So far, we have discussed identity as though it is something that is socially and discursively constructed, but we have also noted that the intensity with which people identify may vary. This suggests that identification as a process is something that people choose to do.
To some extent, this is correct: people do in many cases adopt various social identity designations. Yet this is not always the case. Identification is not a singular process, but one that takes place both internally and externally. Consequently, our identities are something that we might feel or express — but also something that, in some cases, might be imposed upon us. Some theorists conceptualize this as a dichotomy between self-identification and categorization, respectively (see Jenkins, 2008).
Try to think of at least one situation in which someone other than you imposed an identity on you. How accurate was this imposed identity? What, if any, impacts did it have on your sense of who you are? What, if any, consequences did it have for you in your everyday life?
In order to understand how identity operates in any given culture, it is important to understand the different ways that self-identification and categorization work. A person might self-identify in some way and not be fully satisfied with what that means for them in society. Yet identities that are imposed upon people are another matter altogether; as Jenkins puts it, “identification by others has consequences” (2008, p. 43). For example, a person who is identified by a doctor as being mentally ill may be at risk of being involuntarily hospitalized; likewise, someone who is identified as an “at-risk youth” might face increased scrutiny by teachers or other authority figures — or they might be shuttled into programs intended to prevent criminal activity or provide job training. Identification, especially by social structures that hold some real power within a culture, can have real and significant impacts on people’s lives.
Jenkins, R. (2008). Social identity. Routledge.