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1 B ECOMING OURSELVES : A QUALITATIVE EXPLORATION INTO HOW WOMEN BECOME THEIR SOCIAL IDENTITIES By ANNIE NEIMAND A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIR EMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Annie Neimand
3 To Nana, and the women
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would first and foremost like to thank Dr. Shehan and Dr. Gattone for helping me develop as a scholar through out this project, and supporting me in all of my research choices. I could not have wished for a better committee. Thank you to Dr. Zsembik, Sheryl, Stephen, and Katie for your support throughout the project Thank yo u to my Mom, Dad, and Kerry for helping me get to this point academically, and all the emotional and financial support along the way. And thank you to Scott for everything. You all inspire me to work hard and from the heart.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 7 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 8 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 11 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ................................ ................................ .......................... 13 Research on Identity ................................ ................................ ............................... 13 So ciological Approach Identity Theory ................................ ................................ .... 14 Psychological Approach Social Identity Approach ................................ ................. 20 Middle Age Women and Identity ................................ ................................ ............. 28 3 THEORTEICAL FRAMEWORK ................................ ................................ .............. 31 4 METHODS AND METHODOLOGY ................................ ................................ ........ 39 Feminist Approac hes ................................ ................................ .............................. 40 Sample ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 41 Data Gathering ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 43 Methods ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 44 Reflexivity ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 45 Reciprocity ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 46 Storytelling ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 49 Self Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 51 Methodology ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 52 Analytic Induction ................................ ................................ ............................. 52 Thematic Narrative Analysis and Interpretation ................................ ................ 53 5 THE SOCIAL IDENTITY PROCESS ................................ ................................ ....... 55 The Beginning: Chosen and For ced identities ................................ ........................ 56 Forced ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 57 Chosen ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 60 Categorization ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 67 Comparison ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 70 Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 76 Completed/ Saturated Identities. ................................ ................................ ............. 80
6 6 ADDITIONAL RESULTS AND FUTURE RESEARCH ................................ ............ 84 The Role of Identities ................................ ................................ .............................. 84 The Role of Media Images ................................ ................................ ...................... 86 The Role of Socio Historical Context ................................ ................................ ...... 88 The Role of the Body ................................ ................................ .............................. 90 7 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 95 APPENDIX: SAMPLE DEMOGRAPHICS ................................ ................................ ... 100 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 101 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 106
7 LIST OF TABLES Table page A 1 Sample demographics ................................ ................................ ...................... 100
8 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 5 1 The social Identity process ................................ ................................ ................. 56 5 2 Social identity components ................................ ................................ ................. 66
9 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts BECOMING OURSELVES : A QUALITATIVE EXPLORATION INTO HOW WOMEN BECOME T HEIR SOCIAL IDENTITIES By Annie Neimand August 2013 Chair: Constance Shehan Cochair: Charles Gattone Major: Sociology How do we become our social identities? Both theories in psychology and sociology have yet to sufficiently theorize identity formation and construction processes. Furthermore research methods used in studying social identity have rarely delved into experimental and survey methods. Using feminist qualitati ve methods of reflexivity, reciprocity, story telling, self analysis, and collaborative theory building I explore social identity formation, and offer a theoretical framework for considering how we become our social identities. With a s ample of 15 middle age women (47 61 years old), I conducted in depth open ended interviews, and analyzed our discussions using analytic inductive approaches. In this paper, I propose a theoretical framework for considering how we choose, construct and perform our social iden tities. I theoretically conceptualize this process as continual back and forth of categorization social identity group, comparison with those one categorizes themselves with as a mechanism for identity construction, and the collection of identity indicators that allows
10 one to claim a distinct social identity. These three components I propose make up the social identity process, and are used to produce a completed social identity. In this paper I offer my interpretation of th my experience with research themes and the research process, therefore keeping with feminist tradition. Not only is this paper a theoretical framework for considering identity formation but it is also an exercise in fe minist qualitative methods and evidence of the benefits of using such an approach.
11 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In 2006 I was struggling. As a young woman I found myself looking at all the women around me, comparing myself to them, and anxiously trying to make sense of beginning of a long journey of constructing my different social identities. What I also and my future research questions were inherent in my own experience. I spent 5 years self analyzing the feelings that I was experiencing, asking the women around me about their own experiences (roughly 50 informal interviews) and began to form questions that would ultimately lead me to this project. These questions were motivated by a desire to uncover this experience. I was interested in uncovering a hidden world of silent social what brought me to the University of Florida in the fall of 2011. When I first be gan working on my thesis project I was interested in questions on social comparison, the body, and identity. I did research into these areas, met with my advisors on these t opics, and centered my proposal on questions of social comparison. However, after going into my interviews, my questions shifted towards exploration of identity choice and construction. This shift was based on my discussions with the women of this project and our collaboration in building theory together. In this project I propose a theoretical framework of identity formation based on my interpretation of the material that emerged out of discussion and collaborative theory building. I am interested in how we become our social identities i.e graduate student
12 among graduate students, punks, mothers, middle age women, etc., a s well as how these identities are initiated, constructed, and their meanings and functions. When approaching my data collection and ana lysis, I was very much inspired by the work of feminist researchers, and sought to write a paper in their tradition. I intentionally write in a reflexive, accessible, and straightforward way, with the women I interviewed in mind as my audience. There are p ortions of this paper where I purposely write informally, taking a personal approach. It was most salient for me to do this specifically in my methods section, as I sincerely believe it made the work more transparent, and avoids possible misunderstandings. In this paper I seek to expand identity theory, demonstrate the benefits of using feminist qualitative methods and methodology in identity research, and give insight into the identity e xperiences of middle age women. My goal is not only to offer a theoret ical framework for considering identity formation but to also offer a framework based on everyday life experience that could be used to explore identity, as well as possibly aid and give insight to individuals struggling in their identity experiences. In general, this paper is a theoretical model for considering the process by which individuals become their social identities.
13 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Research on Identity In this paper I am proposing a model for theorizing identity formation. Because my overall goal is to add to theory of identity, I have specifically chosen to focus my literature review on theories of identity, rather than empirical studies. Within this literature review I will cover what current predominant theoretical perspectives on identity have offered, where they fall short, and what my work can add to their gaps. to be most prominent in theorizing identity today. Literature on identity proc esses and meanings essentially falls under two disciplines, psychology and sociology. While both offer theories on identity, their focus, orientation, and origins are different. Psychological theories of identity include social identity theory, self catego rization theory, social comparison, and the self esteem hypothesis. T hese theories have generally be en understood to make up the social identity approach to identity theory. Sociologically, theories of identity fall under Identity theory with different th or scholars. While different, much of the literature I read sought to see the connections between these two theories, and sought to imagine what a possible combined theory could look like, h owever there has not been a definitive piece officially linking the two together. (Deaux 1993, Deaux and Martin 2003, Hogg, Terry and White 1995, Stryker and Burke 2000, Stets and Burke 2000, Stets 2006) While both sociology and psychology offer specific i dentity theoretical frameworks, the literature is vast, nuance, and complex. Trying to get a hold on every
14 branch of each theoretical tree is not only difficult but headache inducing. For the purposes of this paper, since I am interest ed in how we become and construct our social identities, I will cover how both sociology and psychology define identity within their perspectives, their general theory and orientation, the role of structure and context, and the underlying goal of each framework within their r esearch. Furthermore, I will offer what I believe both are missing in answering my research question, and how my research could possibly fill their gap s Sociological Approach Identity Theory The sociological approach to identity known as Identity Theory focuses on the role of social structures and their contextual boundaries 1 on identity behaviors. These researchers are generally interested in how normative meanings for certain identities and White 1995). What makes the sociological approach to identity distinct is its view and focus on identity. In sociology identities are defined and viewed as role identities and person identities. Person identities are defined as unique personal chara cteristics that are consistently present in one s different role identities and contexts, i.e. nurturing, knowledgeable, aggressive ( Deaux 1993, McCall and Simmons 1978). Role ide ntities on the other hand are defined as positions or roles one holds within society and these different ro les make up a multifaceted self (Stryker 1968, 1980, Burke 1980, Turner 1987). For example, one could be a mother, a teacher, and a sister, and each of these roles acts an identity, and 1 Boundaries in this case shape interaction withi n a given context, creating an context where in identities develop within structural boundaries. For example, the boundaries for a father versus a mother in term of behavior are tied to normative family structure, gender regimes, and the given structure o f the situation, therefore shaping self understanding of their role as mother and father.
15 furthermore may be infused with person identity characteristics i.e. nurturing mother and teacher. Role identities are also intrinsically linked to social structure as they are conceptions, self referen t cognitions, or self definitions that people (Hogg, Terry, White 1995). Furthermore role identities are distinct as theorist place emphasis on roles and counter roles. Indiv iduals understand their role identities in relation to counter roles, those that compliment their role identity; this would be a daughter to a mo ther, or a student to a teacher (Stets 2006) In this case sociological theories do not focus on social categor ies i.e. mothers and teachers, but on structural positions one may occupy, and views the interaction with these counter roles, as the mechanism for the development of a sense of self (Stets 2006) In other words, for Identity theory, the self is made up of a collection of identities, defined as roles that reflect the social structure, and is infused with unique personal characteristics. These role identities function to keep social order as they provide a foundation for individuals to internalize normative role behavior and expectations i.e. what mothers do in relation to children and fathers (Thoist 1991). That being said, literature suggests that behavior (the major focus of this research) and self and valida tion of these roles, i.e. how well one performs normative expectations (Collero 1985). Following a satisfactory performance one then potentially develops s elf esteem (Thoist identity behaviors, and the role of counter roles, context, a nd structure on those behaviors (Deaux 199 3, Hogg, Terry, and White 1995, Bu rke and Stets 2000, Stets 2006).
16 When reading through Identity theory literature, there are essentially three camps or scholars who are persistently covered and discussed, these include Sheldon Stryker, Peter Burke, and Jerry Simmon and George McCall (Stets 2006) Stryker Identity theory was originally theorized by Stryker, Simmon, and McCall in the 1970 s, however Stryker known for his distinct perspective (Stets 2006, Stryker and Burke 2000, Stets and Burke 2000) He suggests that the more salient an identity is within a given context, and for the person, the more likely the individual will perform said roles inline with normative role identities are arranged in a hierarchy, which reflects social structures identity hierarchy, is one that is likely to be p erformed across many contexts. F or example being a Mother (a structural role) is a role that might be used in situations outside of mother child interaction. In general Stryker can be differentiated from the other camps by his focus on structure and its mediating role in identity processes. Simmon and McCall While Simmon and McCall did see role identities as normative and tied t o social structures, they differed from Stryker in their emphasis on identity behavior (Stets 2006, McCall and Simmons 1978). Simmon and McCall believe that along with conventional and normative understandings of roles, individuals bring with them uniqueness that influences role identity beh avior (McCall and Simmons 1978 Stryker 1968). For these researchers, they were interested in how individual defined themselves as being particular types of people, based on their role identities, and how their unique appropriation and
17 understanding of their roles influences their behavior. Furthermore, like Stryker, Simmon and McCall see that individuals have multiple identities that are structured in a hierarchy, which they refer to a s a prominence hierarchy (McCall and Simmons 1978, Hogg, Terry, and White 1995). In this case a prominence hierarchy is constructed based on how the individual does or would like to see themselves, or in other words, l or prominence hierarchy determines what is most salient and central to the individual, reflecting their priorities, and therefore guiding their behavior. Role any given context, def (McCall and Simmons 1978, Stryker 1968). This hierarchy is static across contexts, therefore creating a unique unchanging self, brought to a given situ ation. Simmons and McCall also propose a salience hierarchy similar to context. In this sense, individuals will perform or play out certain role i dentities in a gi ven situation that are compli mentary to preset counter roles (Stets 2006, Stets and Burke 2000) For example one might perform their teacher role identity with their counter role student, however if there is conflict in this performance, one will adjust th eir behaviors to ensure their role performance is enacted smoothly, i.e. seeing a student out of a classroom. Simmon and McCall therefore see identity as two fold; first, structural, unique, and static, and second situational and dynamic. Both are reflecte d in their use of prominence hierarchy and situational hierarchy. Burke level of analysis. Where Stryker focused on the influence of social structures on
18 self (Burke 2007, Stryker and Burke 2000). 2 theorized as identity control theory There are two key aspects within identity control theory that ma a motivation for self verification (Burke 2007). Burke sees identity as a set of different meanings given to or an ideal. In other words individuals have a self concept made up of ideals that act as a reference point and mechanism for behavior. In this case, given the context, individuals will seek to match their ideal within the situation. That being said, when on e is able to match the situation to their ideal then one has self verification. If one cannot match to their ideal, then they will adjust their behavior accordingly to achieve self ith their identity standard (Burke 2007, Stets 2006). For Burke identity and subsequent behavior are tied to internal meanings rather than social structures, and furthermore believes that if we t and understand their behavior (Burke 2007, Stets 2006) Context then for Burke is as important as the verify within it, where for Stryker, Simmons, and McCall context and structure are central in understanding motivations and behaviors. When looking at the identity theory literature as a whole there is a general perspective that links the work together. Within the sociological field it is assumed that role identities provide an individual with self meaning, and are intrinsica lly tied to social structures. Furthermore, where a role identity is placed within the social structure, the 2 Stry k er and Burke have t ried to link their specific focuses together. Where social structures influence verification, and self verification su pports and maintain social structures.
