impulse of an individual, Turner focuses on the notion of roles and their locus. He argues that role setting or gesture orchestration signals what role someone is going to play in a certain situation. Turner emphasizes that people do not rely solely on their own skill. In fact, they have some role-based concepts, which denote the characteristic sets of gestures and sequences of actions associated with a certain line of behavior. These role concepts can be tuned, so that, for example, one will be able to discern how not only the role of the student is performed in general, but also the varieties of this role such as educational, scientific, sports, social, etc.
Thus, people have a vast repertoire of role-playing concepts, and from this collection, they try to create roles for themselves, organizing the presentation of their gestures. It goes without saying that the roles they prepare for themselves are limited not only to the existing social structure (for example, students cannot be professors), but also to their sets of self-conception and self-determination. Therefore, people choose the roles that are consistent with their existing collection.
Some of these conceptions stem from the central concept of self, which motivates the social interactions. Nevertheless, people also have funds for peripheral and situational images of themselves. For example, an individual can recognize without much damage to his or her self-esteem and without lowering the moral level of the central self that he is at odds with the sport, and as a consequence, this person will develop a role that corresponds to this image.
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The role distance means the degree of distance from one’s role. For example, in a role test, a person is offered to answer the question of “who am I” 20 times. When working on a test, some people have serious difficulties, because to answer Professor, Ph.D. – for these people means to answer the question of “what are your roles”. In fact, the test asks about “I”. These people clearly have a large role-playing distance. An applicant, who does not pass the exam, preserves the role distance, if he says “I did a bad job”, and the other one complaining about his abilities reduces the role distance.
Speaking of norms and values in terms of the social theories, Turner believes that initially people have different impulses and attitudes. Some members are impulsive participants, others are passive contemplatives, and the third ones express opinions and give advice, etc. During the interaction of these individuals in the group, new norms begin to form rapidly. At this point, the creators of these norms are usually few, including only the most active personalities.
In the event that these norms are not acceptable to the majority of the group, these individuals are displaced, and new active people come to take their places. Being in an enclosed space and having identical goals in the context of social integration helps to quickly accept or reject the abandoned norms and social control over compliance with them by the majority. Thus, the actions of individuals in the group become unidirectional and relatively orderly, since they begin to act.
In the United States and all over the globe, more and more people are trying to understand why they are moving away from social functions in relation to each other. It seems that computers, the Internet, and mobile phones were not the main culprits for this, because this phenomenon preceded them. In his passage, Kenneth Gergen claims that a whole group of factors that provide enormous amounts of information on a daily basis leads to the constant expansion of the circle of relationships, which results in a decrease in an individual’s sense of self. In other words, the modern world social interaction conditions cause the so-called saturated self.
At the same time, technology promotes the emotional level of relationships with others. According to the ideas of the author, this is caused by the growing tendency of satisfaction when people prefer to maintain only those relationships that satisfy them. The second trend refers to the informal surveillance, since modern technology provides the opportunity to easily and rapidly contact a person every time and everywhere.
The occasional face-to-face meetings lead to deeper and stronger feelings and perceptions of other and the situation in general. In this connection, people tend to populate their selves by imagining them with another person or what it would be like to spend a couple of days in the Bahamas, even though they have never visited this place. The author calls it a sense of self-sameness based on the alternative impulses. Stylization and imitation occur as a result of the mentioned process.
In today’s mass phenomena, such as advertising, the growing technologicalization and informationalization of life, the constant increase in the role of information technology in science, life, and production, numerous examples can be observed that the image of a person is being afflicted and eroded. The concept of identity as a narrative provides an opportunity for self-reflection in an era of postmodernism that involves the idea of multiplicity or multiphrenia caused by the introduction of stability and a holistic understanding of identity. As noted by Gergen, by building a cohesive and coherent history, an individual is able to cope with a large amount of information and competing discourses that offer a variety of possible life scenarios in the context of globalization.
However, it should be stressed that the same trait can also be interpreted as a regression to modernist epistemological standards. In this case, the ideas of the narrative identity are reduced to attempts to materialize the idea of oneself, and the narrative itself is seen as a kind of structure that regulates a person’s development and his or her consciousness. The main feature of identity as a narrative in this approach is the integrity of history.
At this point, the connection between the narrative and the identity is the most obvious on the level of research, when on the basis of certain properties or elements of history, conclusions are drawn about the identity of a particular person. In a negative sense, multiphrenia occurs, when a person lives as if in different and inconsistent realities, in which he or she acts as “I”, but the images of “I” do not agree with each other, and a person does not carry out the connection between them.
Gergen explains that all forms of understanding of the surrounding world and oneself are the products of the fact that a society is conditioned by interactions between people in historical and cultural points. A special role in the construction of self is played by language as the main means of interaction between people. It is language that serves as one of the key factors in the cultural environment surrounding a person, which creates certain conditions called “discourse” in social constructionism.
Although technological progress is unlikely to be the main cause of the current social changes, it certainly stimulates these changes. It is much easier not to communicate with other people if a person has a phone number identifier that, if necessary, allows the phone owner to see who is calling. Similarly, many people tend to become more careless in emails than in handwritten memos.
The author tries to show that with the advent of technology along with the decline of faith in the identifiable, recognizable, and significant inner world of an individual, people are witnessing a progressive devastation of identity. Since the XXI century, the social interaction undergoes a subtle yet increasingly discernible erosion. With the decline of faith in the identifiable, decipherable, and considerable inner world of an individual, one may note the loss of confidence in subjectivity and spontaneity.
The constant emphasis on the self-sufficiency of an individual opens the way for the ethos of narcissism, pushes everyone to the continuous competition, hinders attempts to understand other people, and favors a sense of isolation and despair. To have an identity means to have the right to claim the inner life: for one’s own reasons and opinions. A life without reason, emotions, morals, intentions, etc. would be empty and devoid of meaning for a person, so that probably such an existence would not have to be continued.
Branaman, Ann. Self and Society. Blackwell Publishers, 2001.