February 14 , 2014
The Cultural Construction of Identity
How do people determine who they are and how do they communicate who they think
they are to others?
• We are not born knowing who we are or our place in the sociocultural landscape
• We learn how to be Canadian, women or men, friends, daughters or sons, lovers
1. How is identity and one’s sense of self learned?
2. How do societies distinguish individuals from one another?
3. How does the concept of personhood vary from society to society?
4. How do individuals communicate their identities to one another?
5. How do individuals defend their identities when they are threatened?
Question 1: How is Identity and one’s sense of self learned?
• Identity: learned personal and social types of affiliation
• Enculturation: Process through with individuals learn an identity
o Can encompass parental socialization, the influence of peers, the mass
media, government, or other forces
• IMPORTANT Commonsense vs Anthropological Understanding: identity =
Nature vs Nature
• Phrase references longstanding debate concerning whether or not human
behaviors and identities are the result of nature (biological and genetic
factors) or nurture (learned and cultural factors)
• There was a distribution of labour in every group but the distribution varied in
Rethink your common sense reality
Thinking about…GENDER ROLES
• In different places and different historical moments, men and women take on
different responsibilities based on their gender (gendered divisions of labour).
• Therefore, human behavioural differences (i.e. gendered divisions of labour)
are the result of culture not biology.
Learning to be critical of BIOLOGICAL REDUCTIONISM (where you explain things,
difference in terms of biology) • Research that seeks explain behaviors and identities as the result of biology is
potentially dangerous. It can provide biological justifications for social
inequalities in society
• E.g. If women can be “proven” to be naturally better “nurturers,” then it becomes
easy to argue that a woman's place is in the domestic sphere. This information
could then inform government policies relating to day care funding, gay adoption,
and other social issues.
Question 2: How do societies distinguish individuals from one another
• Read Robbins (textbook) pages 223 – 228