Conflict as 'motor' for identity change
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Conflict as 'motor' for identity change

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The German psychologist Erik Erikson was a pioneer in the study of psychosocial development in the 1950s. Erikson coined the term identity crisis claiming that conflict is the principle that shapes ...

The German psychologist Erik Erikson was a pioneer in the study of psychosocial development in the 1950s. Erikson coined the term identity crisis claiming that conflict is the principle that shapes identity transition. Conflicts refer to any difficulty or 'tension between wishes or between events that makes the flow of life less smooth, less even, less effortless' (Holloway, 2009, p.252). Centred on the issue of identity change, this essay aims to make an appraisal of the effectiveness of the argument by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of Erikson’s claim. It starts by explaining his argument and looking at a case study of becoming mother for the first time. It will then look at different theories and evidence that will reinforce the claim. The final part will conclude this evaluation by summarising the different ways of thinking about and understanding identity change as showed in the previous sessions.

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Conflict as 'motor' for identity change Conflict as 'motor' for identity change Document Transcript

  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved           Evaluation   of   the   claim   that   conflict   is   ‘the   motor   for   identity  change’.       The   German   psychologist   Erik   Erikson   was   a   pioneer   in   the   study   of   psychosocial   development  in  the  1950s.  Erikson  coined  the  term  identity  crisis  claiming  that  conflict  is  the   principle  that  shapes  identity  transition.  Conflicts  refer  to  any  difficulty  or  'tension  between   wishes  or  between  events  that  makes  the  flow  of  life  less  smooth,  less  even,  less  effortless'   (Holloway,  2009,  p.252).  Centred  on  the  issue  of  identity  change,  this  essay  aims  to  make  an   appraisal  of  the  effectiveness  of  the  argument  by  looking  at  the  strengths  and  weaknesses  of   Erikson’s   claim.   It   starts   by   explaining   his   argument   and   looking   at   a   case   study   of   becoming   mother   for   the   first   time.   It   will   then   look   at   different   theories   and   evidence   that   will   reinforce   the   claim.   The   final   part   will   conclude   this   evaluation   by   summarising   the   different   ways   of   thinking   about   and   understanding   identity   change   as   showed   in   the   previous   sessions.     The  theory  of  psychosocial  development  produced  by  Erik  Erikson  stated  that  changes  on  a   person’s  identity  occurs  in  the  course  of  life  time,  being  not  restricted  to  the  period  of  the   first  childhood  as  suggested  by  Sigmund  Freud  who  defended  the  idea  that  identity  is  shaped   in   the   early   stages   of   life.   Based   on   an   expansion   of   Freud’s   study,   the   theory   of   Erikson   provides   the   idea   that   identity   change   is   the   result   of   conflicts   experienced   in   different   phases   of   life.   The   transitions   from   childhood   to   adolescence   and   from   adolescence   to   adulthood   are   examples   of   life   stages   mentioned   in   Erikson’s   study.   According   to   his   theory,   these  phases  are  surrounded  by  conflicting  situations  which  represent  important  challenges   to   be   faced.   But   how   his   claim   can   be   sustained?   The   next   sessions   will   assess   Erikson’s   theory   from   other   perspectives   by   looking   at   the   study   of   the   sociologist   Wendy   Hollway   (2009)  which  provides  a  broader  view  on  the  issue  of  identity  change.     One  characteristic  of  Erikson’s  claim  is  that  it  focuses  in  the  single  aspect  of  change  over  the   life   course.   For   Hollway,   there   are   other   ways   to   look   at   identity   change   which   suggests   that   Erikson’s   claim   would   be   more   in   depth   explored.   On   her   approach,   identity   change   is   influenced   by   relationships   and   by   what   she   termed   ‘moment   by   moment   activities’   (Hollway,  2009,  p.253).  These  activities  and  relationships  are  determined  either  by  biological   events   such   as   ageing   process   or   by   choices   eventually   made   to   repair   or   adapt   to   a   new   situation.  Connected  to  this,  another  way  in  which  identity  change  can  be  studied  is  through   the   process   of   identification   which   relates   to   the   act,   conscious   or   not,   of   accurately   imagining   oneself   in   another’s   place   (Hollway,   2009,   p.   255).     Hollway’s   point   of   view   clearly   1    
