Sociology Essays – Postmodernism Identity Formation
Sociology Essays – Postmodernism Identity Formation

Sociology Essays – Postmodernism Identity Formation

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  • Pages: 14 (3780 words)
  • Published: September 18, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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Postmodernism Identity Formation - Identity Formation in the Postmodern World


The purpose of this essay is to examine identity formation in the postmodern world, beginning with definitions of postmodernism and identity formation. The subsequent discussion will focus on how identities are shaped.

The chapter titled "Introduction: Postmodernism and Identity Formation" discusses Giddens' concept of the "reflexive self" and Hall's theory of the 'crisis of the self'. It explores how recreational drug usage and globalization impact the formation of multiple narrative representations of ego.

Postmodernism is a state or set of states that reacts against modernism. It lacks a clear organizing principle and embodies complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, and interconnection. Postmodernism reflects a general dissatisfaction with modernity and significant changes in attitudes towards the past and long-held beliefs. Definitions of postmodernism vary across research fields and among different schola


rs within those fields. Some scholars even argue against its existence altogether, disputing the presence of postmodernity.

Giddens (1991) coined the term 'post-traditionalist' to describe society's current state. While some perceive postmodernism as a worldview, others view it merely as a buzz word (Hebdige, 2006). Kirby (2006) concurs with Hebdige's perspective and contends that postmodernism has lost relevance due to the emergence of pseudo-modernism. Conversely, some argue that postmodernism was never an authentic movement but rather a rough outline of self-referential ideals (Willis, 2007, p.44). Many believe that postmodernism is essentially devoid of meaning as it fails to contribute significantly to our collective knowledge base.

Regardless of the terminology used, the significance of identity formation in our evolving, 'post modern' society cannot be ignored. The question arises as to how individuals in this fragmented, multi-narrative society shape their identities. This inquiry holds sociological importanc

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because the factors and circumstances surrounding the development of our identities have become more diverse, intricate, widespread, and dynamic in this 'post modern' world.

The process of identity formation involves an individual constructing a unique personality that distinguishes them from others. Not only does this process define how others perceive the individual but also how they perceive themselves (see Levine et al., 2002). Maintaining this definition requires fostering uniqueness through continuity and association (see Levine et al., 2002). Ultimately, identity formation leads to personal identity where one's sense of self is established through individuality and understanding of self-concept (see Levine et al., 2002).

In a post-modern world, what does identity mean? For many individuals, identity has transformed into a flexible concept - an open-ended question - that evolves as they navigate both physical and virtual environments while engaging with various interests and interactions.

In modern terms, the ego is constantly changing, flexible, or according to Berzonsky (2005), individuality is dynamic, diverse, relative, context-specific, and fragmented (Berzonsky, 2005). Additionally, Berzonsky (2005) argues that ego identity can serve as a way for individuals to express themselves in this fractured, post-modern world. Kellner (1995) and Featherstone (1991) posit that in the post-modern world, identity is closely associated with the active consumption of products provided by the media and entertainment industries (Ott, 2003). Multiple academics, although with differing views on the mechanism behind this, agree that socio-cultural factors and forces that shape differentiation and establish the boundaries necessary for identity have significantly changed in recent decades (Ott, 2003; see Kellner, 1995; Rosenau, 1992; and Van Poecke, 1996). As Poster states, "...

According to Ott (2003, p.58), there is a rise of a post-modern

society that encourages different signifiers of individuality compared to those of modernity. As argued by Kellner (1995), individuals can identify themselves as various societal roles and possibilities, such as being a female parent, a son, a Texan, a Scot, a professor, a socialist, a Catholic, or a lesbian. These identities are still relatively fixed and limited; however, the boundaries of potential individualities, including new ones, are constantly expanding (Ott, 2003, p.63).

As economic sciences shift from goods-based to service-based and from centralized mass-production to trans-national, globalized production, individuals are less likely to conform to preexisting categories and roles based on class, gender, and ethnicity, leading to a decrease in societal importance of these factors (Crook et al., 1992, p.84). Simultaneously, the consumption of ideas and lifestyles becomes increasingly significant (Kellner, 1995). Consequently, individuality and difference are now primarily defined and expressed through consumer choices and consumption (Ott, 2003). According to Ott (2003), the culture industry serves two main functions in relation to identity formation: it provides explicit models of identity for consumers to emulate and supplies the symbolic resources needed for individuals to construct or reconstruct their identities. Cultural media such as television, magazines, and advertising play a crucial role in shaping the concept of identity by offering identity models and the necessary symbolic resources for individuals to adopt their chosen identities (Ott, 2003). However, as Ott (2003) argues, this process of purchasing identity can have serious consequences, including losing sight of one's true self.

