Collective identity: characteristics of this social phenomenon
A review of the characteristics of collective identity, with several examples.
Our family, our group of friends, the town we were born in, the political party we belong to or the work we do are factors that influence our individual identity and, in turn, create a broader one: the collective identity.
In every human group, whatever its size, there is a thought of seeing itself as one, a group that has its defining features and characteristics that make it stand out from the others.
We will now take a closer look at the idea of the we will take a closer look at the idea of collective identityWe will then take a closer look at the idea of collective identity, what are the elements that can make it emerge, why it is a somewhat controversial concept, and how it might have emerged throughout the history of evolution.
What is collective identity?
To a greater or lesser extent, each person is part of a community. These communities can be of different sizes, levels and categories, and we can be part of several simultaneously.
We are part of our family, our group of friends, town or city, region of birth, professional category and many more. The sense of belonging to each of these is part of our identity, an identity that is strongly influenced by social aspects.
Collective identity is defined as the feeling of belonging to a certain collectivity.. It arises from the cultural and affective ties that occur within the community, since they are human environments in which a series of visions or ideals are shared and defended, which permeate the individual identity of each member of the group. Thus, since they all share, to a greater or lesser extent, the same traits and feel linked to them, they have a common feeling of relevance.
Collective identity implies the self-perception of an "us" (endogroup), a group of people who share a series of traits, as opposed to the "others" (exgroup), who have different traits. The importance given to one's own traits and those of the exogroup is very subjective, and subjective as well.In addition to being subjective, the way in which certain symbols or traits that delimit the group's own identity, such as race, nationality, language, religion, ideology, etc., are selected is also subjective.
Although each author differs as to the exact definition of collective identity, we can highlight the following four aspects that define what this idea is:
- It is a subjective construction of the subjects themselves.
- It is expressed in terms of "us" vs. "others".
- It is delimited by the traits or cultural elements selected by the group.
- These traits or elements constitute its culture.
Elements of collective identity
The most salient element of any collective identity is the idea of culture.. It should be said that the term "culture" should not be understood only as a synonym of ethnic group or geographical culture, such as French, Argentine, Jewish, gypsy, Kurdish or any other culture.
The idea of culture should be understood as a set of socio-cultural characteristics that define a given group, and which directly influenceand which directly influences its collective identity.
We can find collective identity in professions, social movements, sports teams and many other social groups. For example, there is a collective identity among doctors, not only because they have studied medicine, but also because they share a series of experiences typical of their profession and their work influences their personal life and their value as a person.
In sports teams and social movements the idea of collective identity is much more appreciable. In the case of sports teams, whether professional or amateur, the idea of belonging to the team is necessary, since they are going to compete with other teams and it is necessary to have a good dynamic within the team in order to win.
This same idea can be transferred to social movements, such as "Black Lives Matter".such as "Black Lives Matter", LGBT+ and feminist movements. In order to get their demands met, it is necessary that all activists coordinate to lobby as a group.
All these examples are proof that there are different types of elements that can bring about the emergence of collective identity. These elements can be several or just one, varying according to the type of community and the intensity of the degree of collective identity. Even among communities of the same type (professional, ethnic, ideological...) there are differences in what has defined and strengthened the collective identity. in what has defined and strengthened their collective identity, both in terms of the type of elements and their quantity.
For example, the idea of being part of French culture does not depend only on speaking French, but also on being born there, defending the unity of the Republic and even sharing the same stereotypes towards other European countries. In the Jewish community, on the other hand, the main defining element is to process Judaism, without the need to speak Hebrew, to be born in Israel or to be in favor of the existence of a Jewish state.
A controversial concept
Although the expression "collective identity" is used very frequently, it is often used as a synonym for ethnic culture, in many occasions it is used as a synonym of ethnic culture and seen as something to be and seen as something to be professed as a matter of course.
For example, there are many people with nationalist ideologies who argue that no matter the individual identity of each person, what is important is the fact of having been born in a certain place and, therefore, they have the obligation to feel part of their culture of birth. Otherwise, he is seen as a traitor or a supporter of the extinction of that culture..
Xenophobic visions are also defended in this misuse of the idea of collective identity. There are quite a few who consider that anyone born outside the place where they live are people who will never be part of their culture, since they do not have what it takes to be part of it. On many occasions this "what it takes" implies aspects that cannot be chosen, such as race, mother tongue or culture of origin.
Not everyone has or wants to feel part of a collective identityespecially in its aspect related to geographic culture. There are those who prefer to feel like citizens of the world or cosmopolitans, not to be part of social movements or not to be part of a collectivity.
Each person has a unique and different individual identityIn this identity there may be as a trait the rejection of collective thinking, sometimes very harmful as it has happened on several occasions throughout history, as in the case of Nazism, terrorism and religious sects.
The idea has been put forward that collective identity has been a product of evolution in the human species. According to this theory, over the course of evolutionary history, hominids and the first Homo sapiens have needed collective identity to ensure the physical survival of the species.
Hominids are weak and slow primates, which makes them easy prey if they find themselves alone in front of a predator. This is why This is why, in the most critical moments of survival, a group response of hominids was needed hominids to the threat, in order to disperse it or avoid as much damage as possible. This would explain why when someone close to us is threatened, we often prepare ourselves for the fight, ignoring the Pain and fear, and there are even cases of self-sacrifice to ensure the survival of others.
It has also been suggested that collective identity played an important role in the creation of early human rituals. Among these rituals would be dancing for hours, entering collectively into states of ecstasy, singing in harmony or deworming offspring in groups. All of these behaviors would be performed in synchronized fashion, fostering the idea that the group is one and allowing this synchronization to be put into practice when hunting or defending against predators or other human groups.
- Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. (1986): "The social identity theory of intergroup behavior". Psychology of intergroup relations. Nelson-Hall.
- Melucci, A. (1989) Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society. Eds. John Keane and Paul Mier, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
- Touraine, A. (1985). An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements. Social Research
- Maldonado, Asael & Oliva, Alejandrina. (2010). The process of collective identity construction. Convergencia. 17.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)