Introduction to Sociology


Identity is again another extremely complex and debated term. Put simply, identity refers to our sense of ‰Û÷self‰Ûª, or ‰Û÷who we are‰Ûª. It is about how we define who we are. Where our sense of identity comes from relates, closely to debates of structure and agency. This means, to what degree is ‰Û÷who we are‰Ûª determined by social structures? That is to say, our identities are largely set by social structures, like our gender or ethnicity, and the class we are born into. Or, to what extend, identity shaped by the personal choices we make, which we refer to as agency.

It is also important tor recognise that our identity is not just one thing, which is set and unchangeable. We all play out different roles, in society, and hence people will see us in a different light in different settings. Also, ‰Û÷who we are?‰Ûª is something that is constantly changing over time.

Role conflict

  1. Begin by asking students to consider the different roles they play in everyday life, e.g. students, daughter/son, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, employee, babysitter, customer and so on. Write all of these on the board. Then consider the behaviours they display when ‰Û÷acting‰Ûª in one of these roles. So for example, how do they behave at home in the role of son/daughter? Is this the same as when they are at work or school/college?

    Introduce from this the idea that we are all social actors ‰ÛÒ playing a role to suit the situation and who we are with. What happens when we are expected to play two roles at the same time For example, how do they feel if on a night at the pub they see their Mum and Dad? What about serving a teacher in the shop you work at the weekend? This ties in with the idea of role conflict. Discuss the occasions when they have experienced role conflict. How did they choose to act and how did that make them feel?

    An interesting study into role conflict comes from Redelinghuys et al. They studied women and the role conflict they experienced as employees:

    Discover More Role conflict among women employees: fact or fiction?

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