  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved         places  the  issue  of  identity  changes  being  driven  by  conflicts  into  a  wider  perspective  than   the   one   used   by   Erikson   revealing   a   weaken   point   in   his   theory.     However,   it   is   clear   from   both   views   that   identity   change   motivated   by   conflict   despite   genuine   is   rather   complex.   Different   approaches   are   necessary   in   the   process   of   studying   identities,   and   researching   identity  is  a  great  source  of  information  for  social  scientists  like  Hollway  who  was  involved  in   a   large   research   program   sponsored   by   the   UK   Economic   and   Social   Research   Council   in   2003.   The   experience   of   becoming   a   mother   for   the   first   time   was   explored   using   the   research   method   of   ‘One-­‐to-­‐one’   interviews   and   aimed   to   investigate   identity   and   related   issues.  Using  qualitative  methods,  the  research  into  motherhood  seems  to  be  appropriate  to   address   the   question   that   conflict   is   what   propels   identity   change   as   it   marks   one   of   the   most   life-­‐changing   events   in   a   woman’s   life.   With   the   analysis   of   a   particular   case   in   which   a   woman   referred   as   Silma   was   interviewed,   it   is   possible   to   identify   evidence   to   positively   support  Erikson’s  claim.     The   arrival   of   Abeedah,   the   first   baby   of   the   young   Silma   was   a   remarkable   event   in   her   life,   and   this   is   not   only   because   of   the   family’s   excitement   observed   by   the   interviewer,   but   mostly   due   to   the   new   identity   Silma   would   have   to   assume.   As   a   member   of   a   family   originally   from   Bangladeshi   and   living   in   a   district   where   another   people   from   her   country   and  religion  are  massively  present,  Silma  have  in  the  community  an  extension  of  her  family.   In   the   presence   of   so   many   people   around   to   see   her   baby,   she   can   now   call   herself   as   a   mother   and   being   no   longer   a   young   woman.   She   now   has   responsibilities   that   she   used   not   to  and  the  relationships  with  another  ‘experienced’  mothers  are  shaping  her  new  identity.     The   concepts   of   practices   and   new   relationships   defended   in   Wendy   Hollway’s   study   are   clearly  present  on  Silma’s  new  life.  She  now  assumes  new  tasks  such  as  feeding  and  nappy   changing  and  sees  herself  in  the  same  position  of  more  experienced  mothers.  This  process  of   identification   observed   in   Silma’s   case   clearly   works   as   an   evidence   to   support   the   claim   about   identity   being   changed   due   to   conflict.   However,   the   method   of   ‘One-­‐to-­‐one’   interviews  may  not  completely  address  the  question.  Despite  providing  in-­‐depth  information   while   personally   hearing   the   stories   from   the   main   parts   involved,   this   method   does   not   achieve   many   individuals   and   it   is   uncertain   that   it   gives   evidence   over   a   long   period   of   time   (DD101,   Online   Activity   40).   Looking   at   the   three   concepts   used   by   Wendy   Hollway   where   she   places   ordinary   conflict,   identification   and   practices   and   relationships   as   processes   of   identity   change,   is   just   another   form   of   addressing   the   issue   elaborated   by   Erikson.   The   method  used  on  Hollway’s  research  which  focused  in  individuals  may  be  complemented  with   other  views  from  social  psychologists  who  specifically  study  social  groups.     Michael  Billig  (cited  in  Hollway,  2009,  p.  274)  studied  the  influences  social  groups  may  have   over  the  identity  of  an  individual.  And  this  is  what  could  be  observed  on  Silma’s  case  while   she  was  part  of  a  group  with  shared  backgrounds  and  common  qualities.  From  Billig’s  view,   2    
