Intercultural Communication and Global Understanding

Intercultural Communication and Global Understanding

5. Identity

Subsections: What is identity? Cultural identity Ethnic identity Identification The importance of context Multiple identities Identities develop in stages Societal/structural perspective of identity Communication perspectives of identity Identity matching theory Chapter 5 Assessment

What is identity?

Social psychologists define identity as a combination of personal self and group membership. Identity refers to how we see ourselves and how others see us, or the relationship between the personal and societal.

Gender is part of identity Courtesy of T U R K A I R O o/2553868483/

There are several aspects to identity. Psychologists further specify aspects identity related to membership and behavior. Group membership includes things like “culture,” ”gender,” “class,” as determinants of identity. This juxtaposes the collective self vs. the individual self. It distinguishes between social relationships and independence. Identities are also bound up in culture.

Cultural identity

Cultural identity can be with an ethnic group or some other social grouping one belongs to that one identifies closely with. Ethnic identity is the degree to which one feels a sense of belonging to a specific group bound together by a shared language, religious faith, history, set of traditions, values, and symbols, religion, and nationality.



Cultural identity also considers the extent to which an individual engages in behaviors associated with a group and the degree to which one actively participates in the behaviors, practices, and traditions associated with a group.

There are many different words to describe the different backgrounds or ethnic groups that people come from. Some are based on heritage, while others come from personal choice. Some labels are specific, some are broad, for example,

Mexican, French Canadian, Jewish, Hispanic, African American, Asian, Ethiopian, Korean American, Okinawan, Indian, European American.

Cultural Identity- at All Culture’s Day Courtesy of Infomatique

Every person is born into an ethnic group, or sometimes into multiple groups, yet people differ with regard to how important their ethnicity is to them, how they feel about it, and how much it affects their behavior.

Ethnic Identity

The focus here is on ethno-cultural identification or ethnic identity. Ethnicity and race are often used interchangeably. Race has to do with the assignment of biology, whereas ethnicity has to do with a smaller subunit of

individuals. Focus on common geographical origin is broader— language, religious faith, history, shared traditions, values, and symbols, literature, settlement patterns–nationality, religious, cultural associations. Ethnic identity refers to the degree to which an individual self-identifies with a referent ethnic group (e.g. religion, geographical region, reference group).

Shishiami Courtesy of Mullenedheim CC-AT-2.0

Ethno-cultural identity moves beyond the attitudinal level of strength of attachment to an ethnic group. It refers to the



extent to which an individual engages in behaviors associated with a group or practices a way of life associated with a particular cultural tradition. It includes the perception of belonging to or identifying with one group as distinct from other groups. Behaviors and guiding values are stressed here. It can be ethnic, cultural, or gender group.

Acculturation, relevant when cultures come into contact, refers to an individual’s adjustment or fit with the referent minority and majority group cultures.


Identification with a cultural group is based on multiple factors, including attitude, value, and behavioral components. Some researchers assert that individuals who subjectively feel attached to a cultural group validate their attitude by engaging in practices or behaviors associated with the particular group. Could also be that individuals, for whatever reason, engage in cultural practices and behaviors without a preexisting awareness of strong cultural identity. Identity may develop from exposure to and involvement with these practices. Behaviors and attitudes are manifestations of identity with an ethno- cultural group.

Jewish Culture Courtsy of Premasager masphere/70810794/

Identity is expressed in a large array of behavioral domains: language, dress, social relations. These expressed behaviors are ethnic role behaviors and involve participation in various behaviors that manifest ethnic cultural values, styles, customs, and traditions, and language. Behavior represents identity and identity represents behavior. There is an increase in

participating in activities associated with heritage, as the member makes an active effort.

Bolivian Group at the Parade of Cultures Courtesy of Travel Aficionado 98678398/in/set-72157605739726815/

The importance of context

A person’s identity may not fall neatly into one group all the time. Behaviors attached to different groups may differ, for example speaking an ethnic language, or shopping at store, or going to school in the U.S. as identification with U.S. Participation in mainstream behaviors may increase identification or



decrease it. People with multiple identities may select signs of the identity most appropriate to the situation. In a study of mixed heritage students, responses regarding their identity differed depending on the context, be it official, informal, or intimate. We may suppress our identity to blend into a mainstream cultural society, but when with family, bring out our ethnic identity.

We learn our ethno-cultural identity through socialization.

