Social identity is a concept which refers to an individual's self-concept within a relevant society or social group. Groups give individuals a sense of social identity and a sense of belonging to the social world.
It is widely agreed among social psychologists such as R. J. Brown and Turner (1981) and Tajfel (1978), that people define themselves on an individual basis and also in terms of belonging to particular group. They have identified that group membership is an important social determinant of people's psychological functioning, perceptual and behavioral outcomes.
Social identity traditionally focused on problems of intergroup relations and conflict. Social identity research has evolved to include group processes in general. Social identity also encompasses group cohesiveness, social influence, social cooperation and crowd behavior.
People typically make conscious choices to identify themselves with a group which shares common features. These achieved identities allow the person to be actively involved with others who may share similar social identities. This may also be the case for ascribed identities, where people can choose whether openly to claim to group membership and their level of involvement.
The development of social psychology looks at peoples motivations to interact and associate with others to claim a social identity. Theories suggest a person's desire to develop and maintain a favorable self-image is based on dynamics of group interaction, behavioral choices and values of a group, and subsequent satisfaction. Interpretations of identity are subjective. One argument is that the concept embodies a person's sense of uniqueness as individual beings and as members of groups sharing values and beliefs.
Identity can be the process of categorizing people and groups in society. The systematic establishment and signification between individuals, between collectives, and between individuals and collectives, of relationships of similarity and difference provides a base for categorizing various identities.
Social identity is a faceted concept as people act differently in various situations. Each person possesses a number of social identities, mother/father, sister/brother, employer/employee, friend/lover, football supporter, government parties.
Erving Goffman presents an important theme of impression management in his work of identity. Choreographing various identities to suit different circumstances such as at work, home or personal interests, allows the individual to present an image of themselves for acceptance of others. Managing these impressions to portray a particular identity requires expressive control, to influence the external reception.
A person's sense of self is influenced by information about the groups to which they belong. People are motivated to join groups that have favorable social status. The self image includes both personal self, reflecting idiosyncratic aspects of self; and social self, which reflects information about the groups to which people belong.
Understanding various social groups or categories allows people to understand and identify them. Understanding the social environment allows the person to place themselves in what they perceive the most favorable groups. It also allows people to understand other people.
One social identity theory argues that the person's desire to enhance their social selves motivates people's attitudes and behaviors in intergroup situations. Therefore, people want to maximize the value of the groups they belong to, as the value of the group reflects on the individual's social self.
Collective identification assumes people have significant similarities to each other. Understanding the group values and interests, the person can adjust and conform to the norms of the group to maintain a certain social identity. People identify with groups where an emotional factor influences these decisions to be a part of a group.
There are several approaches to understanding social identity, including social class, gender, sexuality, race and religion. Stereotyping people and groups is a normal cognitive process, grouping distinctive characteristics together. Exaggeration of differences between groups and highlighting similarities of the same group reflect prejudice and inequality among groups. This discrimination of those who are of a social and economic inequality and prejudice against those who are disadvantaged have occurred in almost all societies, (Sidanius, 1993).
It is seen that social identification is a practical matter, something people do. It is connected to their cognitive and emotional states, therefore influences their behavior. Although people are inherently different, they do not think the same, reciprocal and consistent similarities help people understand and predict patterns of behavior. These generate identity boundaries and collective forms more generally, with which people can identify.