The analysis of The Simpson's as an example of postmodern individuality building by 74 provinces suggests that Homer's character is defined by his actions such as eating, drinking, and belching. There is

no deeper essence beyond these behaviors, resulting in ineffective and absurd societal and political action. In today's postmodern world, consumerism greatly influences the formation of individual identities. The media presents numerous identities, making it easy to lose sight of one's true self. However, Berzonsky (2005) argues that ego individuality can still serve as a way for individuals to express themselves amidst the fragmented nature of the postmodern era. It is influenced by consumerism but remains a product of personal experiences and decisions about 'self'. Furthermore, ego identity offers a personal perspective for acting and making decisions in this fractured and fluid postmodern world.

According to Berzonsky (2005), individuality is seen as a fluid construct in the postmodern sense. However, individuality is still defined as a uniqueness that remains consistent over time and location. Therefore, there cannot be multiple individualities. Instead, there are different facets of one's personality that can be expressed through consumerism, where various purchases allow individuals to showcase different aspects of themselves (Berzonsky, 2005, p. 133).

In summary, the formation of individuality in the postmodern era is influenced by consumerism and is necessary due to the constant changes in society, politics, economics, and technology. Berzonsky (2005) argues that the search for individuality is important in a postmodern age where fluidity is required and different expressions of oneself are needed. This is in contrast to Ott's (2003) more pessimistic view that postmodernism leaves individuals empty at their core. However, both theories acknowledge the need for multiple narratives to navigate the fluid concepts presented by postmodernism. The following sections will further explore these ideas.

Chapter 2 - Literature Review ; A ; Methodology


following section outlines the methodology used to conduct the literature review, which serves as the foundation for this work. It explains how the literature review was performed in practice to locate and utilize relevant literature. Specifically, it describes the methodology employed to analyze the research question, "How is identity formed in this postmodern world?" A literature review involves categorizing and evaluating previously published works on a specific topic. The organization of the literature review is based on the research objective, providing a systematic and comprehensive review of previous work in that area. Insights gained from this review can inform future research in the field.

A comprehensive understanding of the existing literature is essential for researchers. It involves conducting a thorough review to identify specific sub-topics that require further investigation. This literature review informs current research plans and guides future research efforts. For this study, a literature-based library approach was deemed the most efficient and practical method considering human resources and time constraints.

It is important to note that "the literature" in this work includes textbooks, academic books, and relevant research published in journals. The purpose of conducting a literature review is to align current research with previous studies, present different perspectives for evaluating proposed research, and validate the current research program by assessing relevant existing work (Hart, 1999).

A literature review is typically conducted before starting new academic research. It provides a comprehensive overview of past research and offers insights into how other researchers have addressed similar issues.

In this sense, a literature review is both a simple review and evaluation of existing literature on a topic. It examines the relationships between the existing works (Hart, 1999). The literature

review also allows for an evaluation of how the proposed research relates to and builds upon the existing research. This puts the proposed work into context and prompts relevant questions about what is already known, the relationships between key ideas, existing understanding of the topic, necessary evidence, and the contribution the proposed research will make to the literature (Hart, 1999). This exercise may be time-consuming but is valuable in determining which problems to address in the research, how to approach them, and how to present the literature review once the relevant literature has been searched, evaluated, and summarized (Krathwohl, 1988). Reviewing previous work can therefore serve as a practical guide for conducting research from its initial stages to completion (Madsen, 1992).

The main objective of conducting a comprehensive literature review is to find and locate relevant literature, read and analyze the information found, and evaluate the information within the context of the research being undertaken (Muskal, 2000). This process involves various skills, such as retrieving necessary information, collecting and organizing data, critically evaluating the information, and generating research questions based on the gathered and evaluated information (Fink, 2004). Standard bibliographic databases are commonly used to search for relevant literature (Hart, 1999). For example, if one wants to explore how identity formation occurs in the postmodern world, they would start by understanding general concepts of identity formation and postmodernism before using these as search terms. The database would then provide details of any existing literature that is relevant. If the search results yield a large number of broad articles, more specific search terms such as "identity formation and postmodernism" or "Antony Giddens" can be used to narrow

down the results.

The typical process involves narrowing down search terms until literature containing specific information about the research topic of interest is found. These selected articles can then be thoroughly examined or used as a starting point for further searches. For instance, conducting a 'Citation' search allows finding other related articles that have cited the original article as a reference. This type of search often yields more recent work that has referenced the original research article in some way, either by utilizing its findings to support their own discoveries or incorporating it into their own research. The results obtained from searching bibliographic databases should be collected as they will serve as the foundation for reviewing relevant literature in any future academic work on this subject. Searching bibliographic databases is an acknowledged research tool and is considered an ethical research practice (Anson and Schwegler, 2000).

