The Relational Self-Concept Scale: A Context-Specific Self-Report Measure for Adolescents

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ABSTRACT

This paper describes an alternative approach to measuring the self that directly accounts for the way individuals ruminate on their external actions in order to inform and maintain their self-image. This was achieved by designing the Relational Self-Concept Scale (RSCS), a measure that explores the role and impact that different social encounters within and around the school context have upon self-concept formation. Analysis of responses to this contextspecific self-report measure obtained from a large sample of adolescents (N = 978), confirmed that the scale is multidimensional, possesses appropriate psychometric properties, and contains a high degree of ecological validity.

Scholars who value individualism and atomism have come to dominate self-concept theory (Clarke, 1996), overshadowing those who have maintained an interest in the types of dialectical interplay that function to form the self. The contours of this inquiry have primarily been determined by the way scientific understanding of the self has largely been achieved by separating the self from its context. In order to consider the self as worldly rather than ethereal, it is necessary to challenge internalist notions of the self as an entity in itself (Looren de Jong, 1997), with the view that the self is an internal condition informed by the environment (Cooley, 1902; Goffiman, 1959; Gergen, 1971; Harre, 1983; Mead, 1934; Shotter, 1975, 1980).

Having stated the tradition, it should be noted that a theoretical orientation towards conceptualizing the self as something that occurs in "juxtaposition with others" (Seligman & Shanok, 1995, p. 560) has always existed. Contemporary scholars (e.g., Bracken, 1992; Harter, 1998a) consistently pay intellectual homage to the work of symbolic interactionists (Cooley, 1902; Mead, 1934) for their explicit inclusion of social processes in their understanding of the self. As Harter (1988b) explains, symbolic interactionists highlight how "... significant others in one's life become social mirrors, as it were, and one gazes into these mirrors in order to determine others' opinions of oneself. One then adopts this opinion in forming one's self-definition" (p. 51).

Although there are acknowledgments of the social origins of the self within theoretical frameworks that constitute empirical expressions of the self, they play a minor role in the actual processes and techniques used to extract an individual's self-image. Indeed, just as researchers began to achieve success in measuring self-concept, Demo (1985) warned that there was a paucity of empirical measurement of the "impact of situational discrepancies in self-impressions" (p. 1491). Despite early attempts to explore interaction settings that foster self-feelings (e.g., Coopersmith, 1967), Franks and Marolla (1976) have argued that it was "left for the sociologist to identify the macro-structures that facilitate those interactional forms" (p. 324). Instead, psychological interest in the self-concept has served to project an individuated self-concept, one that differentiates the individual from others (Brewer & Gardner, 1996).

PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO MEASURING SELF-CONCEPT

Similar to that for other psychological constructs, self-concept research has developed a strong tradition of self-report methodologies. Appropriate for individual or group administration and scored as interval data, there now exists a host of instruments with suitable psychometric properties (see Bracken, 1992; Fitts & Warren, 1996; Harter, 1988b; Marsh, 1991). Understanding of adolescent self-concept is achieved from participant responses to a range of denotative statements, such as "I am a cheerful person" (Fitts & Warren, 1996) or "I have good muscles" (Marsh, 1991). Predefined response categories (e.g., ranging from unlike me to like me) permit participants to express how accurately the denotative statements reflect self-concept. …