Personal Identity 101: History, Culture and Myself

Foreword


Personal identity 101 was designed as an independent series of articles around the topic of identity and self. It joins various philosophical, psychological, and sociological theories with the aim of explaining the importance of personal identity and inspiring discussion on different existential questions. Articles will be saturated with diverse ideas and concepts, anticipated or scientifically proven theories with the purpose of encouraging readers to dive deep into the topic and identify their position in this dilemma.


Personal identity 101 consists of 8 articles. After completing the course, readers will be able to see the correlation between society and the self and vice versa.


  1. The Body Theory

  2. The Mind and Consciousness Theory

  3. The Soul Theory

  4. How Identity is Socially Constructed

  5. History, Culture, and Myself

  6. Contemporary world and its influence on personal identity

  7. Identity problems and solutions: Am I good enough?

  8. Future of Personal Identity: Flying cars and smiling Android

History, Culture and Myself


The previous Personal identity 101 articles have been discussing some of the most popular personal identity theories. The emphasis has been on the philosophical, anthropological, and psychological understanding of the concept, trying to explain how we attain our identity and how it is preserved over time. However, the last Personal Identity 101: “How Identity is Socially Constructed” explained that identity is a more complex phenomenon, meaning one cannot explore it in a single dimension such as body, mind, or soul. It is socially constructed, saturated, and shaped by a myriad different things in one’s life. This article will discuss some of the most influential factors on personal identity: History and culture.


History and Identity

In the middle of the 20th century, Wright Mills wrote about Sociological Imagination. While exploring the ability to connect personal challenges to larger social issues, Mills empathises the importance of history: “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both” (Mills, 2000). As he suggested, knowing history was crucial for the development of both society and on an individual level. The world around us is shaped by our history, and humans, as inhabitants of this contemporary world, are also part of it.


One might not know history, still her/his society is constructed on historical events; therefore, her/his life is greatly influenced by it. Learning history helps us to understand the roots of some traditions, values, and beliefs that are part of both our everyday life and our identity (Prout, 2021). As Mills explains, learning history helps one understand own actions and see them as a result of history which is beneficial for placing own life in the bigger picture (2000).


Charles Wright Mills. Sociological imagination
Figure 1: Charles Wright Mills

Apart from this, in “History and Identity: Insights into the DVV international History Network” (2010), Matthias Klingenberg writes that events in the past shaped our identity into the way we are today: "How people identify and interact with one another is by and large a consequence of history, which shapes and conditions individuals whether they fully understand it or not.” (Klingenberg, 2010). Similarly, the book consists of articles written by several researchers and academics from different countries. They tell examples of real people and facts around the topic of history and identity and demonstrate the links between them.


Culture and Identity


“Culture is part and parcel of all that we do, all that we are, all that we can and might become.” (Zecchia, n.d.)

Identity is not an unvariable fact but an interminable process that goes through different life cycles, evolves, and changes. Those changes occur under different circumstances. Identity is the result of various social events, one of which is culture. As a consequence, the definition of culture should include values, norms, material culture, language, symbols, etc. (Giddens, 1991). It plays a crucial role in identity development as it has a direct and indirect impact on a person’s character from the moment one is born, until the moment she/he ceases to exist. An important part of our actions, behaviours, and choices is dictated by the culture. Before advancing further in this article’s explanation, it is necessary to highlight that the term of cultural identity is not meant as a sense of belonging to certain cultures or groups, but the effect the culture has on the development of individuals. The aforementioned impact happens through the process of socialization. As Anthony Giddens defines, “socialization is the process through which children develop an awareness of social norms and values and achieve a distinct sense of self” (1991). The child grows in a specific environment, and unconsciously adopts the norms, values, and beliefs. that are presented and accepted in the society.


Lord Anthony Giddens
Figure 2: Lord Anthony Giddens

One of the most significant theories explaining how the self is developed was created by George Herbert Mead, who suggested in one of his works (1939) that the development of the self happens through three stages described below:

  • During the preparatory stage, children mostly imitate their parents’ actions; for example, girls would clean the house as they have seen their mom doing, or boys would pretend to fix a broken object like their fathers.

  • The next stage is the Game stage, which involves children developing communication skills based on the interactions they encounter in their close surroundings. During small role-plays, children might shape social interactions and imitate their parents. At this stage, they are not doing things their parents would do, but communicate like them.

  • The final stage is the Play stage when children start to understand themselves as separate individuals, and they see themselves through the eyes of other people. At this stage, they are not only learning and imitating the actions and behaviour of their family members but also society in general.


Mind, self & society by George Herbert Mead
Figure 3: Mind, self & society by George Herbert Mead

By these means, socialization starts at an early age and lasts a lifetime. People learn cultural norms and values from an early age, perceiving them as an integral part of their identity. Even if one struggles to see his/her own self as a part of society, and even if some might go against the mainstream culture, every action they perform still is a result of her/his experience within the society. Needless to mention that culture is omnipresent. The clothes that one wears, the music that one is inspired by, or the movies that one enjoys watching are all products of the culture and society, having a tremendous impact on their taste or aspirations.


 A room full of posters as an example of the influence of the culture on individuals
Figure 4: A room full of posters as an example of the influence of the culture on individuals

To sum up, as discussed in the previous article, identity is a social construct and it changes over time. This chapter of Personal Identity 101 articles discussed two main factors that help to shape identity: history and culture. As discussed by Charles Wright Mills, history plays a crucial role in understanding life and our own identity, as the contemporary world around us, which influences our life and character, is created by past events. Another tremendous factor related to creating identity is culture. From the moment a child is born, she/he goes through different stages of socialization, adopting different cultural norms, values, and beliefs. As a result, without realizing it, one’s identity becomes a product of the surrounding society. Socialization begins from the moment one is born, and it does not end until the person dies.




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Irina Berdzenishvili

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