Identity is important to reaching people, in terms of communication, service, health care, culturally appropriate service delivery, etc. For example, providing Spanish-language advertising to a Cuban-

American who does not identify herself as a Spanish-speaking Cuban American.

Native American Woman’s Dress Courtesy of Catface3 holloway/2605870193/

Multiple identities

Mixed ethnicity and multicultural allegiance refers to a person who identifies with several ethno-cultural groups, sometimes after prolonged exposure to a different culture. In Hawaii, for example, 40% of a university student sample self-identified with more than one ethnic group. A study using samples from Hawaii and New Mexico found that individuals of mixed ethnicity and bicultural socialization did not exhibit negative personality traits or poor adjustment. They even demonstrated less ethnocentrism and more exposure to and liking of Hispanic and Asian cultures. Studies done on acculturation of immigrant groups found that identification with the mainstream culture and one’s traditional ethno-cultural group is indicative of positive well-being. Bolivian Group at the

Parade of Cultures Courtesy of Travel Aficionado _aficionado/2597856847/



What are the consequences if we uphold this notion of identity as behavior?

What should the criteria be? Is there a danger of defining identity as entirely based on behavior?



Identities develop in stages

Gender identities form between 1-3 years.

Ethnic & racial identities form between 7-9 years.

Do you remember when you realized you are ethnically different?

Socialization activities kick in as you mature as an adult, and they may change over time. Marriage may also affect it.

Think of the majority identity as a national “American” identity and the minority identity as that of a subculture within a nation (e.g., in terms of class, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual identity, region).

Identity Development Model

Type of Identity Development

Majority Identity Minority Identity

Stage of Identity Development


Unexamined Identity

May be aware of difference between groups

Accepts own position and attitudes/values transmitted to them

Unexamined Identity

Initial acceptance of values and attitudes of majority culture

Desire to assimilate


Stage of Identity Development



Internalization of group norms and rules

Strong identification with group.

Unconscious, passive acceptance or conscious, active acceptance (expresses superiority)


•Internalization of group norms and rules given to them

Strong desire to assimilate into dominant group

May experience self-deprecation or self-hatred or resentment

Stage of Identity Development



Major shift in attitude, blames its own dominant group and values/attitudes for being unfair and unjust to others.

May resist reconceptualizing their surroundings or actual behavioral change against its own set of rules.


Increased awareness that dominant group values are not beneficial for them

Frustration with the dominant group’s way of doing things

Increased solidarity with own group



Type of Identity Development

Majority Identity Minority Identity

Stage of Identity Development



Attempts to redefine norms/rules/social practices

Tries to re-frame own group in a more positive light


Strong sense of his or her own group identity and an appreciation of other cultural groups.

Positive outlook


Wants to eliminate all injustice

Stage of Identity Development


Achieves an integrated sense of who they are

Appreciates other groups



Societal/structural perspective of identity

Societal structures and communities recognize and identify us in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, among other aspects of identity.

Racial cube Courtesy of Nathangibbs CC-AT-2.0 5566956/

There is a politics of identity, or a hierarchy of criteria for identifying who is an authentic member and who is not. Such identity politics are created and reproduced in larger structures and within communities themselves (one can come from the other and vice versa—internalization of a structure).

Communication perspectives of identity

Identity is created through communication with others. It is shaped by core symbols, labels, and other elements of culture. Identity resides within social interaction, as people behave, act, doing of a cultural identity. Others must recognize such enactment, and as a real cultural member, you must recognize others’ actions as being real or not real.



Groups display reticence with regard to interaction with strangers and acceptance of obligations. A high value is placed on attaining harmony in face-to-face relations, modesty and “doing one’s own part,” taking on familial relations, observing, permissible and required silence.

Identity matching theory

An identity is only an identity when one’s avowed identity matches her or his ascribed identity. An avowed identity refers to a person’s perception of her or his self (their self-image).

Clash of Cultures Courtesy of Makz CC AT-NC-2.0 1042/

An ascribed identity refers to others’ perceptions of you. If your ascription of one’s identity matches her or his avowed identity, it is likely that you will have a successful intercultural interaction (if you affirm the most salient identity in a conversation).




Weider, D. L. & Pratt, S. (1990). “On Being a Recognizable Indian Among Indians.” In D. Carbaugh (Ed.), Cultural communication and intercultural contact (pp.45-64). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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