A great many of the contemporary political and social issues revolve around the conflicting claims of disparate identities, since the sense of “belonging” and the conception of “identity” tend to have far-reaching effects on our thinking about ourselves and about others. A sense of identity can be a source of pride and comfort, but it can also be the basis of hostility and violence. It is therefore important for us to understand the concept of identity.
Formation of Identity
Identity can simply be defined as the ground on which we recognize different individuals. It could be as broad as religion, nationality, gender and race and as narrow as attire and choice of individual lifestyle. Though identity can easily be formed, it is however not necessary that every form of classification will become an identity. Mere classification cannot be certified as an identity unless there is an association of significant social relevance. For instance birth of an individual in winter season cannot be an identity, but if the government announces a policy which denies citizenship to those who born in winter, this will associate a significant social relevance and thus certify this judgement as a ground for identity.
The above example leads to a new set of conclusions first the identities are independent of pure intellectual grounds, second identities can be formed two ways; either it thrust upon us by the society (or external forces in general), or through self conceptions of individuals which considered to be relevant by the society ( such as women who claims to be feminist). Therefore the formation of an identity contingent on social circumstances and whether the ground of identity is accepted by society or not.
Diversity is the existence of different forms of identity. Human race throughout the history remains the same, it is the expansion of identity based on different grounds which made us diverse. Diversity not only exist in exclusive divisions such as different communities in the world, but these divisions also competes with class, gender, political values and many other sub-divisions which are entertained within a form of diversity. It indicates that we are not only diverse but diverse in different ways. For instance difference in income level, gender and political affiliation of individuals within a community could be seen as an example sub-diversity. Therefore each collection of diversity along with sub-diversity gives a particular identity to an individual in a society.
Choices and Challenges
As it pointed out earlier that identity could either be thrust upon us by the society or it could be an outcome of self conception which is recognized by the society. In case of identity imposed by the society, there is no individual choice recognized. Any resort to individual rationality against the predetermined social norms and judgements would consider to be a revolt and many a time ends up in hostile violent conflicts. It can easily be illustrated in the form of predetermined roles that society impose on different gender. Even though social imposition of identity could overwhelm individual freedom, but it is not necessary that it will always distress individual potential. Many a time it gives direction as well as inspiration to individuals to work for greater social benefits such as scientists discover medicines for the welfare of humanity; a community in which they belong.
While social imposition of identity could be easy to understand, but the self conception of identity is complex in nature. Conception of an identity is contingent on the level of relevance associated by the individuals on different classifications. For instance citizens of India even being tremendously divided in terms of religion, region, gender, caste, and classes, yet prefers to associate higher relevance to identity of their nationality. This example indicates that individuals could very well be having overlapping of identities which is a result out of hierarchical structure of relevance based on their respective choices. However prior to formation of a dominating identity, an individual must choose among the competing ones. While making these choices an individual faces two major challenges.
- Identification Of Options: Prior to making a choice an individuals must identify the options (if available) to them. It is highly dependent on the society in which individuals are brought up or exposed to (or say one’s present identity). This exposure has considerable influence on reasoning capabilities of individuals. An individual with weak reasoning capabilities would find options to be limited (or even non-existent). For instance a large number of people from backward community accepted inhuman discrimination as their fate and thus seems not be having an option. This however also means that an individual while choosing an identity substitute his present identity with something else. In simple words one jumps from somewhere to somewhere else rather than nowhere to somewhere while making the choice of identity.
- Social Barriers: Strong social barriers in the form of judgements and norms acts as a wall which separates the individuals and their choices (which goes against the social norms). It makes identified options inaccessible for the individuals and thus proposes a barrier for conception of an identity. This could be illustrated in the conflicts between predetermined gender roles and career choices in modern world.
Therefore, the above two points made it clear that society by impeding the reasoning capabilities and imposing social barriers prevent individuals from making choices.
At this point one might argue that demolition of social norms should be our primary objective for the development of individuals, this argument is however not true. It would rather be dangerous to abolish all form social barriers as it would lead to chaos. Abolishing the social barriers would mean absolute freedom and the state of absolute freedom would turn the challenge into a threat to individual development. This is also reflected in the preference of people to choose a flawed system like democracy over monarchical rule. Therefore the demolition of social barriers would not be a viable option.
In order to construct a social setting in which individuals could develop their own identity would require a perfect balance between social barriers as well as individual freedom. This demands for gradual expansion of social norms in accordance with interests of individuals. For instance women now enjoying greater freedom with respect to their status in pre-independent India.
Another way of promoting the development of individual identity is to avail them with the necessary opportunities such safety, health, education, political participation as well as an environment to earn to their livelihood along with dignity. These basic amenities are required, in order to make options viable to them which will ultimately result in development of identity that an individual chooses.