Group Identity

Group identity is an aspect of self-perception, produced by membership of a group. Aspects of group identity include a shared ideology, language, political viewpoint or shared social values.

Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), the father of sociology, believed that individual identity could not be understood without recognizing the influence of the individual's social interactions and his wider societal membership. Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and later family therapists such as Melanie Klein, Nathan Ackerman and Arthur Adler emphasized the importance of family interaction in understanding individual identity. George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) observed that self-conception is constantly modified through interpersonal interactions. Mead applied the subject/object distinction in self-perception, seeing oneself as "I" or "me" to group identity "us" and "we." While Freud suggested that group members put one and the same object in the place of their WORD MISSING, Mead identified a collective ego in the psyche of each individual. In "The Group Mind," William McDougall (1871–1938) suggested that group identity goes beyond the identities of the individuals making up the group. Mead suggested that in order to develop an effective self-concept, individuals need to see themselves from the perspective of other group members.

Henri Tajfel (1919–1982) developed the theory of "social identity," suggesting that people tend to categorize themselves into groups. The group becomes a part of the identity of the individual members. They reinforce their identity by creating boundaries to distinguish those in the group from those outside. He observed that individual behavior was strongly influenced by a person's perceived membership of social groups, perhaps even more than by their own particular character.

Hate groups usually define themselves by hostility toward particular racial, ethnic or religious groups. They can be described as an extremist form of group identity. They exhibit the same characteristics as other social groups, such as a shared ideology and shared social values, although the ideology or "values" may be morally repugnant to others, the group may promote antisocial behavior and is likely to challenge traditional authority and values. Hate-group members often strongly associate themselves with their groups. This is also true of extreme and radical political associations, paramilitary groups and groups committed to organized crime (such as the Mafia, Triad or gangs).

Nationalism involves a strong identity with a national group. The term nationalism was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). Benedict Anderson (1936–) described a nation as an imagined community that may be coextensive with a state or federation, an area of land or an ethnic, racial or cultural group. Nationality is not necessarily connected to geography, language, race or religion. Nations are socially constructed by nationalistic individuals or groups. Some nationalists believe that a nation is an organic unit while there is general consensus toward promoting collective identity through national teams, symbols, dress, anthems and flags, which may develop a pseudo-religious significance. Fascism is an extreme form of nationalism that places the interests of the state above that of individuals, to the exclusion of those outside the state. Nationalism tends toward a negative view of other nations to strengthen the group's own identity.

Federalism is a form of political organization in which there is a common federal government, with distributed power at regional, national or supranational levels. The United States of America and the European Union are federations. The former has a much stronger collective national identity although there is undoubtedly a sense of identity among the citizens of any particular state such as among Californians or New Yorkers. Europeans tend to have less of a sense of collective identity, perhaps for historic reasons, but pan-Europeans advocate an increasingly integrated Europe. This is an additional tier of group identity.

Horace Kallen (1882–1974) argued that national pride and cultural diversity were compatible with one another and that America is strengthened by ethnic diversity and a respect for racial and ethnic differences. In his 1916 article "Trans-National America," Randolph Bourne (1886–1918) advocated a cosmopolitan America, coining the phrase transnationalism. The trend toward globalization is a form of economic transnationalism. Globalization is a large-scale expression of group identity. Institutions fostering transnational identity include the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and Nongovernmental Organizations such as Greenpeace and Medicins Sans Frontieres. The Communist Party of the former Soviet Union promoted a concept of transnational identity within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block, as well as globally.

Language has a major impact on collective identity. Those who speak a common language identify with each other. Psycho-linguists suggest that language defines, to a certain extent, a person's thoughts as well as the nature of groups who speak a particular language or set of languages. The "world language" Esperanto, the most successful constructed language, was an attempt to foster group identity among mankind by Dr. Ludovic Zamenhof (1859–1917). There are probably more than 10,000 fluent speakers worldwide.

Group Identity: Selected full-text books and articles

One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict By Russell Hardin Princeton University Press, 1995
Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism By Paula M. L. Moya; Michael R. Hames-García University of California Press, 2000
Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer Routledge, 2004
The Power of Identity: Politics in a New Key By Kenneth R. Hoover; James Marcia; Kristen Parris Chatham House, 1997
Inauthentic: The Anxiety over Culture and Identity By Vincent J. Cheng Rutgers University Press, 2004
Language and Social Identity By Richard K. Blot; Charles L. Briggs Praeger, 2003
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