When searching for literature related to this work, the following terms were utilized: 'postmodernist identity', 'Giddens', and 'identity formation'. The bibliographic database Web of Science was employed, which encompasses articles from multiple disciplines such as psychology and philosophy. Several criteria were used to determine the inclusion of literature in the search results. These criteria included relevance to the topic, specifically if it contained information on identity formation and postmodernism, as well as recency.

The work only utilized literature published within the last 15 years for its up-to-date information, providing an overview of the topic and contextualizing the research. Specifically, it included literature on identity formation and postmodernism. The References section at the end lists all used literature. Incorporating other researchers' work is essential for advancing knowledge on a specific topic as it builds

upon previous research to avoid redundancy and progress in a positive direction (Krathwohl, 1988).

Using others' work in the creation of a literature-based piece is considered ethical as long as the original work is properly referenced and cited (Madsen, 1992). Therefore, conducting research by searching bibliographic databases and utilizing relevant literature is an acceptable protocol.

Chapter 3 - Examples of Postmodern Identity Formation

Recreational Drug Culture

One example of postmodern identity formation is the consumption of recreational drugs. The use of recreational drugs became more prevalent with the emergence of the dance and rave scene in the 1980s and escalated further during the rise of clubbing culture. Surveys indicate that approximately 79% of clubbers have experimented with recreational drugs at some point in their lives, with ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine being the most commonly used substances.

Although Ketalar, diacetylmorphine and GBH were also mentioned in the responses to the study (Home Office Survey, 2003), the same study (Home Office, 2003) found that the majority of the individuals interviewed believed that drug-taking was an inherent part of their lives, which enhanced their clubbing experience. Most of the interviewees admitted to using recreational drugs and drinking alcohol on the same night every time they go clubbing. This finding does not imply that drug-taking is widespread in the general youth population, as many young people are not 'clubbers' and therefore may not be involved in the drug scene (see Measham et al., 2001). However, recreational drug-taking plays a significant role in many young people's lives, as it is a way for them to express themselves and identify themselves to others. Why do young people engage in recreational drug use? Coggans and McKellar (1994)

examine drug use among young people and review the importance of 'peer pressure' in the onset of illicit drug use; they find little actual evidence for a causal relationship and argue that the role of individual choice in drug taking needs to be analyzed.

According to Coggans and McKellar ( 1994 ), individuals have the freedom to engage in recreational drug use, regardless of whether or not it is influenced by social interactions with peers. The decision to do so is therefore necessarily a result of peer pressure. Novacek et al. ( 1991 ) conducted a study on teenage recreational drug use, identifying five main reasons why teenagers admit to using drugs: to feel a sense of belonging, cope with their problems, experience pleasure, enhance creativity, and cope with inner aggression. The frequency of drug use varies depending on these different reasons. Moreover, Novacek et al. ( 1991 ) found that the reasons behind drug use differ based on age and gender, with older males more likely to use drugs for pleasure and younger girls more likely to use drugs for a sense of belonging. Dorn ( 1975 ) examines the various functions and types of possible explanations for drug use, concluding that society assigns a negative label to drug use in order to determine how to address it. This leads to the development of policies aimed at social control and providing assistance to drug users in need.

According to Dorn (1975), there are various reasons why individuals choose to use drugs, including social and economic factors, as well as personal experiences that lead them to make the decision to seek out drugs. Each of these paths

to drug use reflects the individuality that the person has developed for themselves, making it a unique path to forming their identity.

Duff (2004) argues that recreational drug use can be seen as a "practice of the self," similar to what Foucault would say. It is an expression of one's ego and should be approached with a mindset of moderation, rather than being seen as an illegal problem in society. By referencing Foucault's thoughts on pleasure, Duff (2004) offers a different perspective on recreational drug use, helping us understand how it changes among young people and providing new conceptual frameworks for developing policies to control drug use.

Continuing this line of thought, Duff (2005) examines recreational drug use among a group she calls "party people," finding that drug use has become normalized within this group. Similar to the findings of the Home Office (2003), drug use among these young people has become a regular part of their leisure time, just as normal as having a beer or smoking a cigarette. This normalization of drug use has implications for policy development, particularly in terms of implementing harm reduction programs.

Overall, these discussions by Dorn (1975), Duff (2004), and Duff (2005) shed light on the various reasons and contexts behind recreational drug use and offer insights for policymakers in developing effective strategies for managing drug use.

According to Duff (2005), recreational drugs have become normalized and accepted among young people, both within their social groups and in wider society. For those who regularly use drugs, it has become a part of their identity in modern times. While there are reasons why they should not be using these drugs, for them it

has become a normal behavior and they feel safe purchasing drugs from their friends (Sherlock and Conner, 1999). This easy access to drugs may explain why respondents are comfortable admitting their drug use and see it as a natural part of their social lives. Taking drugs is as natural to them as any other aspect of their chosen lifestyle (Duff, 2005).