19 behavior. Identity theorists also believe that individua ls internalize normative expectations tied to their structural role identities and seek to act out these internalizations (Stryker and Burke 2000, Stets 2000, Hogg, Terry and White 1995, Deaux 1993). There are several limitations to identity theory as an i ndependent framework for behavior as a result of taking on a role identity, rather that on how individuals become these identities. Second, with an emphasis on struct ural influence there is a lack of agency and nuance within identity work and behavior. While Burke, Simmons, and McCall aim to remedy the structural emphasis, both camps are limited by their focus on subsequent behaviors tied to individualized identity und erstanding, and neglect approach is the view that identity is a role position within a structure. By defining identity as such identity theorists assume that individuals have objective identity experiences (structurally determined), which does not account for subjectivity and agency in choosing and becoming identities, and at the same time completely ignores other go past the motives behind sustaining a role identity and its subsequent behaviors. How do individuals choose these identities? Do individuals have any agency in the construction of identity? These questions are not examined in identity theory. The shortco mings of identity theory, is where my research begins. I do agree with the work of these researchers, but I am interested in how individuals become their identities, how they actively construct their
20 identities, and how socio historical contexts possibly s hape their identity processes. I also seek to go beyond identit ies as roles one takes on, and explore identity categories holistically. Psychological Approach Social Identity Approach Psychological approaches to identity theory are made up of a number of theories, which have been referred to as the social identity approach This approach includes social identity theory self categorization theory social comparison theory and work on self esteem and self enhancement motives. These theories are used to understand cogni tive social identity processes and group dynamics (Stets 2006) Originally proposed to understand group discrimination and racism, they are now used to understand inter group behavior, in group favoritism, out gr oup discrimination, and the role of context in mediating the saliency of a social group for an 1995, Tajfe l 1979). Within social identity literature identity is define d as social categories in which one identifies with one actively pursuing social identitie s/groups to achieve self enhancement (Stets 2006, Hogg and Abram 1993) Social identity theorists, like identity and similarly view context as central to understanding group and individual behavior. However, unlike identity theorists, social identity theorists view identity as social categories one identifies with, rather than a role. However, there has been work that sees this difference as arbitrary, and views the level context to be more salient (than type of identity) in determining identity behavi or social identity research is to
21 achieve and maintain a positive social identity, in group favoritism, and the role of context on individual s identity work. Social Identity theory Tajfel Social identity theory focuses on processes of identification, inter s The basic idea is that a social category into which one falls, and to which one feels one belongs, provides a definition of who one i that is, and White 1995). When these identities are salient in a given context, individuals will use normative social identity behavior to differentiate themselves from out group members. These normative behaviors are referred to as prototypes, which are essential ly depersonalized 3 stere (Stets and Burke 2000, Stets 2006) In this sense social identities are descriptive in defining prototypical behavior and self concept, and they are prescriptive in they provide normative stereotypica l behavior for individuals to act out. T he y are also evaluative as they are used strategically to develop and perceive a positive social identity or self enhancement (by discriminating against out gro ups) (Hogg, White, and Terry 1995) Tajfel proposed that individuals understand and define themselves by their social groups, specifically large social categories like race, ethnicity, and gender. He was concerned with how individuals defined themselves within group and against those in 3 Depersonalization is where a n individual is perceived, and act as the prototype of their social identity group, rather than as a unique person. Hogg, Terry, and White (1995) suggest depersonalization does not carry
22 out groups, and the mea ning behind this behavior, which he saw as strategically working to achieve in group favoritism and individual positive social identity (through out group discrimination) (Tajfel 1974, Tajfel 1982). behavior or identity wo rk is contingent on contextualized social relations (Stets 2006, Tajfel and Turner 1979, Hogg, Terry, and White 1995) In other words, for Tajfel the underlying motive of his work was to understand individual behavior as it is linked to social categories within a given context or situation. theorists, is his focus on identification (self categorization) with social categories, and an evaluation (social comparison) that resul t in a positive social identity or self esteem. These ideas were and continue to be expanded on and have become central to the social identity approach. Self categorization theory Turner Turner, who originally worked with Tajfel, went on to develop self categorization theory, which is essentially the idea that we classify others and ourselves into social categories that shapes our behavior and inter group relations. Turner specifically focused on the effects of self categorization on inter group behavio r. Like Identity theory, Turner believed identity was both personal the unique individual, and social collective similarities within groups, and these different levels of identity shape the way an identity is performed (Turner 19 99). From this perspecti ve, s classify, and order the social environment, enable the individual to undertake many (and justify) (Tajfel and Turner 1979 Stets 2006, Hogg, Terry, and White 1995, Burke 2007).
23 C ategorizing self and others into groups functions as a means to sharpen inter group are Self categorization theorist s view context as fundamentally underlying category or group. Context shapes group work in that individuals behave giv en their perceived group status within a situation. For example Deaux and Martin ( 2003 ) demonstrate this in their research on ethnic identity on university campuses. Deaux and Martin find that when there is not a strong Hispanic culture on a campus, or th ey feel marginalized, individuals within that social category would have strong group identification to counter the institutional structure, where students who feel they are l not have as strong group identification. This suggests that context and structure shape social group identification. What is underlying self categorization theory is the assumption of comparison between who is in the group and who is out. To understand what is happening in this ( 1954 ) social comparison theory. Soci al c omparison Festinger Social comparison theory has developed over time with a number of researchers expanding the meaning, mech anisms, and behaviors that make up social comparison. Comparison functions as a tool for the individual to evaluate their performance and social group in relation to other s (Wheeler & Miyake 1992 suls 2002 ). l comparative
24 processes he describes why and who one compares themselves to, is determined by how one perceives themselves, their opinions and abilities. Festinger hypothesized specific mechanisms for social comparative processes. There are three specific hypotheses commonly used in social comparison research; a, individuals have a drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities; b, individuals evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparison with others when objective measures are not available; c, indiv iduals do not evaluate their opinions and abilities by comparison with others when objective measures are not available; d, individuals do not evaluate their opinions and abilities with others who ar e too divergent from themselves (Festinger 1954 Wheeler & Miyake 1992 ) In other word individuals compare themselves to similar others in order to evaluate themselves. In terms of social groups however, individuals compare in order to evaluate group and membership, and seek to distinguish themselves and their g roup from other groups to achieve a positive social identity (Brewer 1991,1993). comparison into directional comparison upward and downward. Upward comparison is the process of co mparing oneself (and group) to another whom they perceive to be doin g the comparative target better (Brewer & Weber 1994, Collins 1996, Wheeler & Miyake 1992) When this happens, there are often negative responses in terms of self understanding and identit y (Brewer & Weber 1994, Suls, Martin & Wheeler 2002, Wheeler & Miyake 1992, Suls & W heeler 1992) Downward comparison is comparison with another who is perceived to be doing the target eit her equal or worse (Suls, Martin & Whe eler 2002, Wheeler & Miyake 19 92 ) Downward comparison acts as a source of self enhancement or boost in self esteem, allowing the individual to feel they are doing
25 the target or identity better than the other (Suls, Martin & Wheeler 2002, Wheeler & Miyake). When an individual feels dis sonance in any of the directions, they often seek defenses as a way to protect their identity or group, accessing their sense of d istinctiveness for this purpose (Wheeler & Miyake 1992) Furthermore, research has esteem. When one has low self esteem they are more likely t o compare upward, than downward (Bessenoff, 2006, Wheeler & Miyake 1992, Want 2009) For the social identity approach, social comparison theory is used to understand how one gains self enhancement or self esteem through categorization. Once one has categorized oneself and others into groups, comparison between groups functions as a means of achieving group favoritism and a positive social identity (Stets 2006) Social identity m otives. the underlying motive is to gain, maintain, and preserve a positive social identity, and self concept (Tajfel 1969, 1974 ). More recent research views self esteem as the drive behind inter group beha (Trepte 2006). The self esteem hypothesis, used frequently by social identity theorists, group discrimination leads to increased self esteem, and low self esteem motivates increased out Hogg 1988). However there is a lack of evidence and consensus on the self esteem hypothesis, and some research suggests that rather than self esteem being the underlying mechanism towards group discrimination, other motives may include drives towards self actualization and self conception (Hogg and Abram 1990). The underlying
26 assumption that is central to social identity work is a drive for positive self and group evaluation (Brown 2000). Brewer ( 1991 ) theorized Optimal distinctness theory where rather than motivated by self esteem, individuals work to reconcile opposing needs for assimilation and differentiation from avoid self construals that are either too personali zed or too inclusive and instead define themselves in terms of distinctive category Self categorizations simultaneously provide a sense of belonging and a sense of In this sense individuals are not motivated necessary by self esteem, but are motivated to distinguish themselves, by categorizing themselves into social groups. In this sense individuals are motivated to balance (Brewer 1993). Whether underlying motives are towards self esteem or the balance of difference and commonality, social identity seeks to conceptualize underlying motives behind social identity work. In sum, social identity is the perspective an individual has, that he or she be longs to a specific group, and this group concept (Stets & Burke 2000,Turner 1975, Hogg, Terry & White, 1995) One learns their position th rough social categorization, by ordering themselves (and their groups) within a given c ontext relevant to other individuals and groups (Stets & Burke, 2000, Turner 1975, Trepte, 2006, Hogg, Terry & White, 1995) Social comparison is triggered by social categorization. I ndividuals not only categorize themselves, but they evaluate themselves social identity theorists suggest when other groups are similar to one s specific group or
27 self ranking, the need for evaluative comparison arises. Therefore, the more similar the group or individual, the more likely one is going to compare (Festinger 1954, Trepte, 2006,Hogg, Terry & White, 1995) Social identities provide positive qualities for individuals, if they can provide a distinct ide ntity compared to other groups (Stets & Burke, 2000,Turner1975,Ellemers, Spears & Doosje 2002, Trepte, 2006) By having a positive comparatively distinctive social identity, it allows the individual to mai ntain a positive performance and self enhancement (Tajfel 1974) While the social identity theory approach offers a different way to conceptualize cognitive identity work, it also has its shortcomings in explaining the construction of social identities. First, social identity theory looks at social identities as normative, stereotypical prototypes tha t shape individuals behavior and self conception. Starting uniqueness or agency in the construction of social identities, or diversity in social identity performance. Soci al identity theory also does not consider in group behavior, motivations, and dynamics. Furthermore, social identity has traditionally focused on ascribed social identities, i.e. race, ethnicity, and gender, limiting examination of social identity groups that may be more salient an d relevant in self definition. For example, i f you ask a woman to define her self she may say she is a business owner, mother, or daughter. Typically, she will not say she is a female first, since she might not first define herself by her gender Lastly, the social identity approach, like identity theory, does not account for how individuals become their social identities, and how they cho o se and construct these identities. However, I do believe that b etween both theoretical perspectives there are concepts that can be used
28 on a more micro level and in different ways to conceptualize this missing identity work, as I will discuss in my theoretical framework. Middle Age Women and Identity Empirical studi es on middle age women and identity processes are vast T here are many places to take a literature review on this topic. To begin to grasp the literature on different identities middle age women occupy would not only be difficult, it would also be based on identity work in midlife has been understudied, with most research focusing on the changing body, menopause, health, gender normative roles, and well being (McQuaide 1998, Ogle and Damhors t 2005, Thoist 1986, 1992, Graham Sorell, Montgomery 2004). In general there is just a lack of literature on social identity work among middle age women. Literature on how middle age women become and construct their social identities is rare and trying to answer related questions continually brings up life course and psy chological development research (Mortimer and Shanahan 2002). Literature on such as mother, age, gender illness and typically do not take a holistic view of identity, failing to capture complex identity work (McQuaide 1998, Ogle and Damhorst 2005, Thoist 1986, 1992, Graham Sorell, Montg omery 2004, Gove, Ortega & Style, 1989, Logan, Ward & Spitze, 1992 ). L iterature on identity development in middle age has focused on well being, finding that well being is tied to earlier identity development, self esteem, and meeting norm ative life course bench marks ( McQuaide 1998, Stewart, Ostrove, and Helson 2001, Mortime r and Shanahan 2002 ). Research also suggests that women who have higher self esteem in middle age are more apt to con life
29 often is coup led with increased feelings of irrelevance and invisibility within current socio historical context that places value on and over represents youthful women, as well as the underlying rampant ageism and stereotypes often reflected in media images (McQuaid esteem in middle age is also linked to body image, feelings towards aging, and changes in social networks (i.e empty ness) (McQuaide 1998, Stewart, Ostrove and Helson 2001, Thoist 1992 Logan, Ward & Spit ze, 1992, Gove, Ortega, Style 1989, Sherman 1994, Karp 1998 ). Women who have poor body image, higher age identity (feeling older), and loss of social networks experience lower welling, which inherently creates a challenge and interesting context for constr ucting social identities. For these exact reasons (changing identities, meanings, and context), I seek to explore how middle age women choose, construct, negotiate, and become their social identities. In sum, literature on how individuals become their soc ial identities is lacking. This is true for literature on middle age identity processes as well. While both sociology and psychology offer in depth theory on identity, both fail to sufficiently theorize the ways in which individuals choose, constr uct, and perform their social identities, or in other words, become there social identities. Furthermore, research on become their different identities, rarely going beyond n ormative gender identities and experiences. In this paper I seek to fill in where current identity theory and research on I hope to give a more nuance, holistic, and
30 social identity processes, but insight into middle age
31 CHAPTER 3 THEORTEICAL FRAMEWORK My goal in this project is to examine and theoretically conceptualize how women choose, construct, and pe rform their social identities. I use Erving Goffma dramaturgy to inform my definitions of self and identity, and use his work along with concepts from the social identity approach to formation processes. As di scussed earlier social identity theory is made up of three components, categorization, social comparison, and self enhancement. For most social identity research these concepts have been used to conceptualize group work and affiliation to specific social identity gro ups. However, research has not sufficiently theorized social identity formation processes Within this project I use these concepts on a more micro level to theoretically consider how individuals develop their social identities. My initial fin dings suggest that women often use categorization and social co mparison to construct their own social identities. 1 This perspective is based on my results, and this is why it is important to set up these concepts here. Women often use c ategorization to sit uate their social identity, and this allows them to define who they are versus who they are not. For example a woman might choose to be a mother, and following initiation into tay at home mom, working mom, soccer mom, cool mom, etc. Once she has categorized and 1 I see self enhancement as an implicit goal of any social identity work, as I belie ve individuals strive to construct their ideal social identities, and I am assuming they do this for self enhancement. This This assumption is based off of my results and analysis. I did not have this idea till after I had completed the analysis. assumptio n is based off of my results and analysis. I did not have this idea till after I had completed the analysis.
