"Identity"

By Riffe, Daniel | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

"Identity"


Riffe, Daniel, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


"What roles do mass communication content and processes play in the development and maintenance of individual and collective identity?" has been an implicit question underlying a great deal of social science research. "Identity" is at the core of early works ranging from Herzog's1 study of how women relate to characters in daytime radio serials to Berelson's2 exploration of what "missing the newspaper" means," Merton's3 designation of "localités" and "cosmopolites," and Lippmann' s4 description of how learning the news of a war that had actually begun six weeks earlier changed how English, French, and German island residents viewed one another ("For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies.").

More recent work - including in the area of cultivation, the "construction of social reality," third-person perception and social distance, and body image and social comparison theory - continues to address implicitly how individual and collective identities are shaped.

People learn social and gender roles from mass media portrayals and images that help them define their personal identity. Through comparison with characters in media content and modeling of mediated behaviors and attitudes, they learn to become who or what they want to be, as well as what is admired, undesirable, or unacceptable.

Those same media portrayals help individuals identify with larger groups, cohorts, "generations," communities, societies, and cultures. Unfortunately, though, media portrayals can sometimes make individuals and groups painfully aware of their marginalized status.

Just as often, those portrayals have impact beyond one's own personal or group identity, and function to illustrate, create, or maintain the identity of other groups. Perhaps lacking close, first-hand experience with other groups, people may rely on media portrayals to develop images and schema about how others behave and believe. Some of those images may be positive and illuminating, while others may be dysfunctional and destructive.

Several articles in this issue have conceptualized - and addressed empirically - different influences of mass communication in the construction and maintenance of individual, collective, and professional identity. Dalisay and Tan explore experimentally how exposure to television portrayals of "model minority" Asian Americans led to later positive judgments about Asian Americans and, more important, negative judgments about African Americans.

Chia and Poo study Singaporean young people's media use and their involvement and identification with celebrities, finding several aspects of that involvement - entertainment-social values, intense-personal feelings, and borderline-pathological tendencies- that were associated with the adolescents' materialistic values, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.

A study by Ragas and Roberts applies agenda-setting theory and the agenda-melding hypothesis to a different kind of identity: the virtual brand community. The agenda-melding hypothesis posits that when individuals join groups - whether the groups are based on civic, social, or political causes; on hobbies or interests; or even on product or brand preference or loyalty - they "meld" their individual agendas with the agendas of the group.

In "Gender Mainstreaming in International News," Geertsema examines a five-year effort by the global news agency Inter Press Service (IPS) to implement a gender mainstreaming policy in its newsrooms to improve women's access and representation in international news. …

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