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Exploring the Relevance of Identity in A-Level Sociology

The concept of identity has been subject to multifaceted interpretation throughout history. The understanding of identity has evolved from pre-modern societies to postmodernity, where it has fragmented into multiple identities.

The complexities of identity and its cultural, social, and political implications have been studied by several disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, among others. This article intends to examine the idea of identity, its evolution over time, and how it has been fragmented in postmodernity.

Identity in Pre-Modern Societies

Traditional social structures shaped identity in premodern societies. Identity was primarily based on social class, gender, and religion.

Society was hierarchically structured, and individuals identified with their social class, occupation, or family. Religion played a significant role in shaping identity, as it provided individuals with a sense of community and a higher purpose.

Theories of identity during this period primarily focused on religion and social class.

The Enlightenment Subject

The emergence of Enlightenment philosophy gave rise to a new concept of identity, which emphasized the individual rather than tradition or religious identification. The Enlightenment subject was a unique individual with a conscience, reason, and logic.

The idea of the Cartesian subject was central to this period, which postulated that individuals could rationalize their existence through objective analysis. The focus was on how individuals could understand themselves as rational beings separated from the society and nature around them.

The Sociological Subject

The sociological subject emerged in the mid-19th century, emphasizing social and political structures that shape an individual’s identity. Sociologists began to identify how the state, family, and education system socialized individuals into pre-existing norms and values.

Functionalist theory of identity posited that individual identity was formed by the social structure, which provided a sense of belongingness and purpose. Symbolic interactionist approach argued that identity was formed through social interaction and communication.

The Postmodern Subject

Postmodernism challenged the well-entrenched notion of a singular identity. It viewed identity as a fragmented and decentered construct, where individuals could have multiple identities, and each identity could take precedence depending on the context.

Postmodernism emphasized the fluidity and instability of identity, which could change depending on social and cultural circumstances.

Social Changes and The Fragmentation of Identity

Social changes brought by globalization, communication, and consumer culture have fragmented identities in postmodernity. Globalization has led to the emergence of global identities that transcend national borders.

Social media and digital communication have facilitated the creation of online identities, leading to identity fragmentation. Consumer culture has contributed to the fragmentation of identity by objectifying individuals and reducing them to their choices and preferences, which perpetuate individualization.

The emergence of New Social Movements, such as feminism, and the civil rights movement, has led to the creation of group identities that challenge mainstream identities.

Reaffirming Identities

The fragmentation of identity has led to a reaffirmation of national identity, as seen in Brexit and Civil Wars. Individuals are reassessing their cultural and national identities and asserting them in the face of global identity.

This reaffirmation is an attempt to resist the diffusion of identity, preserve tradition, and emphasize national identity.


Identity is a complex concept that has changed and evolved over time. The traditional structures of pre-modern societies shaped identity; the Enlightenment subject emphasized individual identity, and the sociological subject focused on the role of the state, family, and education in forming identity.

Postmodernism challenged the idea of individual identity and viewed it as fragmented and decentered. Social changes such as globalization and consumer culture have contributed to the fragmentation of identity.

Nonetheless, there is still a reaffirmation of identities, such as national identity, in a bid to counter the diffusion of identity. It is essential to understand the intricacies of identity in shaping social, cultural, and political contexts, and this article aims to provide a starting point for such an understanding.Understanding the concept of identity and its evolution over time is an essential part of studying sociology at the A-level.

The discipline of sociology approaches identity from various perspectives, including functionalism and symbolic interactionism, and also takes into account the role of culture in shaping identity. This article aims to explore the relevance of these perspectives to A-level sociology students.

Identity and Traditional Sociological Perspectives

Functionalism and symbolic interactionism are two traditional sociological perspectives that provide insight into the formation of identity. Functionalism is a macro-level sociological perspective that views society as a complex system, with each part serving a particular function.

Functionalism emphasizes the role of social institutions in shaping an individual’s identity, such as education, family, and religion. In functionalism, identity is seen as a product of the social structure, with each person taking on a role to contribute to the overall functioning of society.

This perspective is significant in understanding how social structures such as the family and education system contribute to the socialization of individuals and shape their identities. Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level sociological perspective that emphasizes the role of human interaction and communication in shaping identity.

Symbolic interactionism postulates that identity is not fixed; instead, it is constantly being developed and renegotiated through social interactions. This perspective acknowledges that individuals may have multiple identities based on their interactions with different groups.

Symbolic interactionism is instrumental in studying how individuals interact with each other, forming groups, and shaping their identities according to their social interactions. Understanding these traditional sociological perspectives is critical for A-level sociology students, as it enables them to analyze how social structures and communication shape an individual’s identity.

It allows students to appreciate how complex systems like society work and how individuals become adjusted to their roles and identities within these systems.

Culture and Identity in Sociology

Culture and identity are closely related and play a central role in sociological studies. The Culture and Identity option offered in A-level sociology deals with these concepts in detail.

Culture is the shared practices, values, norms, and beliefs that define a group. Identity is the self-concept of an individual, which is shaped by their membership in various cultures.

Culture contributes to the formation of an individual’s identity by providing a sense of belongingness and shaping their beliefs and values. Sociology recognizes that culture plays a significant role in shaping identity, and thus studying the Culture and Identity option is quite relevant in understanding how cultural attributes influence the development of identity.

This topic explores how cultural factors such as class, gender, ethnicity, and religion contribute to an individual’s self-concept. It also examines how cultures develop and change over time due to encounters with other cultures, and how these changes have an impact on the identity of the individuals within the culture.

The culture and identity option emphasizes the importance of recognizing and understanding the cultural influences on identity. It allows A-level sociology students to examine different cultural groups and their interactions with each other, which contribute to the development and maintenance of identity.


The concept of identity is critical in sociology, and understanding its evolution over time and its fragmentation in postmodernity provides a foundation for studying the discipline. Traditional sociological perspectives of functionalism and symbolic interactionism are significant in understanding how social structures and communication contribute to shaping identity.

The Culture and Identity option is also relevant to A-level sociology students interested in studying the role of cultural attributes in shaping identity. It enables students to appreciate the influence of cultural factors on identity and understand different cultural practices that contribute to the formation of identity.

These perspectives and options are fundamental in understanding how individuals identify with various social and cultural groups and provide a basis for further exploration into the complexities of identity in sociology. In conclusion, the concept of identity has been subject to multifaceted interpretation throughout history, evolving from traditional social structures to postmodernity’s fragmented identity.

The relevance of traditional sociological perspectives and culture in shaping identity is fundamental to A-level sociology students. For individuals striving to understand how societies are formed and function or analyzing cultural attributes’ influence on identity, the articles’ concepts serve as a foundation to further explore the subject’s intricacies.


Q. What is the Enlightenment subject?

A. The Enlightenment subject is a unique individual with a conscience, reason, and logic, which emphasized individual rather than tradition or religious identification.

Q. How does globalization contribute to the fragmentation of identity?

A. Globalization has led to the emergence of global identities that transcend national borders, leading to identity fragmentation.

Q. What is the symbolic interactionist approach to identity?

A. The symbolic interactionist approach argues that identity is formed through social interaction and communication.

Q. How does culture contribute to the formation of identity?

A. Culture provides a sense of belongingness and shapes an individual’s beliefs and values that contribute to the formation of identity.

Q. Why is understanding the concept of identity significant to sociology?

A. Understanding the concept of identity provides a foundation for studying sociology and helps in analyzing the complexities of how individuals and societies function.

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