32 defined herself into a specific social identity, social comparison would then function as a mechanism for constructing and becoming this social identity. Social Compariso n, as discussed, functions as a means to within a social identity (or a role, or their body, etc.). Social comparison theory is used to understand how individuals gauge their ability or performance through upward and downward comparison Rather than focusing on comparison between groups (as traditionally done within the social identity approach), I see c ompariso ns, as generally done y that the individual wan ts. When the individual engages in comparison, she may compare upward, where the target is doing the identity better, and thus produces a negative feeling O n the other hand when the individual compares downward or even equally it creates a positive effe ct, i.e. self enhancement (the third component of social identity process location. Individuals do this comparison in order to gauge social identity performance, and construct and negotiate where they possibly see deficiencies in identities they want or are working on. What I am suggesting is that social identity theory can help us to bet ter understand an use of these concepts is not used by social ident ity theorists in the same way. R ather social identity theorists use these concepts to understand group work, for ex ample who o se, construct, negotiate, and
33 perform social identities, and the role of in group others in this process. I am seeking to formation. A s I will discuss below, I and identity, is essentially divi d ed into t wo regions, the front stage and the back stage. Using a theatrical metaphor for how individuals interaction, understand themselves, and do identity work, Goffman offers a frame work for identity performance. Goffm an defines the impressions are openly constructed. Here stage props and items (sign vehicles) of e parts of the the back stage is a place where individuals prep for their performance, get together their sigh vehicles 2 and prepare for when they will have to offer their identity performance. Goffman refers to the place where the performance e audience favorably, manner behavior, a ppearance embodied presentation, and sign vehicles props/identity indicators to give off a sincere 3 performance within a given identity. In this sense the 2 I consider sign vehicles to be a sort cultural capital relative to a given social identity. This would include materials and non materials indiv way for them to note be seen as a poser within that social identity. These can include props, language, fashion, knowledge, etc. 3
34 4 For Goffman thes e regions are physical places one goes to. Goffman gives an example of a hostess and her party. He describes the front stage as the place where the party is taking place, in her home. The furniture, her clothes, the food, music i.e. manner and appearance act as sign vehicles to help her present the ideal image to her audience. She uses different tools to give off a certain impression in the hopes that her audience will acc ept this performance as sincere. Goff man then suggests that the hostess ret reats to h er backstage the kitchen to prepare food, fix herself up, restore and relax from her performance, and prepare for her reentrance. In this sense, the back stage is a physical space in proximity to the front stage impressive in its ability to describe nuances in interaction and identity work, there are some limitations and I would argue better ways to theorize the front and back stage, and my critique informs my theoretical framework. Specifically, the most significant limitation of the front stage backstage dichotomy is the way in which he conceptualizes the front and back stage regions as physical spaces. One goes to a front stage to perform, bringing with them sign vehicles for said performance, and the backstage is a physical pla ce for the individual to retreat and prepare. I believe that these two places should not be characterized in this way; rather I see identity as a continuous performance (much like doing gender, one is always doing identity), and the backstage only existing 4 When I say others, I mean an audience. Goffman goes into great detail about the role of audience in Presentation of Self in Everyday Li fe, however, for this project this work is not necessary to dive into. Ideals are often ties to normative social roles and socio historical contexts.
35 case is the place where individuals attach meaning to symbolic material and performances, and c onstruct an identity performanc e in relation to an ideal identity. In this space are where I believe social identity components occur, such as categorization, comparison, and the collection of sign vehicles. individuals construct their social identit ies through these components Again this framework that I am using is based off of my results. Throughout this paper I will be using the terms identity and social identity interchangeably, and feel I should define w hat I mean by identity. In this case I a m using perceived memberships with a social group(s). I also am using my critique of Goffman to inform my definition of the self and identity. In this case the back stage is what I would call the self performance, called identity In this sense we are always performing our identities, while continuously constructing these performances in the backstage (the self). I am also as insight into backstage work. Burke suggests individuals work to match their behavior within a situation to thei r ideal identity (2007). individuals actively construct and negotiate their social identities. Part of the construction process would then be forming an ideal model of social identity (bac social identity process, individuals then choose and construct identities in relation to
36 their ideals. 5 I also agree with Deaux ( 1993 ) and see the difference between social and role identity as arbitrary, as both are different emphasis on the same identities, and I am more concerned with how these identities are constructed in relation to similar social group others. So throughout this paper I speak of identity as social groups individuals are part of, but recognize that they also function as roles. Lastly I see identities as constructed holistically where other person al role, and social identities are used in the choosing and construction process. To be clear, I see social ide ntiti es as socially constructed and continuous static, and isolated but rather fluid, dynamic, and holistic. In this sense, identities change over time, and are influenc identities. From m inform the way they const ruct other emerging identities. In other words, identity formation does not occur without influence from past and current identities. I would also like to mention the work of Shelly Budgeon, a feminist identity scholar I read her book Choosing Identity (2003) while working on the analysis. While her research inform my theoretical fr amework, her work has inspired m e to examine socio historical context in relation to socia l identity choices. In her book on how teenage girls choose identities, she starts with current cultural, his torical, and political contexts ( Budgeon 2003). Budgeon explored what was happening at a given time to inform the ways in which girls chos e identities. For my 5 Burke does not discuss the process of becoming and constructing identity, but starts with the notion t hat we have ideals, and our behavior reflects our work to meet those ideals. In this case I am seeking to expand his work to examine how those ideals are used in the construction process.
37 women, current context did inform the ways in which they saw their social identity choices and the meanings they attached to their options, and I will d iscuss this in results section two understand the role of the body in constructing and performing social identities. ly as a natural foundation or passive surface upon which meanings are inscribed by systems of signification, but that there is an irreducibility between the subject and object such that in order to understand the ways in which women actively live their emb body beyond the binary of materiality and representation the body not as an object but a carries multiple meanings within the wom construction (how they can be a social identity) and performance of social identities (within a given situation). As I w ill discuss in result sections two, it was very clear that the body was central to the ways in wh ich the women constructed and performed their social identities. And as I will discuss the body had the ability to change the meaning of and experience within a given situation. In this case the body is not an object, but subject to social identity constr uct and performance. In sum, I contexts. For example a woman who is a schoolteacher, who is retiring soon, may construct her retirement social identity (as retired person) to refle ct her other social identities. This woman might continue to educate, carry on similar hobbies, and plan for activities that reflect her ideals in this emerging identity. At the same time, the choices
38 available for her are going to be based on a context in which she is situated in, so she might join a walking club because all her retired co workers have done so, or she might plan to travel because all her friends do, in this way she is constructing a social identity based on her immediate situated context. In short I see identity as a continuous performance (much like doing gender) that is a result of continuous back and forth between the self (backstage work social identity theory) and the identity (front stage work), and these identities are fluid, dyn ami c, holistic, and tied to cont ext. While the literature on identity is vast and nuance, researchers have yet to sufficiently theorize they ways in which individuals become, construct, and perform their social identities. While some researchers have theoriz ed agency in identity work, they have yet to explore how individuals actively construct and negotiate social identities, and limit themselves by starting from identities already occupied by the individuals. In this research I seek to fill this gap, and off er a theoretical framework for theorizing the ways in which individuals become their social identities. Furthermore, both disciplines (sociology and psychology on identity processes) have neglected feminist qualitative methods, limiting access to subjectiv ity, nuance, and situated accounts. In this project I seek to demonstrate the benefits of using feminist approaches in identity research.
39 CHAPTER 4 METHODS AND METHODOLOGY Doing my literature review for this project there seemed to be a reoccurring theme a lack of qualitative methods, specifically feminist qualitative methods. When examining the methods pages of these papers and books the methods seemed to fall into two types, surveys with semi structured interviews, and experiments. When considering these methods I found them limiting in seeking to conceptualize possible social identity processes. What these methods are lacking is the ability to gain insight into real everyday subjective experiences, which seems the most significant starting point for ide ntity rese arch. I feel both these methods do not situate the participant in When considering surveys and semi structured interviews I felt that it limited ability to self define, as surveys and interviews were often based off of specific identities the researchers were interest in studying. For example in Deaux and Martin 2003 study co llege freshman. Deaux and Martin were interested in examining how first year Latino students engage with this identity in relation to their campus experience, and used surveys and semi structured interviews. In his case, De a ux and Martin are choosing the s ocial identity, and when gathering participants, are defining for them their identity b y first understanding them by thei r research focus. In this case it also does not let the participants situate themselves, but places them within a context to consider t heir experiences. In this case their experiences do not emerged holistically, but from a context the researcher is placing on them. Lastly, surveys and semi structured interviews lose participants subjectivity, as it does not let them share identity work f rom
40 their standpoints, thus failing to eliminate research bias, and hinders the uncovering of hidden nuance identity processes. I also believe these limitations were true for experimental methods. Again I feel that ex periments do not let the participants s elf define, as it puts them in artificial situations they may not encounter in their everyday life For example, it was common for a study examining media influences images of varying body types, seeking to mea sure her response. In this case they were trying to capture the effects of media images in relation to social comparison; however I argue that this puts the women in positions they would never encounter in their everyday lives, or they would otherwise not consider. Many of the women in this project discuss media images not being relevant to their identity processes, and do not compare themselves, as these images are outside of how they see themselves within their social identities. In this sense exper iments fail to situate the participants within thei r everyday lives, and again fail to start with their subjective standpoints. Feminist Approaches Considering what social identity research is missing, feminist methods and methodology provides the means to resol ve these problem s Feminist methods and methodology will not only solve social identity research deficiencies, but I argue experience. Feminist methods and methodology emerged within academia following a mobilization of feminists within the academic institution, alongside the second wave feminist movement. Methods and methodologies were used to counter traditional hegemonic methods that d enied women the ability to self d efine. These feminist sought to expose objectivity and positivism for their misrepresentation, bias, and possible
41 misogyny, and did so through re appropriating past traditional methods, and creating innovative methods and methodologies to repre subjectivity, self defin ition, and intersectionality (Harding 1987, 2004, Reinharz 1992 ). Sandra Harding (1987 ) defines methodology as a theory and framework for how research should proceed, where methods are evidence gathering techniques. In this case f (the way the approached research) and the ways they did methods (the ways they gathered their data). For me I see the history and goals of feminist methods and methodology as an orientation in which to approach my work. 1 In this case, when approaching this project, I used a feminist orientation to guide every phase of the research. For me I understand feminist research to generally pursue three goals, 1. To situate the particip ant in their everyday lives i.e. starting from participants subjective standpoints, 2 Allow the participant to self define their experience, and 3. As the researcher, I need to be as reflexive as possible, and share this with my participants and my readin g audience. Considering these goals, it is again clear that feminist approache s are a great solution to social identity research limitations, and for identity research in general. Later I will discuss the ways in which I feel I have achieved these goals. S ample Participants were gathered using snowball sampling in Los Angeles, California. There are a number of reasons for choosing this location. First, I had more access to participants being that I am from this area; I had a number of networks to connect me to 1 In this sense feminist methodology and methods can be used to appr oach any research, regardless of the sample and discipline.