  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved         another  way  of  studying  identities  and  identification  is  provided  by  psychoanalysis  which  is   based  on  the  idea  that  many  of  our  motives  are  not  available  to  conscious  thought  or  control   (Hollway,   2009   p.   274).   This   means,   in   Silma’s   case,   that   she   developed   a   motivation,   yet   unconscious,   to   become   more   open   to   the   relationships   with   ‘older’   people.   Contrary   to   what  she  used  to  think,  the  proximity  with  another  mothers  are  now  a  comfortable  way  of   expressing  her  new  identity  generated  by  the  conflict  of  moving  from  a  young  to  a  mother   status.   Similarly   to   Wendy   Hollway,   this   complementary   view   on   identity   changes   offered   by   Billig   reinforces   Erikson’s   theory.     Another   way   to   understand   identity   change   and   find   evidence  to  support  Erikson’s  claim  is  provided  by  how  biologically  given  skin  colour  shapes   identity  through  dominant  social  meanings.     Following  Billig’s  concept  of  groupings  shaping  identity,  another  example  that  can  be  used  as   evidence   that   agrees   with   the   theory   of   Erick   Erikson   is   provided   by   racial   difference   and   black   identity.   In   Black   Skin,   White   Masks   (1952,   cited   in   Hollway,   2009,   p.   278),   the   psychiatrist  Frantz  Fanon  uses  his  own  experience  of  being  a  black  man  moving  to  Europe  to   explain  how  he  felt  among  white  people.  By  placing  himself  in  the  group  of  black  people  as   part   of   a   ‘schema’   in   which   white   people   is   seen   as   ‘superiors’,   he   declared   that   ‘the   significance   of   skin   colour   is   not   about   biology   but   about   how   this   aspect   of   biology   is   treated  and  experienced  in  social  relationships’.  This  argument  from  Fanon  can  be  linked  to   Erikson’s  claim  that  identity  is  constantly  changing  over  the  life  course.  Like  in  Silma’s  case   where  she  had  to  adapt  to  a  new  identity  while  becoming  mother  for  the  first  time,  Fanon   have  also  experienced  a  conflicting  situation  when  facing  ‘the  white  man’s  eye’s’  (Hollway,   2009,   p.   278).   From   Hollway’s   work,   it   is   not   stated   whether   Fanon   had   to   assume   a   new   identity,   consciously   or   unconsciously   as   psychoanalysts   would   suggest.   However,   another   case   based   on   racial   difference   shows   a   black   young   man   facing   the   conflicting   aspect   of   moving   from   the   status   of   a   student   to   a   job   seeker.   While   role   playing   an   imaginary   conversation  with  a  potential  employer,  Anthony  places  himself  as  someone  inferior  in  the   preference   of   the   employer   due   to   its   skin   colour   and   how   he   imagine   white   people   sees   him.   This   ‘inferiority   complex’   showed   by   Anthony   is   clearly   an   identity   crisis   empowered   by   the  fact  that  he  needs  to  change  his  social  status.  In  this  sense,  Erikson’s  theory  is  present  in   Anthony’s  example  as  he  is  in  a  moment  of  his  life  where  changing  is  necessary.     To   conclude,   in   such   complex   subject   that   is   Identity   change,   this   essay   tried   to   show   that   in   order   to   evaluate   Erickson’s   claim   it   is   necessary   to   look   at   other   perspectives   other   to   concentrate   on   the   single   argument   that   identity   changes   in   the   life   course.   The   research   project  narrated  by  Wendy  Hollway  by  mentioning  Silma’s  case  while  having  the  first  baby   provided   an   insight   that   identity   changes   are   resultant   of   a   set   of   concepts   of   ordinary   conflict,  identification  and  practices  and   relationships.   The   theory   of  Michael   Billig   was   used   to   support   Erikson’s   claim   by   offering   a   view   that   identity   can   be   influenced   by   groups.   3     View slide
  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved         Finally,   the   study   on   racial   difference   has   shown   that   the   ethnicity   issue   was   a   factor   of   conflict   competing   against   a   tangible   event   that   was   the   moving   of   Fanon   to   Europe   and   the   new   social   status   of   Anthony.   These   three   major   examples   helped   to   support   Erikson’s   argument  that  conflict  is  the  motor  for  identity  change.       4     View slide
  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved         References     Hollway,  W.  (2009)  ‘Identity  change  and  identification’  in  Bromley,  S.,  Clarke,  J.,  Hinchliffe,  S.   and  Taylor,  S.  (eds)  Exploring  Social  Lives,  Milton  Keynes,  The  Open  University.   Open  University  (2009)  DD101  Exploring  Social  Lives  ‘Online  activity  40,  Social  science   evidence  9:  ways  of  collecting  evidence’  [online],   https://learn2.open.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/660046/mod_resource/content/2/html/40_4.html   (Accessed  17  April  2013)       5    
  • THE  OPEN  UNIVERSITY  UK_PHIL  VEIT  ©  All  rights  reserved             6