Privacy as Social Mechanism for Preserving Identity Inconsistency


Multiple Identities in Modern Society



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Multiple Identities in Modern Society

Social identity is the way in which the individual perceives himself in the context of his relationships with others. It is the combination of the ‘I’ and the ‘we’, and expands the self beyond the individual to include other members of the group as well (Smith & Mackie, 1995). This social identity weaves together the individual’s knowledge of society, of ideas, and of others, including a broad understanding of numerous life aspects, and enables him to feel secure and accord meaning to his actions and life events. Social identity is the consensual basis for the ways the individual should act (Turner, 1991), and is how the group conveys sameness to its members beyond the level of consciousness of individuals (Brewer, 2001; Haslam, Oakes, Reynolds, & Turner, 1999; Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

In the late 1950s, Goffman (1959), one of the prominent sociologists of the time, described social situations wherein participants protect their identity and that of their partners in social interaction by concealing parts of their personality. He compared identities in different situations to the theatre, where an individual portrays a character that matches the audience’s expectations. He also noted situations wherein a group of people (e.g., salespeople in a store) play a social role vis-à-vis another group (customers). According to Goffman, a group’s existence is linked to the over-communication of some facts and the under-communication of others. It is society that expects its members to withhold information about themselves that is inconsistent with the social image perceived by the ‘audience’. Thus for example, an individual who holds a senior position in a chemical plant that pollutes the environment can at the same time be a social activist for environmental quality. It is in the interest of each of the two groups not to know about the individual’s identity in the other group. Goffman does not draw a distinction between situations wherein the character portrayal serves only the actor, and situations wherein it serves both actor and audience. In his view, staging cues and stage sets help to preserve the consistency of the portrayed character with that which the ‘team’ is interested in portraying.

With the rise of democratic liberalism, basic human rights were determined, including protection of human rights and freedoms. State and government were described as a necessary evil, and human rights were primarily typified by placing restrictions on government against violating property, life, and freedom. The legislation of the right to privacy was a kind of declaration on the notion of privacy that aimed to restrict government and society against invading the life of the individual (Rostholder, 2009). Protected rights were perceived as a value that the state must protect. Tolerance of the individual’s diverse choices brought with it the possibility for the development of personal pluralism, and today an individual can simultaneously hold several identities which at times may seem incompatible.





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