42 a variety of women. Second, I was interested in interviewing participants located in a metropolitan area (and its suburbs) known for being image conscious. I have chosen to focus primarily on white heterosexual women I have interviewed 16 women 47 61 years old representing women in mid life (and its many transitions). Refer to table 4.1 in Appendix A for sample demographics. Lite rature suggests those in middle age generally find themselves constructing and negotiating diverse social identities, rangin g from retirement, s econd careers, motherhood, etc ( McQuaide 1998, Saucier 2004) I believe this group is ripe for exploring a diverse range of identity experiences, positions, and transitions. Within the middle age group, I have sought out white women who self select as middle to upper middle class. I chose to focus on this group as I thought it would bring specificity to project, and I had great er access to this population. When trying to construct my sample, I was thinking I wanted to control for race an d class, but as I will discuss below, I regret this and feel it limited the research. When going into this project, I was taking my first introduction to qualitative methods course, and like any new graduate student I was nervous about how to construct my methods. I thought at the time controlling for as many variables within a study would be the most effi cient way to construct a sample However, after completing two years of course work in methods, and developing my feminist orientation as a researcher, I feel this has limited the research. I regret this choice as I feel it perpetuates research that is centered on the lives white individuals, further perpetuating white as neutral within social theory, and ignoring the experiences of other race, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. I also feel this choice limited my ability to use an
43 intersectional perspective, i.e. the way race, class, sexuality, etc. play out in social identity processes. For my dissertation I plan to remedy this mistake by not limiting the de mographics of my participants. Data Gathering To gather data I used a number of tools, five years of informal interviews and self analysis, a preliminary focus group, a survey administered before the interview, a one to three hour open ended in depth inte rview, and a follow up interview. I will discuss each of these below. Originally, ideas towards which theory and methods would be relevant were gathered through informal interviews, with women 18 60 years old, and self reflection over five years. Once I ca me to the components of social identity and social comparison theories separately from any literature review, I began to research identity literature. During this time I found myself drawn to literature that reflected and explained the informal interviews and my own experience, which lead me to social identity theory. With my theoretical framework in mind, I began to ask more concrete questions centered on our social identity work. I was interested in how we choose and construct these identities, and what p I held a focus group in Gainesville, Florida at the University of Florida with five white mid aged women (45 60). Focus group participants were gathered using snowball sampling. As the women discus sed their identity processes, I took note of their vocabulary to inform my interview guide. This allowed me to learn the language to discuss these topics more effectively; however during the interview my interview guide became unnecessary, as the intervie w s were open narratives.
44 In order to maximize my time with the participants, I developed a survey I administered before the interviews that were returned to me before we met. The survey consisted of both likert scale and open ended questions that asked the women to write how they felt around other women, their comparison targets, how they would define a successful woman, and different questions associated with image maintenance. I used this survey as a backup tool when partici pants were having a hard time discussing their experience. For example, if a participant responded that a successful woman is independent, a good mother, and confident, I would ask her if she saw herself as such and why. For almost all the women the survey was unnecessary. One on one in depth opened end ed interviews were one to three hours long. Themes and questions gathered from preliminary work were initially used to form my interview guide. However, once beginning the interview process, the women and I e ngaged in discussion on their subjective experience, stories, and self analysis. Through our discussion the women and I constructed theory on their identity processes based on their narratives and self analysis. Once participants shared their experiences, we explored those moments, and discussed the processes and motives behind certain emotional responses and behaviors they offered. Interviews were held in a number of locations, chosen by the participants. Interviews were recorded, and transcribed verbatim Methods With a feminist orientation and framework in mind, I had certain goals, including wer to the participants to self define, and to approach interviews in a reflexiv e and
45 collaborative manner. When meeting with each woman, I sought to accomplish these goals specifically through reflexivity, reciprocity, storytelling, and self analysis. Reflexivity Before jumping into my experience with reflexivity, the two quotes bel ow illustrate reflexivity, a nd informed the ways I used it in this project. She is of and inside the cosmos she seeks to understand Dorothy Smith 1987 The turning back of the experience of the individual upon (her) or himself. George Herbert Mead 1967 R eflexivity to me is the exploration of my own experience with the research topics through examining how I came to and am shaped by topic themes; it is consideration of and analysis on how my personal situated standpoint might shape s, their self analysis, and my interpretation a nd analysis of their narratives ( Ellis 2004, Harrison, MacGibbon and Morton 2001). By examining and turning back analysis on myself, I feel I have exposed my goals, identities (personal and academic), and inte rpretation processes, making my research more transparent and valid. Reflexivity has been a central theme throughout the research project, starting back when I first started analyzing myself and ot informally. I would move back and forth between feeling and constructing, to analyzing and questioning, beginning to gather insight into the ways in which women construct and experience identity. Once beginning my official IRB approved research project many years later, I found my self reflexive in the choices of my literature review (reading what spoke to my experience), the choice of my thesis committee members both feminist and share sociological leanings and interests, and in the construction of my sample and methods. My sample and methods were constructed and influenced by my
46 experience with the topics, as I sought out women to discuss their identity processes, and constructed methods to reflect my personal and academic feminist orientation. Once beginning the interview process my reflexivity, personally and academically, was presented in the beginning of each interview. By first letting the women know where I was coming from, I believe I created a safe space for them to share their identity process experiences. In this shared space I explained how I came to this project, making my identity as a woman and graduate student clear. Throughout the interviews I words, saying little, and sharing my exp erience when seeming necessary for deeper discussion or example. While the women did not seem to hold back accounts, following certain narratives around being middle age, the women often made clear our age distinction through offering advice to me, making clear to me my impact on their narratives. At the same time, I believe our relationship, and really friendships, were made stronger through the give and take of sharing my reflexivity, and the listening and internalizing of their advice toward their middle age identity processes. Reciprocity Much like reflexivity, reciprocity underscored the entire interview process, and through its use moved me from outsider to insider status, built trustworthiness between me and the participants, and created an empowered and collaborative working Reciprocity is the give and take of social interactions, (and) may be used to gain acc MacGibbon and Morton 2001). In this way reciprocity is the sharing of experiences, and the engagement in dialogue of experiences between the participant and the researcher,
47 alk is popular to use to conceptualize deep personal sharing of identity work between women, but also because the inherent interpersonal meaning it c arries, that is we both expose and share personal experience to build trust, allowing us to get to know each other better, moving me from outsider to insider, and thus allowing me to uncover deep ring of my experience, insecurities, goals, etc., creates trust between me and the women, and furthermore allows the women to see me outside of my researcher identity, and see me as a friend, an insider. Being able to share experience on an embarrassing, s tigmatized, and hidden identity experiences, allowed the women to feel safe with me. Often the women would women felt safe sharing and self analyzing with me. eased power dynamics By sharing my experience, and encouraging self analysis I believe I empowered the women, and decreased power imbal ances, so comm feminist re ( Harrison, MacGibbon and Morton 2001). Both the women and I were vulnerable in our and facilitated the shared responsibility of building social theory, which I will discuss intense sharing, (which) open(ed) all lives party to the inquiry In sum
48 orthiness, empowered the participants, and misinterpreting people whose lives a nd life exp (Riessman 1993) Collaboration Reciprocity required me to approach the interview process with narratives, and seek ing to work together to build theory, specifically around identity processes. I approached each interview with the i ntent of exploring how each woman experienced and conceptualized her identity processes, and sought to collaborate in producing a theoretical frame to e xplain her (and my own) experiences. Feminist ory and empowers the researched (Harrison, MacGibbon and Morton 2001). I would listen to self analyze, and with their own words and experience (and mine too), we would construct a theoretical model for identity processes. Often this would require me to pull from my own experience, as this created a more acce ssible and applicable means to compare and consider identity work. The women would qualify or disqualify my experience in relation to their own, and would share what was true for them. Once analyzing their narratives, together we would consider what we sha red, and produce theoretical models for explaining our different identity experiences. In doing so I believe the theoretical framework of identity processes I am proposing, emerged d irectly from analysis and everyday lives. Furthermore, through collaboration and
49 shared self disclosure, the interviews transformed into conversations, creating an environment for more rich, nuance, and thick data to emerge, and transformed my identity from outsider other to insider friend. Storytelling When b eginning the interview process I did not have an agenda in terms of the way I wanted the women to share their identity experiences, however each woman considered, discussed, and theorized her experiences through storytelling, which was also used in giving examples, and examining and illustrating experiences, for both of us. We would illustrate an experience, through stories, to provide context and a window into our identity work, which as I will discuss, has been argued to bring a better quality to the inte rview and resulting data. In other words, the offered stories functioned as a means Historically storytelling is rooted in African American oral history, but has been applied i nterdisciplinarily by diverse feminist researchers (Banks Wallace 2002). Storytelling gained validity following the postmodern, post positivist, and reflexive turns, as well as with the emergence of feminist methods within academia (Banks Wallace 2002, Rei nharz 1992) Storytelling is inherently qualitative, producing personal accounts and narrative as the main focus of the interview and analysis. It was believed that a reflexive interpretation of a subjective and situated story would produce better, more re (Wallace Banks 2002) I personally feel storytelling created better data as it allowed the women to self define their experience, creating quiet a useful tool in theory building, as the women and I constructed theory based on their definitions, experience, and standpoints within their everyday contexts. Storytelling was also beneficial as it located the women within
50 current socio historical context, which underpinned their narratives and self anal ysis. Through storytelling the women would explicitly share and consider their socio historical identity construction. For example, when the women would discus s identity experience around be ing middle age, the women would share stories of what they felt was or is how she may or is transgressing normative identity work and dom inant social practices. Storytelling was also beneficial as it created a starting point for collaborative theory building. The women and I would share stories, and from her own self analysis of her story we would consider what was happening and build the ory. I believe that this facilitated better results as it again situates the theory in everyday life, emerging from real experiences and standpoints. Furthermore by sharing stories it gave insight into nuance identity work, otherwise hidden. For example, b elow Betty shares a story about when she felt he r distinct identity was threatened. This is a really honest thing, my best friend has hair down to here (hips) and to a job I was wo rking o n that needed a choreographer. S o she came critical judgmental self said at 50 years old she need 10 inch but secondly I got completive and I felt bad because my hair was twice as compliments three times a day my whole life growing up, which definitely helped define me, when you are jealous a nd it was my bestfriend. Betty 49 Because Betty shared this story, we were able to gain insight into otherwise hidden identity experiences, she was able to analyze what was happening for her in terms of her identity work, and this pushed us to consider the role of a distinct unique identity (which I will discuss in the results section). I truly believe we could not have
51 arrived at data like this without giving the women agency to self define and share what i s true and relevant to them. In this case storytelling functioned as a vital instrument in en iesmann 1993 ) By sharing stories ratives emerged holistically, exposed a dynamic rather than linear identity experience, and were f ull, contextual, rich, and situated in their everyday lives. Self Analysis As discusses, another essential method was the use of self analysis. Self analysis in this case emerged in two phases. As mentioned earlier, the first phase of self analysis took place during the interviews when the women would self analyze hat do you consider and self define meanings, build theory, and gave insight into their subjective understanding of their identity experiences. Furthermore, I believe it eliminated biases that mig ht have formed in my analysis, as their analysis and theories were what informed my organization of the data. Therefore the theoretical framework of identity analysis. The second phase of self analy sis occurred after I coded, analyzed and formulated theory based on their narrative and analysis. After analyzing the data, I did follow up interviews with the women and asked them if the process that I am proposing was true for them, and luckily it was! I n this way I brought the material back to the women, and for a second time they were able to define what was true for them, further eliminating bias. I believe that by sharing the final results with the women, and asking
