The term of identity is intertwined closely with the concept of self, which is, in turn, among the key ones in psychology. Also, identity is an object of multiple social, political, and cultural studies that are currently gaining a special topicality on the background of the ever-strengthening globalist trends. The primary issues to explore are the possible definitions of identity as well as the ways it may correlate with culture. Whether the formation of a self is universal or culture-specific, whether a culture determines a self or vice versa, whether a multicultural identity is possible or not – these and other questions are to be answered. This will allow for increasing the overall intercultural awareness, hence a more productive intercultural communication.
Associating oneself with a particular culture is an essential component of self-identification in general, as worldviews, notably, values and social rules, vary from one culture to another. Cross-cultural studies have revealed considerable differences in the perception and interpretation of basic social concepts depending on the culture a particular individual adopts. The findings of that kind drive to an assumption that a human self is formed in the course of maturation together with a cultural identity and is inseparable from it.
Definitions of Identity
In more general terms, the notion of identity is possible to define as a sense and recognition of belonging to a certain community. According to Larina et al., “an individual decides how he or she will engage with the community in question and determines the nature of the engagement” (2017, p. 112).
To build a relationship with the group a person finds themselves in, whether social or professional, ideological, or other, actually means to form the own identity. Meanwhile, in the sociological perspective, identity is a “learned notion of self combined with a sense of belonging expressed and experienced through values, ethnicity, language, nationality, locale, and the like” (Anheier, 2020, p. 3). Although this definition is still general, it illustrates clearly the connection between self and culture, which is actually in the list of the key instruments of social sciences.
The variety and multi-dimensionality of contacts and interactions within society determine the existence of several identity types. Thus, Matsumoto and Huang give accent to the following “three large classes” psychologists describe (2013, p. 357). Personal identity, which is very similar to the concept of self, comprises the qualities that distinguish oneself from the rest. Relational identities describe the qualities of oneself in relation to other people. Finally, collective ones actually correspond to the above more general definition, presupposing the recognition of belonging to a particular social category. Cultural identity, which is becoming ever more critical nowadays, is a subtype of the latter and apparently involves the sense of affiliation with a certain culture.
Structure and Formation of Identity
The primary point that is worth mentioning in the context of how individuals develop their identity is flexibility. Matsumoto and Huang (2020) highlight that identity is not a constant, but a fluid, changeable characteristic related to where a person finds himself or herself and who their interlocutor is. For instance, when talking to a foreigner, one would most probably synonymize their identity to citizenship, while residents of two different residential places within one country will identify themselves through those.
Considering the above, it is apparently relevant to regard identity as a multi-stage, multi-component construction possible to build and add to throughout a human life. Thus, Yan (2018) mentions the so-called macro and micro perspectives on, specifically, cultural identity. From the former, it comprises the identities of the nation and the country a person belongs to. Meanwhile, the latter “contains internal psychological processes such as attitudes, cognition, and emotions to specific groups” (Yan, 2018, p. 26). Subsequently, cultural identity exists at both personal and social levels, and the formation of it is integral to an individual’s psychology.
As mentioned above, cultural identity is a collective and personal phenomenon at the same time. Therefore, constructing it actually presupposes developing a self in a social environment and identifying the meaning a particular individual has in the group (Yan, 2018). Simply put, that is a process of social adaptation, in the course of which a person adopts the patterns of self-positioning as well as decision-making that are peculiar to the given culture. As a result, he or she becomes recognizable as a member of the nation or/and the resident of the country.
There are several factors that influence the development of cultural identity at a personal level. The first one is demographic indicators, notably, gender, age, and other. Yan (2018) emphasizes that females frequently demonstrate higher levels of national identity as compared to males, which makes them the inheritors of the culture. As for age, the expert mentions a direct correlation between it and the level of individual cultural identity, which confirms that the latter is formed gradually throughout the life.
Regarding the situations where an individual has to integrate into a new culture, there are two major points able to whether simplify or complicate the process. First, it will apparently be the more challenging, the greater the native and the adoptive cultures differ from each other.
