This chapter attempts crucial illustrations of identity as a social construction. In the first part, the concept of prenatal identity (PNI) is briefly described as a speculative notion that is real despite the absence of a separately embodied individual. Before an individual is born, most of his or her ascribed identities have already been established by family, friends, and society. Consequently, a baby enters the world with a predetermined identity repertoire, the self typified in infancy, merely waiting for a body through which it can be physically manifested.
While family, friends, and professionals await the arrival of the new social actor, others set about the task of constructing an identity for the invisible, socially unembodied fetus toward which their behavior is directed. We begin our discussion by introducing the notion of identities without bodies as a fundamental problematic in the sociological psychology literature. Secondly, PNI is described as a necessary preconstruction project by which the fetal object is endowed with meaning and potential selfhood. The process of preconstruction is exemplified by the social construction of a pregnancy identity, by the extension of medical technology to define conditions and characteristics of the fetus, and by the similarities between mourning for perinatal deaths and other grief adjustment processes. Finally, we briefly describe birth as a social event in which PNI is further objectivated through embodiment in situations and through formal introduction into the preexistent social structure. The second section of the chapter explores the existence, dimensions, and impact of postmortem identity (PMI) on contemporary conceptualizations of self-maintenance and biographical reconstruction.
By the 1980s, identity has become a stock technical term in sociology and a widespread social label. Before the early 1940s, it was unknown. Within the span of about forty years, identity has become an indispensable technical term and a cultural buzzword. Its theoretical, empirical, and cultural importance shows no sign of abating as social scientists, clinicians, historians, psychologists, philosophers, and the media continue to apply, dispute, and develop the idea. Nevertheless, identity lacks an adequate theoretical development in contemporary sociological social psychology (cf. Rosenberg and Turner 1981).
The expanse of scholarly and popular writings on identity cannot, of course, be adequately handled in a single chapter. Nor is it our intent to do so. Rather, we focus on but one of the themes within the general issue of identity – namely, how this idea took shape and continues to thrive within the development of a sociological social psychology, or sociological psychology (see Weigert 1975). The presentation of material follows the chronological order of the seminal writings on identity. We focus the emergence of identity within sociological psychology around three questions:
What are the recent origins of the concept?
How did it find its way into sociological psychology?
Why was it so quickly taken over by sociological psychologists?
Accordingly, we attempt to locate the emergence of the term in its historical context, and to limn the main lines of development within sociological psychology.
Precursors to the concept of identity had been developing in the domains of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. The research and theorizing in these disciplines gave central importance to such concepts as self, character, and personality, respectively, through the period of World War II.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.