52 them to give me their approval, I g ave something back to the women, sharing what grew out of our collaboration. Methodology Analytic Induction Once I h ad transcribed my data, I used a nalytic induction to analyze the material. Analytic induction is the construction of meaning from a close l ook at a specific case. analysis and our collaborative theory building, I was able to go through and piece together the work we had done and construct theory. While the women and I individually constructed theory w ithin the interview process, once transcribed I had to take a step back and examine what was happening in a broader sense. Analytic induction was most useful for this step. Once creating a working theory from one case, I then moved to the next, analyze it and it either qualified my previous theory, or I had to expand or change my theory. If cases were not explained, analytic induction required the reworking of material fac tors, excluded from scope of inquiry; or the explanatory factors ( were ) revised so that 1951, Smelser & Baltes (Eds.) 2001) I believe using this method allowed the resu lts to arise holistically through a case by analysis and theoretical modeling, and allowed for a more in depth look at c omplex identity processes Sociologically, analytic induction has historically been used in res earch on turning points, personal biographies, and deviant behavior patterns.(Smelser & Baltes (Eds.) 2001) Literature suggests that analytic induction fits nicely with research rooted in
53 symbolic interaction theory, as it focuses on how individuals learn, understand, and are motivated within specific phenomena. (Smelser & Baltes (Eds.) 2001) Therefore, when exploring how women become their social identities, analytic induction seems to provide the most efficient methods for analysis. Aligned with feminist methodology, analytic no objective situation that can determine how one feels or responds.(Reinharz 1992, Smelser & Baltes (Eds.) 2001) Therefore, I believe analytic induction was the most efficient and holistic way to examine identity processes. Thematic Narrative A nalysis and Interpretation analysis into themes. For example these thematic categorie place during the interviews. When coding similar themes narratives in a broader sense. For example a woman would discuss choosing an identity, comparing herself to others, and the collection of material /activities that make up that identity, but one woman may talk about this in terms of her mother identity, and another her clothing style identity. Coding and outlining each interview, building a theory around that interview, and then continuing to do this for all the women, i.e. analytic induction was the way I constructed my theoretical model of social identity processes. I feel it is important to recognize the role of my interpretation on the data. Taking a feminist orientation to the work, I do not see this project as an objective framework for social identity processes, but rather my i I believe that n layers of
54 perspective as soon as (I) enter the ref In this sense my interpretation a nd experience is inherently intertwined with my accounts of their stories, therefore I can only claim this to be my interpretation of a possible social identity process. Using a feminist approach I hoped to develop a deeper understanding of the women in th is study, and the issue of identity more broadly. This approach informed all aspects of my research. Specifically, throughout my research I placed emphasis on definition, and building theory from their own self analysis. By using these goals to inform my data collection and analysis, I believe I have uncovered a hidden process of becoming social identities
55 CHAPTER 5 THE SOCIAL IDENTITY PROCESS What emerged from my discussions with the women was an underlying process that underscored their accounts around their identity experiences. This process starts with the formation of a social identity. 1 Based on whether an identity was chosen versus forced, the women would have a specifi c experience through their identity construction process. For women who chose their identity the process is characterized by much more agency, excitement, and acceptance; identities that the women felt forced into were characterized by dissonance, denial, sadness, and resentment. Both identity types were followed by a similar identity formation trajectory. Following the start of an identity, the women would categorize themselves into a social identity group, and subsequently group members. They would do this until they formed a distinct identity within the group. Once beginning the categorization process, the women would compare themselves to similar in group others. This comparison would act as a mechanism for constructing their social identities. During this comparison process the women would compare themselves to learn and collect identity indicators. Identity indicators vehicles, are any symbolic or material capital that functions as a prop or tool for claiming, constructing, and performing a distinct social identity. In this case if a woman were tied to artsy culture, an artsy home, a nd participation in artsy activity. During the categorization and comparison process, the women would categorize themselves into even more distinct identities within the social identity group (i.e. artsy mother among 1 I discuss how these identities are chosen later in this section.
56 mothers). Once the women had categorize d themselves into a distinct unique social anything more) comparison would end and they would have a saturated identity In this sense, a saturated identity is one where o ne has collected all the necessary identity indicators, and therefore could confidently and sincerely perform a distinct social identity. This p rocess is illustrated below in F igure 5 1. Following, I discuss this process in detail. Figure 5 1 The socia l Identity process The Beginning: Chosen and Forced identities As F igure 5 1. Illustrates, we can begin to examine a social identity at its starting point. While identity emergence is arguably not clear cut, these women did offer definite starting points for new identities. These identities can be characterized as chosen or forced. As one might imagine, an identity one is forced into, rather than chosen is going to create quite a different identity experience and narrative. How does
57 one negotiate and cons truct an identity they do not want, versus one they do? It was in which they began, experienced, or are experiencing their social identity journeys. Forced From my i nterviews when discussing the emergence of a forced identity. To begin with a forced identity is to begin with an identity you do not want, that you feel was imposed upon you. While the most com mon forced identity that was present among the women was being middle or becoming a widowed, shared similar discourse. Each woman described feeling as if they had to narratives suggest a forced identity is one that is not actively pursued, but actively fought against, and often emerges following the decline of another identity (i.e married to wi dow, young to middle age). The negotiation within t his identity is tumultuous and hard to navigate, construct, and accept; therefore creating a specific identity experience within the identity process that differs from a chosen identity. Below are three il lustrations of the ways in which these women experience d the forced identity of middle age denial initiall y, and then you bargain with it, like with the botox, and then you go through a whole series of emotions like you do with a death, the death of youth...I know I have to accept it, but I your identity, because its decline. D ecline is really much more harder than u have to fight against. Kelly, 59 I wish I coul
58 worse. Cara 51 did all those wrinkles, how the hel e you n things start hing I could to Crystal, 51 What these quotes reflect is a common narrative around feelings and experience within a forced identity. This discourse was present and echoed in a variety of forced identity narratives. While the battling of an identity(s) was different, in that the women obviously have different identities, the discursive sentiment surrounding the forced identity experience was the same. What is clear in this forced identity Understandably, a forced identity is met with resistance, dread, and frustration. Women do not want this identity, therefore they choose to fi ght it versus accept and work with it, initially. Interestingly, the women do recognize that they will eventually need to accept it, however even with this foresight; they still actively fight this forced identity. What this suggests is a more turbulent tr ajectory through the social identity process. In this case the transition into middle age becomes an uphill battle, the beginning of a new unwanted identity. While middle age was the most common forced identity among the women, this narrative was also pr esent in other forced identities the women shared. For example, below Kate
59 alked about the resentment [towards] now it could be anything from a holiday party at a home where everything appears to constantly comparing myself in re lation to being a mother. Kate, 49 In this case, Kate finds hers elf struggling within this social identity, creating a more strenuous identity process for her. Kate describes going through a series of emotions within this forced identity anger, frustration, sadness, and resentment that is sentiment within a forced identity. We can also see this i n Kell hit somebody who is trying to redefine herself and give herself soci al really is hard, its really difficult. I went from working to looking for something real difficult. Kelly Kell in a forced identity. She finds herself in the beginning, unsure as to what she can do to give herself social relevance following the loss of her business. In this case Kell y was actively seeking a new identity, but because it emerged suddenly, and in a s ense ended a saturated identity for her, it created a feeling of s narratives on the experience of beginning a forced social identity. These forced identi ties often emerged at the decline of a previous identity (middle age, unemployed, widow), or are often sudden and unplanned (widow, special needs mother). Whatever the identity, the women shared similar narratives around these identities, and as we will se e these identities paved the
60 way for a specific experience within the social identity process, characterized by dissonance. Chosen Different from a forced identity, a second pattern emerged in the ways in which the women discussed new identities they want ed or were choosing. Rather than a sort of fatalistic resentment as directed toward a forced identity, a chosen identity was one where the women felt like they had agency. The women came to these identities by choice, by making some realization, and findin g that this was something they wanted. A chosen identity was one that the woman felt would enhance her life, giving her purpose, status, and/or allows her to define herself on her terms. In the excerpt below, Kate discusses what led her to choose to go bac k to school 8 years ago to become a baker I think I looked with the sense of envy. Anyone that was dressed like they just had come from a career, a job, something other than just parenting, not searching for were doing something in addition to parenting. Kate, 49 In this case Kate was seeking a career identity that would fulfill her; She felt envious of those who had that social identity, so she choose to go back to school to become a baker, allowing her to claim a social identity within a career. In the quote below Kate had become her social identity as a baker, but was again starting a new social identity as a bakery shop owner. I had a clear understanding before I put the deposit down. I wanted to have mimic any other busi anyb Kate, 49
61 By this particular point she had already defined herself as a distinct type of baker, gluten free and vegan, so as she began her new identity as shop owner she used this previously chosen identity to help distinguish what kind of shop owner she wanted to be. We can begin to see that a chosen social identity is one that is actively sought, is constru cted to give relevance, and is not segmented from other social identit ies, but overlaps with others to give that individual a clearly defined social identity. Chosen social identities also begin with quit a different sentiment than forced. These identities are met with optimist, planning, deter mination, and excitement. Holl y demonstrates this below in her discussion of how she approaches chosen identities. this happen and it all has to happen in 3 weeks. Holly, 59 narrative around chosen soc ial identities. For both Holly and Kate chosen social identities were characterized by planning and det ermination. Chosen social identities were also chosen ba sed on past identities. Kate did not feel fulfilled in just her mother role (as shown p reviously), and for Sherry (below) we see that she is planning a distinct retirement identity in a way that chal lenges her past identities. I am definitely in this transition thing .. I want to be able to travel and take ca re of myself and see the world. now I want to see the world You know meet people and learn new things and tr y to do something helpful that has some me aning outside the job. Sherry, 55 Sherry is constructing an identity that is different than the one she oc cupied before. In this way, Sherry is constructing a distinct social identity in retirement as worldly, in dependent, and philanthropic She is actively seeking to construct this identity based on her past experiences. We can also see that chosen identities often reflec t an
62 ideal the women envision. T he women see themselves living these identities a certain way and work to make reality match their ideal. 2 narratives was an active need to overshadow and re define middle age. The women discussed choosing identities that made them feel releva nt, that were energetic, or that women were actively planning and making identity choices that would counter these Below Jessica actively chooses to construct her forced middle age identity as her to construct an identity that counters cultural st ereotypes of middle age as out of touch. I like to be around people who are young, because their energy level is so much higher. I can feed off that. I can remember this quote, someone said stay necessarily listen to lets say the hip hop, but I know who it is. I think you today Jessica, 53 Here we counter to cultural stereotypes of middle aged women as stagnant, out of touch, and withdrawn from society. For Jessica, displaying youthful identity indicators functions to make her feel culturally relevant. Women also actively constructed middle age social identities that were counter to middle age embodied stereotypes, which allows them to 2 identity performance to their ideal.
63 feel relevant. These counter constructions are often based on past social identities as well as observation s of middle aged others. Diana and Kell y illustrate this below. I never dress like an old lady. I see the old ladies in church with their gray short hair and their ugly clothes they bought at K one of them. I want t gonna dress like a little old lady. Diana 55 I love long hair, younger person. I am an old person, but I hate the short bubble cuts on look like one of the women with the long h Kelly, 59 As we can see the women are making identity decisions based on middle aged others, how they previously saw themselves (or see themselves) in past ide ntities, and counter to cultural stereotypes around middle aged women. These narratives suggest that when an identity is forced, like being middle aged, the construction process is about countering stigma verse constructing towards an ideal. When stepping found that both forced and chosen identities offered very different sentiment to and experience within the social identity process. Both sections illustrate the significant difference in narrative attitude, and initial experience within a new identity based on its y experiences are unique to e ach woma n, what we can gain from conceptualizing a starting point of an identity is a theoretical way to consi der how one experiences identity processes as well as the impact of the nature of the identity on said process. The nature of an identity, whether stigmatized or wanted, forced or chosen, creates an environment for the individual that makes becoming these new identities quite different.