Jay (1999) examines the reasons why young people engage in recreational drug use. He considers both the traditional medical model, which suggests addiction as the main cause, and a newer perspective that argues drugs are taken for pleasure (see Parker et al., 1998). The latter hypothesis appears to be more plausible as it is recreational drugs that provide pleasure and therefore result in fewer instances of abusive behavior.

According to Jay (1999) and Siegel (1989), the use of recreational drugs for pleasure has been observed even in the animal kingdom. Jay (1999) further argues that society's increasing adventurous and accepting nature has contributed to the belief that pleasure is the main reason for recreational drug use. This societal climate has influenced young people to view experimentation with recreational drugs as acceptable behavior during their formative years when they are shaping their own identity. Despite recognizing the illegality and potential dangers of drug use, as noted by Duff (2005), they minimize the risks by obtaining drugs from trusted peers and rationalize the illegality by referencing other, more serious crimes that go unpunished and the historical illegality of alcohol, which is now legal.

According to McCrystal et al. (2006), drug usage being illegal is not a concern for individuals who consider it a normal part of their lives. They

believe that as long as they keep their drug usage low-profile and personal, they are unlikely to be punished. In their study on 11 to 12-year-olds, it was found that there are high levels of drug usage in this age group, including many students who are regarded as "good." These students use drugs for various reasons, such as seeking pleasure and alleviating boredom. Peer pressure was rarely reported. Similar to previous studies by Jay (1999) and Duff (2005), it was suggested that drug usage has become normal for this group of children. Bahora et al. (2008) also found similar results when examining ecstasy usage in the United States, where it was considered a normal behavior by those surveyed, something that "everyone does."

Recreational drug usage serves as a means of expressing one's individuality and finding acceptance within a particular subgroup of society. It is commonly observed that young people, particularly those involved in dance culture, widely engage in recreational drug use. However, it is important to note that even younger individuals, as young as 11 or 12, are also regular users of marijuana (McCrystal et al., 2006), suggesting that the issue of drug use is not limited to clubgoers. This essay presents various reasons for drug use, including peer pressure, curiosity about the effects of drugs, a desire to belong, coping with personal issues, seeking pleasure, enhancing creativity, and managing internal aggression. The frequency of drug use generally aligns with these different motivations (Novacek et al., 1991).

It has also been observed that people have stated that they use drugs because it is considered normal to do so, it is nothing out of the ordinary, and that

‘everyone does it’ and therefore, they do it too (see, for example, Duff, 2005). Hence, there are numerous reasons why people start using and continue to use recreational drugs, all of which are rooted in forging individuality.

Chapter 4 - Consumption and Identity

Dunn (1999) argues that postmodernism has resulted in a shift in the foundations of identity formation, something that itself marks the post-modern era. As Lyon (2000) eloquently puts it: “... we are consumers of entertainment, shopping for a self.” (Lyon, 2000, p.75). Advancements in information technology and the ability to shop anywhere, anytime have reduced time and space, meaning that we now require instant access to information.

Peoples are constantly in demand and accessible “24/7,” leading to changes in our perception of ourselves and our position in the world. We now inhabit a world that we feel more familiar with, one that is virtually accessible with a simple touch or click, whenever we want it. We can instantly find information on any topic of interest. Through this seamless and immediate process, we experience a sense of belonging to a global community that surpasses our traditional, local identities.

According to Lyon (2000) in his book "Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Post-Modern Times," postmodernism is a complex societal state influenced by modernism and characterized by the impact of information technology, social networking, and consumerism. The development of information technology has made the world smaller and individuals more disconnected, while consumerism has allowed for greater self-expression. This process has connected people with more individuals, information, and places, but it has also led to a decrease in genuine physical, intimate, face-to-face relationships, resulting in social isolation. McPherson et al. (2001)

found that Americans today have significantly fewer friends compared to two decades ago, which contributes to increased social isolation. However, McPherson and Smith-Lovin's (1987) hypothesis of homophily remains relevant for virtual friends.

According to McPherson et al. (2001), members of online forums tend to connect with people who are similar to them in various socio-demographic factors and interpersonal features. As Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a-changing," and this is evident with kids nowadays plugging into their iPods, downloading music at their convenience, and accessing information on the internet as they desire. It is now possible to create separate communities online that cater to individual preferences.

Technology has given people the ability to choose how and when they want to interact with others. They can disconnect from fellow commuters by using an iPod, connect with cyber-friends through shared music tastes on the same device, and participate in online forums if they so desire. Choice is prevalent and seen as a fundamental right of this generation. The freedom of expression is exemplified through platforms like blogs and specialist online forums that cater to diverse interests. Websites such as You Tube and My Space further enhance this freedom, allowing individuals to select who they want to interact with and when. This "artificial" cyber life has become the actual life for many young people. It may be unfamiliar to their grandparents and difficult to understand.

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