During the past forty years there has been an explosion of writings, both scientific and nscientific, about the question of 'identity' and what it means to be an individual in today's world. This book examines sociological perspectives on identity in order to illuminate the perennial problem of defining the human person, and to pose a new definition of identity based on its being socially constructed. Beginning with a review of previous studies of identity, the authors present a set of propositions for organizing the wide range of uses of the term, and for arriving at an adequate definition of it. They then analyze identity in two contexts: one - gender identity - linked to present bodies, and the other - prenatal and postmortem identities - linked to future and past bodies. They show that whereas gender identity reveals the powerful but breakable link between body type and identity, prenatal and postmortem identities illustrate the symbolic reality and partial independence of identity from any corporeal existence. This analysis demonstrates the interpretive power of a theory of identity that views it as a reality constructed by human beliefs, actions, and artifacts in the process of people living together. It leads into a final chapter that raises a series of value issues about identity: Are some identities sacred and unquestionable? Are identities what make us real persons? Or are they mere masks that render us inauthentic. The issues of identity and a meaningful life are crucial in the modern world. This invative and insightful study will appeal to sociologists, social psychologists, and social philosophers concerned with understanding the nature of human identity and contribute to a sociological approach to generic issues in social psychology.
Andrew J. Weigert, Dennis W. Teitge, J. Smith Teitge