64 On a side note, the women b rought light to current contexts that shape feelings around forced or ch ose n id entities Being able to i dentify chosen versus forced identities within a socio historical context can highlight the influence of context on identity formation For example, the women discussed a forced feeling into middle age The women felt that this identity was stigmatized within their current contexts, and therefore they themselves stigmatized the identity. This s tigmatization influenced their social identity process. Kelly illustrates this below. You look in the mirror and feel a certain way and you see somebody different than remembe r yourself a certain way and you go and you are not the way you look but in energy, and doing things and going pl aces, and still being relevant on. Kell y 59 Kelly feels frustration in trying to construct a middle age identity within current context that values you thfulness, and under r epresent s and devalues middle aged women. What Kelly ussions on being middle age. This suggests that emerging identity is shaped by socio historical context It could also be argued that becaus e these women are internalizing culturally normative values, they are constructing identity that they stigmatize rather than embrace them. Therefore context can play a significant role in determining whether an identity is forced or chosen. In sum, w e can conceptualize a starting point for social identity processes (within experience within the social identity process Beginning an identity that is wanted versus u nwanted creates quite a different experience within the social identi ty process, and
65 certainly changed the way these women understood, experienced, and saw their journeys. Constructing Social I dentities As F igure 5 1. Illustrates, once the woma n begins developing a socia l i dentity, chosen or forced, she begin s a process of carving out a unique social identity within that social identity group in general. As discussed earlier, when this identity is forced, this process is much more turbulent than when it is chosen. In any case, the woman would still go through a similar process. This process is what I refer to as the social identity process This process is the back and forth negotiation and construction characterized by a. categorization within the social identity group wi th similar others, b. comparison with these similar others, and c. the collection of identity indicators learned through categorization and comparison. In this process, categorization is used to define whom she want s to be versus not, thus allowing the w oman to begin to claim a distinct social identity. During categorization the woman engages in comparison with similar in group others. (1954) social comparison theory, individuals compare themselves only with similar others, as tho se wh o do not occupy similar identities are irrelevant. So as the woman begins to categorize herself into a distinct social identity, only those who are claiming a similar distinct social id entity are used in comparison. Categorization and comparison are t he process by which the woman construct s her social identity by categorizing herself within the social identity group, claiming a distinct social identity, and then comparing this identity to similar others.
66 So what is happening in this back and forth ca tegorization and comparison process ? What I observed was that the women used this categorization and comparison to construct their identities by collecting identity indicators. This process was more pronounced and anxiety ridden in the beginning of the ide ntity process as the women were trying to figure out who they we re within a given social identi ty; and all identity options were up for grabs. As the women claimed more distinct social identities the process becomes more refined, anxiety an d comparison di minished, and lastly resolved with the emergence of a distinct social ide ntity 3 Figure 5 2 Social identity components 3 For forced identities, rather that emerging as an actively constructed saturated distinct identity, identity. Categorization and comparison s till occur in order to construct the forced identity, but often acceptance of limitations and identity is the underpinning of their process.
67 As Figure 5 2 illustrates above we can theoretically conceptualize the social identity process as the continual back and forth of cat egorization of and with distinct similar in group others, comparison with those one categorizes themselves with, and the collection of identity indicators that allows one to claim and perform a distinct social identity. These three components of this socia l identity process are used to produce a saturated distinct social identity. In sum, one constructs and becomes their social identity, chosen or forced, through categorization, comparison, and the collection of stories and self analysis to illustrate the social identity process. Categorization Going back to the parenting, once I decided what kind of parent that I wanted to be, because it was initially very anxiety driven, once I decided ok ay this is how I am goi ng to approach it, this is what I am going to do with nce I decided who I was within in it, the anxiety went down eally helped me, like I was with stuff. It came to the point where I could throw out everybody else close.. were responding, were our kids doing the same thing, were they okay, because I am not really comparing us but the ex tent of what our mothering was. Kell y 59 This excerpt epitomizes the process. Kell y is discussing her experience with her mothering social identity and the constructing and claiming of that distinct social identity. In the beginning, she says she was very anxious until she decided what type of mother she would like to be. In this w ay we can see the initial experience and feelings when first entering into a social identity and trying to find who m you want to be within it. Kell y then makes a decision about what type of mother she would like to be and begins the categorization and comp arison process. As you can see, once she was able to
68 distinguish herself, those who were not what she was doing became irrelevant, relevant for comparison. In this way she would compare identity indicators to see how she was doing within this distinct social identity in relation to similar others While Kell y had saturated he r mother social identity, Sandra was in the process of categorizing, comparing, and coll ecting identity indicators. In her narrative it is clear tha t she is still at the beginning, constructing her social identiti es as both mother and employee. When it comes to mothering, I look at friends that I look up to, and I ask them questions, and I pi ck and choose, you know, what would work for me. When it comes to the job, I just, you know, I surf the net, I read, I look at who is successful; I try to copy what is working for others. It is overwhelming and I also get into analysis paralysis, where I am looking at s a teaching moment for her. Sandra, 47 Sandra in thi s case is in the beginning of her social identity processes Much li ke overwhelmed. It is clear she is in the beginning stages of carving out her social identities a s she is still overwhelmed by her social identity options. Sandra is beginning to distinguish what type of mother she would like to be as she is seeking to collect p rocess is not smooth, even when one has an ideal in mind. In other words, t he acq identity can often be overwhelming, anxiety ridden, and possibly not an option (forced identity). Another theme was the use of in group others who occupied a similar distinct social identity. While in the process, women look to others doing their identity to help
69 aid them in the construction of their social identity. This was Sandra strat ed below. In this excerpt Diana discusses using her friends to carve out (categorize) what type of retired person and grandmother she would like to be. very involved with my walk listening to, as well as this friend on Facebook. She walks everyday with give to myself something that I love. Am I going to go into work as a substitute teacher for $100 or am in going to stay home and paint a painting? Mayb e some I c wonderful seamstress. I could see myself making their clothes, doing something special for their birthday, anything for the weekend so that my d and she will watch TV and color a nd paint [F riend] is be when I become a grandmother. Diana, 55 Diana is constructing her identities based on others she has categorized into doing what she would l ike to do. Interestingly, D iana anxiety the other women sha red, however in this case Diana has not physi cally entered into these identities yet, but is actively planning and preparing. This suggests that when identities are sought after or planned the process could possibly be less anx iety ridden. Diana uses similar others, to help her construct, choose, and categorize herself into the type of retired person and grandmot her she would like to be. Diana on what her peers a re doin g.
70 While Diana used her friends to construct what type of retired person and grandm other she would like to be, Kate uses others within her field to construct her social identity as a baker. ve already e completely my own thing here. Kate, 49 Kate clearly states that she is in the process of constructing and negotiating her socia l identity as a baker. While Kate is not in the initial stages as she has categorized others who are also doing her distinct social identity as baker. However, Kate i s still in These excerpts illustrate narratives around categorization, constructing and negotiating social identities. Each woman was at some stage in which categorization allowed her to distinguis h herself or actively construct a more distinct social identity. As the women distinguished themselves, all others who initially were up for grabs in terms of comparison diminished, and only t hose who share d this distinct social identity were relevant for comparison. Comparison Comparison is salient in the construction and negotiation process, as it allows the mes the mechanism for collecting identity indicators. As stated earlier, Festinger suggests that social comparison only occurs with similar others. So once the woman claims a social identity she can then begin the comparison process. Initially, the women found
71 themselves comparing themselves to all within the general social identity group. As the women chiseled out more distinct social identities, through categorization, only those who share this distinct social identity became relevant and were used in co mparison. Festinger also suggests that this comparison is twofold, when individuals compare upward they feel the other is doing this shared identity better (leading to negative self feelings), when the individual compares downward, they feel the other is doing the identity worse (leading to self enhancement). This was true for the women, and acted as the mechanism for which they understood and constructed their social identities. Below Kate reflects this process in her discussion on comparison with other m others of special needs children. I will meet a new woman, a mother with a special needs child, and I will find out what she is doing or has done, and I will compare myself and say have I I think more than the other mother has, then I am patting myself on the back well I beat ing up and sadness and all that w if that period will ever end. Kate, 49 In this case Kate is comparing herself to oth er special needs mothers. When she feels like another special needs mother is doing that identity better she feels dissonance, guilt, and like she is not doing enough; when she feels like she is doing the feels like she is doing this identity well. While this process is more dissonant in this case, as this is a forced identity for Kat e this upward downward comparison was true for chosen identities. Below Cameron discusses this process in terms of claiming a distinct style identity
72 kept judging everything about myself, everything I was wearing, you know how my hair looked whatever, I judged it against her. Cameron, 48 In this case, because her and this similar other shared a similar identity in terms of style, Cameron found herse lf continua lly comparing herself. As Cameron points out it is not about becoming this other, it is more reflective of a shared distinct social identity performance, and a measuring of how well she was doing within that identity. From both ar that these comparisons are based on identity performance and this mean for my identity performance. This comparison was more pronounced early in the process when the women were unsure as to who they were within the social identity, often feeling novice or like a posers within the identity, therefore leading to more upward comparison. As the identity became more and more distinct, and the women felt more secure, com parison became less salient within the process, as the women knew who were and did not necessarily need to measure themselves in the same way. When they would compare at this point in the process, it would often lead to downward comparison as is illustrat ed in Kate excerpt below. confident, and I look at other women and their career choices, the things they have any l ess about myself as a woman and what I am doing, and what I have done. So I could say that I feel very confident in my life who I am and how I in teract with other people. Kate, 48 For Kate comparison has become less salient as she knows who she is with in her career identity We see in her quote, that when she does compare there is no
73 this case being at a point where she has constructed a distinct social identity a s a baker, allows for the comparison with general others to be irrelevant and unnecessary. While comparison was used to gauge one s performance within their social identity, it was also used to construct these identities. The women discussed using this com parison as a way to learn how to do their social identity better, or in other words collect identity indicato rs. Below Cara, Kelly, and Sherry discuss this experience with upward and downward comparison in terms of aging and their looks, and the learning p rocess that followed an upward comparison. [If someone is] worse than me it Cara, 48 maintain some air of grace and relevance. For example, my neighbor who eased the can grasp onto that iden tity and say, yeah I like that part of it, yeah that works for me. Kelly, 59 person. But as I look at the other person doing well I kind of want to learn about the other person s o I can do better for myself, or copy them, or learn something, like wow their makeup looks really great, I won der what they are using. Sherry, 55 What these excerpts reflect is the construction process that emerges from comparison with similar others. I f the women thought a similar other was doing their social identity better they would try to learn and collect identity indicators for their own performance within that social identity.
74 While upward and downward comparison influenced how the women constru cted comparison. What the women were insecure about became the target for comparison with similar others. Below Cameron demonstrates this in her discussion on her co mparison with other mothers. Is she in better shape than me? I go to these basketball games for [son], high school moms you it was more Cameron 48 Because Cameron is insecure about her looks 4 her insecurities become the driving force for upward and downward comparison. Cameron first categorizes herself as mother, and then compares herself with other mothers to gauge her performance, and the com parison is based on her insecurities. These insecurities have the ability t o thwart the process, as the women may feel like they cannot construct the identity they want. 5 Sandra reflects a similar narrative, suggesting the difference in comparison when one feels good about themselves versus insecure. compare] ; stressed out at work, and then you go to a pool party with all the Mrs. myself go. Sandra, 47 As Sandra points out, when a woman is not feeling insecure, it is not a source of comparison within a social i dentity, however when she is insecure it becomes a 4 Cameron admitted her insecurity to me during our interview. 5 ity to create a forced embodied identity.
