By Sarah Pitcairn
The main purpose of the first chapter in the book Identities, Groups and Social Issues was to research into how conformity arises, why we conform, how groups can change people, looking at conformity in different social context and glimpsing at why we label ourselves. The findings that are presented in this book are all supported by psychology experiments. This shows that what is being discussed is purely evidence based.
One of the key aspects is the extent of conformity which depends on several varying factors such as task and ambiguity, group structure, individual differences and cultural expectations. An experiment which helps to show that these individual difference can make a difference and this was carried out by a psychologist named Asch. He got a group of male students and asked them to judge three unequal lines on a card which matched up to the initial line. Each member of the group was asked in turn and to declare his opinion openly with the others. A series of this experiment was carried out changing some of the variables such as having only one naïve person in the group and having the rest confederates that were deliberately giving the wrong answer to see if it would influence and pressure the naïve participant. The findings were that in over twelve trials two thirds of the responses were correct despite the pressure of the group. It was also found that some of the subjects may have unconsciously changed their perception of the line to fit in with the other members of the group.
The consequences of conforming in relation to authority and obedience can be quite severe, it is scary how many people would obey orders to give someone what was thought to be an an electric shock (but in actual fact, it was all pretence and it was an actor that they could hear through a wall screaming in pain) if they got a question wrong (Milgram), you would like to think that you would not be one of these people that would hurt someone else like that, to the point of potentially killing them. So in circumstances like these conforming and following orders can be a rather dangerous scenario, in some cases.
Another key aspect is when the subject matter of labelling ourselves is reviewed. It appears that we tend to stereotype ourselves when associated with particular groups and then hereby give ourselves the characteristics therefore related to the group in question. When a person starts to place themselves in these groups, psychologically, their self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the fate of the group. Turner (1982) has also claimed that when people identify with their group they begin a process which he calls “depersonalization” and “self-stereotyping”. It is probably more common to think of stereotyping others given what you would associate with them given their group and what characteristics are linked with that group, ignoring that people can be individual and not have the conceptualized qualities that it is thought that they are meant to have.
To conclude this chapter of this book, it presents several questions about group dynamics. The first focus was mainly on influence/conformity that took place within small groups and the reasoning behind the behaviour that had been examined. It can also be that different conditions can have different influences on people. Changing the variables in some of the experiments can have quite an impact upon the results. It is also apparent that conformity is mainly reliant upon individual differences which is then in turn interlinked slightly with our own preconceptions of ourselves, also known as our identity.
Chapter One of the book Identity and Difference highlights mainly some of these aspects: why does identity matter?, Is there a crisis of identity, histories and social changes that affect identity and how politics affiliate with identity. The main concept discussed throughout is how is difference gauged when in relation to identity. Difference is normally has negative conations along side it being associated with exclusion and being classed as some sort of “outsider”, however, this is not always the case. However it appears whether consciously or unconsciously we need these said identities.
Observing what is said about subjectivity shows us why we are attached to particular identities, as defining subjectivity involves “ the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions which constitute out sense of ‘who we are’ and the feelings which are brought to different positions in culture.”. Our identity is our own way and others of labelling who we are, what we are associated with and this is usually based on a few or a couple of our said characteristics.
Identity can play a very important role in our lives as it is how others perceive us. For example in a poem “The Adoption Papers” by Jackie Kay 1991 which is about a couple wanting to adopt but finding it very hard to get accepted at many agencies for various reasons apart from one agency that changed its mind after the poet mentioned the race of the baby “oh you know we don’t mind the colour. Just like that, the waiting was over.” The reason the race made a difference as to whether or not they got the baby was given that there was cultural assumptions made about the white couple. The agencies mostly, just presumed that a white couple would only want to adopt a a white baby. The rest of the poem continues to describe the white-mother-to-be preparing to be seen in a positive maternal light as to impress the adoption agency. It shows that we acknowledge what is known as good parental traits and if they had failed to comply with this, the consequences would of probably been that they would not have got given a baby, regardless of their and the baby’s race. Identity, if it is not the desired one, can have unfortunate implications such as this, so this suggests that we need to change our identity accordingly to the given situation.
Both chapters of each book are interlinked. However, one is concentrated more towards exploring the aspect of conformity and the other investigates identity and differences. Both however are similar still as they are both evidence based when writing about the subject matter. It appears that both of these sources seem to support each other in some sense, however varying on their particular focus. The evidence in both books does not contradict each other but instead helps to support each others theories, this is because, the evidence given is based solely on experimental results, so the points being made are factual rather than someone just giving their opinion.
It seems that conformity of participants in an experiment can vary depending on the variables, but the most important variable to take into consideration when examining conformity is individual difference, as the role that it plays can determine the outcome.
The main point made about identity is that it is us, that give us our own identity as we stereotype ourselves depending on what groups we are in and what characteristics are associated with the said groups. Meaning that our identity is determined by where we belong, whether it be in culture, politics or social groups. Identity is marked by difference and difference in the book is explored by looking at binary oppositions. This shows us that difference can marked by what you are not. An example given in the book of binary oppositions is high/low. It gives us complete opposites and that is sometimes how difference is mark in relation to identity.
Furthermore in the poem “The Adoption Papers“, helps to give us an insight on just how important the role of identity can play in reality and how being associate with the right things can affect you. After all this poem demonstrates, that if the mother had not been associate with aspects of a maternal identity, the adoption agency was not going to let them adopt, but since they discovered that the poet had these traits, it seems that she was going to be allowed to adopt a baby.
To take this research further, I want to try and discover if there is anything that can be done to prevent conformity and if so is it linked with identity. So to summarise would this mean that we have to change who we are in order not to conform? And are we able to do so? Are we able to change the groups that we associate ourselves with?
Kay. J, The Adoption Papers, 1991.
Wetherall. M, Identities Groups and Social Issues, 1996, Open University.
Woodward.K, Identity and Difference, 1997, Open University.