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Communication and Identity Construction

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Denise is a communication student, a poet and a book lover. She enjoys watching documentaries and film.

For how many years, "identity" has been a central construct in the social and behavioral sciences. This term has been defined in various fields of studies such as in psychology and sociology. In psychology, identity is conceptualized as a salient aspect of self and self-concept, functioning to give meaning to people and their self-images. In sociology, it is often conceptualized as social roles, helping to explain how social position influences one's sense of self.


COMMUNICATION THEORY OF IDENTITY (CTI)

by: Michael Hecht & colleagues


Hecht (2009) has said that identity is a social process and identity is constructed in and through communication. The theory emerged in 1980s as part of a shift from considering identity a central part of human existence to identity as a social phenomenon.


IDENTITY AS A SOCIAL PROCESS

Identity is said to be formed through our interactions with others. We, as social beings, our identity is not stable and unitary but shifting and multiple. Our concept of who we are and other people's conception of us are not necessarily one and the same. A person's identity is shaped by his/her relationships with others, it is fluid rather than fixed. Our self-identity is influenced to a large extent by how others see us, and we form our self-identity in the process of interacting with other people.

To view identity as a social process is to acknowledge that identity is an interactional accomplishment. It is embedded in our conceptions of ourselves, our actions, our relationships, and our social affiliations, and it is produced, refashioned, and continually negotiated through interaction and social performances.

CTI points out that a person's identity is constructed in the process of interacting and communicating with other. Identity is constructed in and through language and communication define our identity both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, communication defines us when we internalize judgement of ourselves, others, and social groups based on our way of expressing ourselves.

In this continuous process of identity construction, some of the conceptions that we form about ourselves and others that prove relevant to existing social structures are maintained; those that have changed over time are refabricted; and those that are no longer relevant to the current conditions are replaced. Thus, identity is dynamic rather than static and multiple rather than singular.


FOUR FRAMES OF IDENTITY

1. PERSONAL FRAME

- This encompasses what has traditionally been thought of as self and self-concept. All personal dispositional characteristics that help us to make sense of who we are belong to this frame.

2. ENACTED FRAME

- This covers the performance and outward expressions of identity. How we formulate messages to express our identity belongs to this frame or layer.

3. RELATIONAL FRAME

- This explains the identity as something that is embedded in our relationships with others. This also refers to the identities that are invested in relationships, exist in relationship to each other, and are ascribed in and through relationships.

4. COMMUNAL FRAME

- Identities also exist as characteristics of communities.


Hecht states that the four frames of identity interpenetrate or are intertwined with each other. They are not separate from each other but fused. For example, I identify myself as a straight woman (personal frame) and my enactment of my gender identification is determined by how others look at women in relation to men (relational frame), and by how the dominant cultural scripts and power structures define mean and women (communal frame). According Jung and Hecht (2004), communal idnetities help reinforce personal identities and affect the enacted and relational identities.

However, the four frames of identity are not always consistent with each other. They can be contradictory or exclusive to each other but despite the contradiction they still coexist and work together as part of identity. These frames interpenetrate each other with dialectical tensions between and among them. It is said that the dialectical tension between the contradiction and coexistence of the identity may be a source of the dynamic and fluid nature of identity. And so, to define this dialectical interpenetration, identity gap was proposed.


IDENTITY GAP

It is defined as discrepancies between or among the four frames of identity. According to Jung and Hecht (2004), theoretically, there are possibly 11 identity gaps. These gaps are almost inevitable result of communication and social relations. People are rarely transparent or consistent because communication itself is not perfect. When we socialize, we cannot always assume that the people we will be socializing or interacting with have the same background or identity as us or share the same ideologies. And so, when we come together identity gap is unavoidable. Gaps always accompany communication and are present to soem degree in all relationships. In Jung and Hecht's study, they have focused on two specific gaps.

PERSONAL-RELATIONAL IDENTITY GAP

It is defined as discrepancies between an individual's personal identity and ascribed relational identity, that is, discrepancies between how an individual views him/herself and his/her perception of how others view him/her.

For example, I see myself as a shy person but my friends see me as an outspoken person. My personal identity contradicts with the identity that my friends attach or associate to me.

PERSONAL-ENACTED IDENTITY GAP

An individual's expressed identities in communication can be different from his/her self-views. There are variety of reasons why this occurs, including impression management, intimidation, dishonesty or maybe shyness.

I will give a specific example for these identity gaps. For example, I am actually really talkative person as I think of myself but then when I started studying in my university, I became less talkative because I feel a little bit uncomfortable or intimidated sometimes with the people or other students in my university.

Review Time:

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. How is identity formed?
    • It is formed because of a chemical process in our brain.
    • It is formed with our interactions with others.
    • It is formed already during our birth.
    • It cannot be formed.
  2. How many layers or frames of identity did Hecht created?
    • 7
    • 9
    • 0
    • 4
  3. What are the four layers or frames of Identity?
    • Exigences, Relational, Enacted, Societal
    • Societal, Parental, Personal, Peer
    • Personal, Relational, Enacted, Communal
    • Personal, Relational, Communal, Societal
  4. What does Communication Theory of Identity implies?
    • It posits that a person's identity is constructed in the process of interacting and communicating with other.
    • CTI implies that we are humans.
    • It tells that we cannot make an identity of our own.
    • It points out that our identity is biologically acquired.
  5. What is an identity gap?
    • It is the physical gap between you and the people you are communicating with.
    • This encompasses what has traditionally been thought of as self and self-concept.
    • It is defined as discrepancies between or among the four frames of identity.
    • is conceptualized as a salient aspect of self and self-concept, functioning to give meaning to people.

Answer Key

  1. It is formed with our interactions with others.
  2. 4
  3. Personal, Relational, Enacted, Communal
  4. It posits that a person's identity is constructed in the process of interacting and communicating with other.
  5. It is defined as discrepancies between or among the four frames of identity.

PERSONAL THOUGHTS:

In my opinion, I think that this theory explains well how identity is really formed. I would not say this is absolutely correct but it is the most convincing explanation of how each of us construct our identity. Some may argue but I think this theory is well-explained and well-defined. To understand the concept further, you may also read the full text of this topic from the original article itself.

Sources:

  • Hecht, ML (2009). Communication theory of identity. In SW Littlejohn & KA Foss (eds), Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. pp. 139-141. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Jung, E & Hecht, ML (2004). Elaborating the communication theory of identity: Identity gaps and communication outcomes. Communication Quarterly, 52, 265 - 283.
  • COMM 10 Module 3 - Communication and Identity Construction

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