75 mechanism for upward comparison, and influences the ways in which she experiences her social identity journey. We can see this again in Diana n ot looking so good, as th ey look attractive. the physique that I want, the one that I know I could feel the best at. Or if you only lost that weight you could wear that outfit again, because you probably have it ha nging in your closet somewhere. Diana, 55 Diana was not alone in her insecurities around her body, for all the women their bodies were a source of insecurity, especially when s eeking to construct their social identities as a middle age woman. Women compared their changing bodies, hair, skin, insecure in the embodied and cultural changes that foll owed this forced identity. This is reflected in the quotes below. I started looking at the teachers at school who are kind of the same age as me and going okay is my face starting to look like. .Sherry, 55 I always have a fear of becoming like my mother, w care o whole life trying to fi or example, I did botox about 4 years ago, but I really, I felt like I invent what I hav e. Lisa, 47 I look at s like
76 consuming, like the changes is all they deal with. So I am very aware, and I monitor people my age to see what their responses are, because people nd the feeling of I am somewhere in the middle, probably trying to figure out how to balance the anxiety, try to do a little bit to make myself feel better through the transiti on without being nutty about it every day. Kell y 59 In these excerpts the women use others within their lives to construct their ideas of middle age, as well as ways in which to counter the aging process, and the insecurities that come with a changing bod y. The women use others who have or are going through this process to determine how they themselves are doing, how they could possibly get through these changes, and for some this means coming out looking younger, and for others this means accepting their bodies as they are. The women realize both options, but struggle as this is a forced identity they do not want to accept. It is understandable that it would be almost impossible to come to terms with the things you are insecure about, especially thing that have emerged later in life. In general, for these women comparison plays a central part in the construction and negotiation of a social identity. It allows each woman to begin to measure herself in relations to similar others, and creates an opportunity f claim a more distinct social identity Comparison then acts as the mechanism for the collection of identity indicators. Collection Once the woma n begin s to claim a distinct social identity, she begin s the process of colle cting identity indicators that will allow her to feel like she is who she is claiming to be and can sincerely perform her social identity. The collection of identity indicators results from categorization and comparison with similar in group others. So, a s the
77 woman identifies these similar others and compare herself, she what these others are doing, and acqui re identity indicators for identity construction. This collection is what allows the woman to move through the social identity process, as she can piece together identity indicators that will allow her to match the social identity ideal she is carving out, or at least learn ways to accept these identities when forced into them. The excerpts below illustrate this collection the a cquiring and learning of identity indicators d of a learning process for me. Crystal, 52 Crystal offers a brief exam ple of the collection process. Crystal saw a similar other doing what she was doing, and through comparison came to the decision that this learn ways to do their shared distinct social identity better. The women also describe actively seeking similar others to help them construct a distinct social identity they wanted. This was more prevalent with women at the beginning of the social identity process tha n those at the end. This was present in Cameron identity that she was trying to acquire. I would want to surround myself with people like that, because I feel like they are going to make me be tter, they are going to help me improve on my journey. Like ok ay I am going to copy that, I am going to do that, you know, like I am always trying to ta ke bits and pieces from people Cameron, 48 Cameron reflects the ways in which women actively collect ide ntity indicators that allows distinct social identity better Again this would be more pronounced in the beginning of an identity as the women are becoming these
78 identities and learning how to be them, where further down the process the women may be comfortable with who they are, and in comparison find themselves equal to or better than those doing the same distinct social id entity. This was also true for Diana identity. classroom teachers for the deaf, among how many hundreds of thousands go to one knows more, unfortunately. Diana, 55 In this case Diana has formed a strong and clearly distinct social identity that no one else has; there is no immediate person to collect identity indicators w ith. In t his sense Diana has saturated the identity, setting the bar for all those who seek it, and therefore do es not need to compare or construct this identity. So what are the women actively doing when they are learning or acquiring these identity indic ators? While for each woman it is obviously different, as each woman has a different ideal sense of whom she wants to be within her distinct social identity, the women in general are seeking to acquire, learn, and co llect identity indicators. This is refle is discussing the observation of a similar other s her work identity. I think part of it was modeling to seeing how they were handling action, like in the business environment and stuff. And seeing what had gotten posi tive responses and what Holly, 59 For Holly collecting identity indicators was observing and learning how others did would acquire what worked for assertive others and
79 take from them what she felt worked well. This col lection was al so present in Kate narrative on constructing what type of wom an she wanted to be after living in Europe for a year in her twenties. It was huge, it was life changing as my mom always reminds me. And now that I think about it, I was wearing a lot of makeu p before I went on the trip, makeup anymore. So I pretty much gave makeup up altogether. I stopped wearing eye shadow, I wore maybe a little mascara, but I wanted a more natural look, like perspective on the important things. And something I noticed about the Europeans of my age group in the early twenties was that they were educated, so that was something I took care of right away, I went to school about looks. Kate, 48 For Kate construct her lifestyle as such. She collected identity indicators tha t would allow her to going to college. These aided her in claiming a lifestyle and identity she had chosen. What these quotes reflect is a key theme and common narrat stories and self analysis on constructing their social identities. All the women place emphasis on using similar in group others to learn how to choose (categorization) and construct (comparison and collection) a distinct social identity When a social identity is forced, categorization, comparison, and collection still occurs, but carries a much different sentiment. The women in the forced identity often feel resentment and ineptitude, and struggle to actively construct and accept an id entity they did not choose. This was seen earlier in narratives around aging. The women in this case are not seeking an ideal, but are coming to terms with the identity they were in a sense forced into. When the women discussed this process in terms of a f orced social identity, the process was much mo re dissonant. For example Diana wanted to be a stay
80 at home mother, but she could not due to finances. Because she could not do her ideal identity as a stay at home mother, and was in a sense forced into her id entity as working mother, she found herself comparing to both working and non working mothers. This created dissonance, as she was not able to construct the identity she wanted, initially. However over time, through rationalizing of her position, she was a ble to come to accept this identity. She came to this acceptance through comparison and reflection of her own identity with both working and non working mothers. In this way the process still held for her, but it was not as clear cut, and resulted in accep tance, rat her than active construction of a saturated identity. Completed/ Saturated Identities. What emerges following this process is a completed distinct social identity. The identity is completed in the sense that the women have either come to accept i t (forced identities), or the women have gathered enough identity indicators to the point that they have a saturated i dentity (chosen identities). In both cases the negotiation and construction process diminishes, as the women know who they are within the social identity, and have in a sense reached their ideal (or at least accepted reality). This is below. team mom) to feel know... I just wanted to do things my way and have fun; need it for any validation. Cameron, 48 In this case Cameron had become her distinct id entity as a team mom, and did Cameron also did not need validation from others, as she knew who she was within this
81 identity and was comfortable with it, thus being a co mpleted identity. This was also I do actually have two friends...they have always had a great sense of style. and look. But at the same time knowing tha t I have a whole different look, I Kate, 48 Kate still compares herself, as she has always loved he Kate did not use this comparison to construct her own style social identity, as she had completed or saturated a different disti nct style social identity. Kate does not feel id entity, and she uses this to distinguish herself. In this case being able to claim a distinct identity aids in creating a sense of sel f, allowing the women to call on these identities when they are presented with other s di stinct social identity. In Lisa narrative below we can again see that claiming a distinct social identity, or in a sense feeling comfortable within that identity, allows the women to feel positive, rather anxious as was seen during the construction process. d happy to be where I am, I think I feel comfortable about o ther people judging you either. Lisa Again we see t hat comparison diminishes when the women feel comfortable within their social identities. The women do not need to gauge their own performances (judge themselves) or others (j udge others), as they have completed the identity, and those others become irrele vant. Another theme that emerged in terms of a completed distinct social identity, was the qualification given by the audience. In this case the audience consists of others
82 who see the woman within this identity and respond either qualifying the identity as sincere, or not. For these women, the most important audience for qualifying their so cial identity performance are significant others (friends, family), and similar distinct social identity others (as t hey can identify a sincere versus insincere perfor mance). Diana demonstrates this in her narrative on becoming an artist. post my pictures on Facebook, to my friends, so that they could see them, I was ge would say, about December, I was no longer dabbling in p ainting, I am an artist. Dian a 55 For Diana her Facebook friends acted as an au dience, qualifying her social identity as an artist, therefore allowing her to see herself as such (completed identity). Below Cameron shares her experience realizing she has emerged into a distinct saturated social identity. when I end up being the person that is is starting, the last couple of years or so I find more and m ore people are to the point where I know it probab Cameron, 48 For Cameron, the audience response to her social identity performance acts as a measuring tape, allowing Cameron Interestingly Cameron reflects agency in her reflection on the things she has done to consistent insecurity with her appearance. That being
83 said, this does su ggest that regardless of insecurities, individuals can complete a distinct social identity. identity performance, similar distinct social identity others also play an interesting r ole once an identity is claimed and completed. These others, because they share such a similar social identity, an identity that gives the women a sense of self and relevance, have the ability to threaten the woman. In this sense, if this other is so simil ar, and doing the identity better, they h ave the ability to make the woma n feel inferior within this identity, therefore thr eatening her sense of self. Kell y sums this up best below. It someone coming in and they kind of look like you, in the supermarket, whether its you know wherever, you want to claim some identity, you want to cla think anybody wants to feel invisib le, I think, or vulnerable. (You ) want to feel like you are han ging on to something, you know. Kell y 59 As Kell y illustrates, those who are too similar have the ab ility to invalidate or make her feel invisible if they are doing this distinct social identity better. In this sense, the women are not just constructing social identities, but are also in competition for claiming this distinct social identity. So as we can see a distinct social identity is one that give s the women a sense of relevance, as well as functions as a means to define themselves within a soci al identity group. In sum, social identities emerge through a process wherein women categorize themes into distinc t social identities, compare themselves with similar in group others, and collect identity indicators that will allow them to sincerely claim and perform these identities. Once they have gone through this process, they emerge as a distinct unique social id entity which helps to provide them with a sense of self and relevance.
84 CHAPTER 6 ADDITIONAL RESULTS AND FUTURE RESEARCH The social identity process I have proposed emerged from my exploration of how women become their social identities. The theoretical fr amework I have offered is my nuances in their narratives, relative to their social identi ty processes that I believe are worth exploring. In this section I will briefly discuss these themes, and I offer them a s areas that could be explored in future research on identity processes, as I was only able to touch the surface of their meanings in th experiences. The Role of Identities As I have discussed, social identity processes do not exist in isolated bubbles, but rather are made in relation to other identities the individual may have. Social identity proce sses then are holistic processes where the women use their other identities to choose, construct and perform a g iven social identity. Below Kell y illustrates this, she is in the process of choosing a new career after losing her business, and reflects on he r other identities in that process What I have done in the process is try to shuffle off things that I would not even be interested in, and do that by kind of connecting with what my music... I am also looking at the same time to make myself look more presentable so that I interview well, that I am taken serious as not just an old middle class middle age woman, you kn ow, that I have vitality that I have something to bring that is obv iously tangible. Kell y 59 In this case, when considering her options, Kell options. In other words, her options are going to reflect other identities she m ay have.
85 Kell y is not going to be a piano teacher because pianist is no t an identity that she has. Kell y then e xamines what skills she does have what she has to offer to future career opportunities, and seeks to reconstruct an identity that makes her hira ble, which includes countering stigma she grapples with in terms of her own middle age identity. In this excerpt we can begin to see that other identities are considered in the construction of new identities. Identities were also used as defense s for the w omen whether it was to counter feelings and identities the y did not want, or if the felt threatened in their identity performance or claim Holly discusses playing into her work identity to counter dissonance within her widow identity. Below we can see tha t committing to her work identity more acted as a defense against a dissonant identity (widow). In this case one identity acted as a defense agains t another identity she did not want. wo rkaholic, that kind of thing, like supplementing in different areas or more but I do have a good job. Holly against dissonant identities. By using her work identity to define herself and fill her time, she counters the negative effects of her new widow identity. I dentities also function as defenses when the women felt their identity was mance was called into question. This occurred when the women felt one threatened their claim to a distinct unique identity (performing it better), if one had more identity capital (better identity indicators), or during downward comparison (the comparison target is doing the identity better). This also occurred when the comparison target did something well that the women were insecure about (i.e. looking younger within the middle age identity). In these instances
86 the women would feel threatened, and would a ccess their other identities to counter this threat. Cameron illustrates this below. Cameron : Make yourself feel better? Yea absolutely! Like there is this whole unconscious running monologue that you have with yourself, if you meet up with somebody who looks better than you, you start evaluating everything else, well does she have a good marriage? Does she have this? You know is she a mom? We ll its like ok I am still good. Cameron points to i dentity work done when one identity is threatened. Cameron illustrates a scenario wherein another woma then offers how she would use her other social identities as a defense against this threat. In this case Cameron would s tart comparing her social identities in relation to the woman, if she felt like she was better within her other social identities, then the threat identities function as a defense in situations where one may feel threatened. identities were very much informed by previous and other current social identities. Social identities functioned as a means to c onstruct new identities, defend against sense of relevance, specifically within the social group (i.e. being an artsy mother around mothers). Future research could possibly explore these themes further, as well as other functions of social identities The Role o f Media Images Media images are an interesting avenue to be explored in relation to how women construct and become their social identities in everyday life. Literature suggests that media images have a large effect on how wo men experience their identities, compare
87 themselves to other, and their experience within a given cultural context ( Holmstrom 2004, Bessenhoff 2006, Grabe, Ward, Hyde 2008, Want 2009). That being sai d, the Many of the women said that media images at this point in their lives were not used to constr uct their social identities, as m edia images were too divergent fro m h ow the women saw themselves. F urther the women understood that the se images were comparison theory, where individuals tend to compare with relevant similar others, in concept (Festinger 1954). This is illustrated in the excerpts below. I definitely look around. I have this image of women in media, and then you ver matches what you see in media. I realize that it is unattainable. It is lights and magic and travel in, I mean maybe if I traveled in a crowd with people with a lot of money t hat could have the same clothes you see in media and the same plastic surgery then it would be different, but the people that I travel with, I So to me I pretty much convin ced mysel Cara 48 style, but no its fantasy to me. Because I know they can go and g e t anything done that they want. Kate 48 These feelings towards media images were echoed So while media images were not explicitly relevant in terms of comparing and constructing social identities media images seemed influent ial around topics of aging, the body, and most significantly identit y options for middle age women. In this sense media images play a central role in defining identity options within current socio
88 historical context. In other words, media images are not us ed in the construction process explicitly, but do influence identity choices within a given context. The Role of Socio Historical Context inherently tied to their current socia l historical context. The women discussed choosing and constructing identities within current cultural worship of youthfulness and lack of diverse repr esentations of middle age women (within media images). These themes are reflected in the excerpt below. tuck here or there, and dye your hair, because in the media and everywhere in popular movies and popular young people maybe if we had better representation of our age group out there maybe w e would feel better about that. Diana, 55 Diana lings, shared amongst the women, reflects context in which women ar e making identity choices. Diana feels there is over emphasis and representation of young women, which in turn determined identity cho ices for middle age women. Diana validates plastic surg ery, as a choice given the context she is living in, where one should fight middle age to stay relevant. Furthermore, Diana illustrates the role of media images as setting the tone for identity options. The women were also making identity choices that echo ed and even referenced famous middle age women, as well as themes of reinventing the self at any age seen in popular magazines such as Oprah and Self These references possibly suggest that these women are finding themselves in a period marked by choice, i ndividualization, and the burgeoning of new options for mi ddle age women (Budgeon 2003 ). Kell y illustrates this below.