Second, it is essential to receive support from the surrounding people, notably, relatives and peers. Yan (2018) with a reference to the previous research states that a higher level of parents’ cultural identity determines that in children, but in immigrant or minority families, parental influence is weaker. The most probable reason is an attempt to cultivate flexibility, so that the new generation can live in various cultural contexts rather than be limited by a single one. In addition, young people are generally less rigid as compared to the elderly, hence more likely to adopt new cultural patterns from peers.
Relations between Culture and Self
As it has already been highlighted, the concept of self is very close to that of personal identity, which, in turn, is the result of growing in a certain sociocultural environment. This allows assuming that the formation of a self necessarily presupposes learning “values, beliefs, thinking patterns and behavior” (Communication Theory). Normally, all of those serve to give an identity to a certain group and, consequently, to each of its members.
The influence of a culture on the formation of a human self can be described as follows. In one respect, integrating into the culture person lives in is a compulsory stage of developing a self, which makes this process universal. Along with that, what exactly an individual learns, is apparently culture-specific, for which reason so is the resulting self. Matsumoto and Juang (2013) apply the same principle to further development: although everybody seeks to enhance their self, members of different cultures choose different ways to do that. Therefore, a personal identity is strongly attached to the culture a person has adopted in the process of maturation.
By contrast, it is worth mentioning that a culture is not an isolated phenomenon, but comprises a big amount of selves that actually form it. Culture-bearers share and transmit from generation to generation values, traditions, and rituals that are referred to as heritage (Morton, 2019). Although not everyone is interested in their origin, it is apparent that such elements of a cultural code root at the times when the given culture was under formation.
Simply put, the lifestyle the ancestors led, the climate they lived in, their relationships with the neighboring peoples, and other factors encouraged them to act in certain ways. Generations of descendants did the same, which made them different from other groups of people. Considering that, it is relevant to characterize the self-culture relation as mutual and cyclic, notably, selves develop a culture, which later forms new selves.
All of the above drives to a conclusion that a culture is psychosocial rather than biological; in other words, it is not hardwired, but learnable. Therefore, it is possible to have more than one cultural identity, which is actually becoming increasingly widespread in the modern world due to the ever-more-intensive intercultural communication. Matsumoto and Juang describe how “bicultural individuals have multiple cultural systems in their minds and access […] depending on the context” and call this a “cultural frame switching” (2013, p. 359). Thus, a child of Arab immigrants to the United States has two cultural codes that are integral to his or her psychology, notably, Arab and American ones, and switches between them when needed.
It is essential to highlight that, in the broadest collective sense, a culture is associated with a nation, and the other way round. Therefore, when a certain nation grows dominant, the cultural norms typical of it begin to be “perceived as attractive and persuasive,” which strengthens its leadership further (Mulcahy, 2017, p. 34). As a result, separate elements of the culture spread across the world, similarly to American fast food or particular dishes of Japanese cuisine. This does not, however, allow for adopting the entire culture; a German who likes cheeseburgers does not acquire an American identity in addition. Integrating into a culture, which finally leads to developing a new identity, presupposes living in it.
A collective definition of such a term as identity is a sense of belonging to a certain category of population. Culturally, to have a specific identity means to recognize oneself as a member of a certain culture. A recognition of that kind apparently is acquired throughout the life and partly determines the behavior of an individual as well as the decisions he or she makes. In turn, a culture has ones been formed by a group of people whose behavior, values, or other distinguished them, which makes the relation between culture and identity mutual. As a culture is not initially integral to a human psyche, it is possible to adopt more than one, hence develop several identities. In this case, an individual is able to switch between their cultural belongings, depending on the context they find themselves in.
Anheier, H. K. (2020). Cultures, values, and identities: What are the issues? Global Perspectives 1(1). Web.
Cultural identity theory. (n.d.). Communication Theory. Web.
Larina, T., Ozyumenko, V., & Kurteš, S. (2017). I-identity vs we-identity in language and discourse: Anglo-Slavonic perspectives. Lodz Papers in Pragmatics, 13(1), 109-128. Web.
Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L. (2013). Culture & Psychology (5th Ed). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Morton, S. (2019). What is heritage? Discover your cultural identity. Family Search. Web.
Mulhacy, K.V. (2017). Public culture, cultural identity, cultural policy. Comparative Perspectives.
Yan, A. (2018). Cultural identity in the perspective of psychology. Journal of Psychological Research, 1(1), 25-30. Web.