89 I am claiming something; I am searching for how to get there. For instance traception very catholic as it is but I look to her. Of course she is one of the richest women in the world, but I look and say okay how do I get involved in one of those charities or foundations that you can actually, even if it is on a small level, you can emulate a person like that w h o is doing it on a big level. Kell y 59 Kell y is seeking to construct a new work identity and is looking for what her options are. Malinda Gates, as a public figure, provides choice within current context. Women can make their causes into careers, and in this case, Kell y is trying to translate this option in her own life. It seems that w omen in middle age are making identity choices within a context that allows for more choice and less gendered restraints. For example, many of the women discussed second ca reers and possible identities they could develop in retirement. Rather than the historically normative grand mother and volunteer identities these women desired traveling, philanthropy, second careers, and more creative ventures. In sum, media images were not relevant in terms of constructing (categorizing options and choices within current socio historical context. Identity choices were informed by current socio historic al context that under represents middle age women, reveres youthfulness, and provides more individualized and less restricted social
90 identity options. More research could explore the relationship between media images, socio historical context and identity choices and construction 1 The Role of t he Body Interestingly, the body came up as a main component in the construction and n identity indicator allowing the women to claim certain i dentities, had the ability to change the definition of the situation, and I think it could be viewed as a highly significant component in identity work and performance. For these women is seemed that their bodies function ed as identity indicators, meaning that having a certain type of body was used to perform a social identity. Many of the women discussed feeling limited in their style and middle age identity due to their ide ntities as they felt their bodies were not sufficient in indicating and performing the identi ty. Kell y reflects this below. r, and seen older women with long hair they look like crowns and witches, and its like its been one o f my identifying whatever thingies, one of my identities. One of my identities was I was the girl with long hair, you know. So it was like a been real difficult, and so I think my it, like I am looking around like how do I want to wear it now, what do I want to do with it you kn ow. Have a different identity. Kel l y 59 1 Shelly Budgeon (2003) offers a great analysis of socio historical context on identity choices among teen girls.
91 Kell y in this case is struggling with how to wear her hair within her middle age dle age identity, she is afraid that long hair will not carry the same meaning. Kell y does not want Kell y is seeking to construct her middle age identity, looking for appropriate hairstyles. What this suggests is that the body can function as an i dentity indicator and is used in the construction of social identities, allowing the women to claim (or not) certain identities For many of the women, social identity options were limited due to perceived stigma against their bodies. As the women were constructing and negotiating their middle age identities they were making choices with this cultural stigma against middle age women in mind. Again, their bodies acted as identi ty indicators, which for many of the women were still being constructed. Crystal illustrates this below in regards to her style identity. thought (without) it looking inappropriat into us, and it is inappropriate. Crystal, 52 In this case Crystal is seeking to continue to dress her body as she did when she was younger, but due to perceived cultural stigma around middle age bodies, does not feel that her body can carry those clothes, and therefore be used in performing her style identity. Crystal f performance. In other words we can begin to see how important the body is in constructing identity.
92 identities are used to negotiate and construct newer identities. Kell y wi th her long hair and Crystal with her style, for both women these embodied identities were used to define themselves as certain types of people (i.e. a social identity). However, as they moved into their middle age identity, they had to renegotiate past embodied identities to fit, however the body (middle age body) was the main mechanism determining whether they could do so. So again the body is salient in the construction of social identities, and i s imperative for translating meaning in identity performance. Another major theme around the body was its ability the change the meaning of the situation for the women. The meaning of a situation could completely change how the woman felt in her own body a nd identity performance. If there were other women with certain bodies that the women desired or felt were culturally valued, then the way they performed their identities and saw themselves would be different than if they were around bodies that did not ca rry the sa me meaning. For example, Sandra volunteered for a Christmas gift wrapping event with her son. She was scheduled to work with another women and her child. Before th e woman came to the event Sandra was happy to work with another mother on this proj ect. However when the mother arrived and the other mother changed. Sandra to change the meaning of the situation. This is illustrated in the excerpts below. So we walk in a room and we say who is she, than me, she is dressed groovier than me, how does she feel about me. We
93 on, how am I on the pretty level, well I am taller than everybody else, but I am older than everyone else, we define ourselves relationally. Betty 51 seems nice, but when you have that first initial meeting like face to face, there is such a sizing literally of o kay is she cuter than me? Is she in better shape than me? Like now I can continue feeling good about myself because physically I am thinner, you know. That just kind of happened to me recently, so I was the th inner one, so things were good. Cameron 48 Be tty and Cameron illustrate the role of the body in determining the meaning of the situation. Before they can perform their own identity within the situation, they gauge shap e, or prettier, it is going to change the way the women feel about their own identity, the situation, and their performance. Again, Sandra illustrates this below. are 20 years younger than me, I feel my age more. So not only were these girls younger than me, but they are able to do palates every single day. Now if I was with women my age that never work out and that are just, you know, not looking great, I would feel much better. Yeah, the difference. Sandra, 47 So in this case if is going to feel different about her own identity and the situation then if the wo is important to consider when thinking about how women construct and perform social identities, and the role of others. For women the body is imperative in the construction and performance process, as it acts as an identit y indicator, and can determine the meaning of the situation. Future research could explore this and other meanings attached to the body in identity work. In this section I have highlighted areas that could possibly be explored in future research, the role of the body, socio historical context, media images and other social
94 identities. There are certainly many areas that I have not discussed that could be examined as well. In general, h ow individuals choose, construct, and perform their social identities is a rarely examine d area that is ripe for explora tion. That being said, it is my hope that the theoretical framework I have offer ed in this project will be considered in future research.
95 CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSION Within the fields of sociology and psychology, theory on identity is vast. Both disciplines have gone into the depths of identity behavior, context, and group dynamics identities, specifically social identities. In th is sense there is a missing piece to the identity puzzle that is fundamental for conceptualizing identity and identity behavior. If we are to examine behavior in relation to a role or social identity, considering how one becomes that identity is the starti ng point. That being said, theory on identity is typically constructed based on methods of surveys with semi structured interviews and experiments. While these methods are valuable, to use these methods exclusively has limited access to theorizing identity in even more nuanced ways. Specifically using define his or her identity within their own everyday life, as research often starts with the researchers focus on a specific ident ity, rather than the individual. Furthermore, by constructing theory using these methods, research is susceptible to placing participants in superficial contexts they may never encounter, therefore limiting access to everyday identity work. In sum, these t raditional methods do not situate the participant in their intersectionality and everyday life. So, while both theory and methods in identity are indispensable, traditional approaches are limited in the sense that they often miss the opportunity to delve m ore deeply into the realities of identity formation. In this paper I have sought to fill the gaps I felt were missing in identity theory and methods Using feminist qualitative methods, I explored and conceptualized how their social identities. Specifically I have approached
96 every aspect of this project from a feminist approach, with three explicit goals. First, for the women to self define their identities and experience; second to situate identity theory and exploration their standpoints collaboratively; and third to be reflexive through every stage of the research process, which I believe is essential to making the work transparent for both the reader and th e participants With these goals in mind, I sought to not only explore identity formation, but also demonstrate the benefits of approaching identity research in this way. From my perspective approaching my research in this way gave me richer, nuanced, thic identity, shared stories. They were encouraged to self analyze, and together we co constructed a theoretical framework of becoming identity, based on their everyday lives. This theore tical framework, which I teased out in the analysis process, is what I have proposed in this paper. The framework that I have proposed is what I call the social identity process. This process is made up of three components: categorization, social comparis on, and collection. Both categorization and comparison are concepts that are used traditionally in social identity research, however I re imagine both concepts on a more micro level to conceptualize identity formation. Before beginning the social identity process, one has to initiate a new social identity. In this research there were two types of initiation, choosing an identity versus being forced into an identity. When a social identity is forced, the individual has a much more dissonant experience throug h the social identity process than those who choose the social identity characterized by agency and
97 process is unique regardless if the identity was chosen or forced the social identity process was inherent in their identity formation. Once the individual begins forming his or her social identity, entering the social identity group, he or she begins the process. Once entering the identity, one makes choices as to wh at type of social identity he or she wants to be. This is done through categorization within the social group. One categorizes herself into a distinct type of social identity. Once categorizing herself, she then compares herself to others who are doing the constructing the identity. only with relevant others. In this case individuals compare themselves to similar (categorized ) in group others. During this process, the individual either compares upward where the other is doing the identity better or downward where the individual is doing the identity better. When the individual compares downward, it functions as a means to val idate her social identity performance, when the individual compares upward the individual uses the dissonance to construct a better social identity performance. In this sense the individual uses those who are doing the identity better to learn from, and us e the information to construct a better more sincere distinct social identity. This construction is done through the collection of identity indicators, or material vehicl es. These include appearance related material, knowledge related to their social identity culture, language, activities, etc. that allow the individual to claim and perform the identity in a sincere way, meaning no one can question their authenticity in th e identity. During the comparison process individuals collect these identity indicators to
98 construct their social identity. Individuals do this until they have collected enough identity indicators to achieve a saturated identity, meaning they are authentic ally who they claim to be. Once one achieves a saturated identity, categorization and comparison is not necessary as the individual has constructed and completed the social identity process. In sum, what this process suggests is a continual back and forth of categorization comparison with those one categorizes themselves with as a mechanism for identity construction, and the collection of identity indicators that allows one to claim a distinct social id entity. These three components make up the social identity process, and are used to produce a completed social identity The social identity process is nuanced and does not exist in isolation; rather socio historical context. Identity choices are very much tied to the context in which one is living in. If one wants to take on a normative social identity, she is going to certainly have a different experience through the process than one who seeking to c onstruct a non normative social identity. suggests is that identity formation is not a neat proc ess; rather it is a complex and nuanced process that requires the consideration of many factors. In this paper I sought to demonstrate the benefits of using feminist approaches to identity research, as well as offer a theoretical framework for considerin g identity formation. It is my hope that this framework can add to theory and empirical research on identity. I also wished to capture the experience of the women in the study, and use
99 their experience within their multiple identities to inform theory. I h ope this research gives insight to those on their identity journeys, highlighting for them a light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing how powerful it is to complete a social identity(s), and now providing insight as to how that happens, this research can be beneficial to anyone searching for answers to the hidden world of identity formation. So, my question was how do we become our social identities? What seems to be underlying the social identity process is a them e of self definition and agency within socio historical context (providing identity choices and meanings). In contemporary American culture it seems w e become our social identities by defining who we are and going for it. What these women have unearthed to me is that uncertainty, dissonance, a nd perseverance emotions that are inherently intertwined with and informed by context, are what pave the path to becoming.
100 APPENDIX SAMPLE DEMOGRAPHICS Table A 1 Sample demographics Age Marital Status Occupation Number of Children (c h) Sexual orientation Average:52.57 Married:11 Work out of home: 14 0ch:2 Stragiht:15 Range: 47 61 Seperated:1 Home Maker:2 1ch:2 Lesbian:1 Divorced:1 2ch:6 Widowed:2 3ch:4 Single:1 N=16
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106 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Annie rec eived her Bachelors of Arts in s ociology from California State University, Northridge in the spring of 2 010. During her undergraduate career she worked under Dr. Vicki Jensen, publishing with her in Women Criminals: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues. Annie entered the University of Florida, Department of Sociology, and Criminology & Law in the fall of 201 1. Annie received her Master of Arts in sociology for the University of Florida in the summer of 2013. Annie is currently doing her doctoral work on identity, gender, and feminist approaches to research.