Social Identity Theory Essay

“All human identities are in some sense- and usually stronger rather than weaker sense-social identities. Identity is about meaning. Meanings are always the outcome of agreement or disagreement, always to some extent shared.”

In the year 2000 it had been 21 years since the social identity theory had been published and as such celebrated due to it being known as a ‘historical accident’ or basically a theory that was inevitably bound to come about. Now 40 years later, it becomes even more vital to analyze the concept that plays into the assumption that all identities operate under the same principal. Basically, the theory sought to understand the psychological processes that played a role in determining group identities for instance causing all the Swiss to be mad about chocolate and making the majority of Italians adore pasta.

Get expert writing help with your Social Identity essay!

New findings have thus contradicted the social identity theory and as such it becomes important to retrace the roots of the theory and understand why a psychologist like Jay Van Bavel’s 2009 theory strongly opposes the theory brought to light by Henri Tajfel and Turner.

Retracing the Footprints of The Social Identity Theory
In the year 1981 when Turner and Tajfel’s theory dominated the social psychology field, they were noted for having mentioned the fact that studies of intergroup relations had for too long a period remained outside of mainstream psychology. The limited scope of social identity theory caused these colleagues to develop such a theory. Thus, in Tajfel’s attempt to get the masses to understand intergroup behavior he defined it as, “The part of individuals’ self-concept which derives from their knowledge of their membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.” This however, must be seen as the rather bare minimum definition of the actual theory. Furthermore, the theory had its grounding in the differentiation between interpersonal and intergroup social interactions. On the one hand interpersonal interaction referred holistically to the social interaction between two or more persons in which the interaction is a factor of the personal relationship between the persons and their individual characteristics. On the opposite side is the intergroup social interaction in which the interactions between people are highly based upon their membership in differing groups or categories. Again it must be restated that in fact it is social influence which causes respective members of the group to adopt these group norms.

Key Underpinnings of The Theory
As per the studies conducted by Tajfel and others, social identity and self-categorization highlighted the importance of situational detriments of social identification and consequent behavior. Basically, the idea that is given off is that a specific given social identity has the same relevance and significance to all who identify with that category. There again the theory points to evidence that identities are socially constructed due to the social nature of identity. Once again, the literature points to one specific question of why people embrace their identities by identifying with specific groups. The answer is because categories are there to identify with. As simple as it may seem the theory in no way took away the understanding that people make personal decisions. This means that each person can decide whether or not to accept the social box or the meaning socially represented as the content of the box. Though it is hard to reject categorization altogether, each individual is responsible for how much importance he or she gives to the categorization as positioning in their identity hierarchy is key.

The Theory in Practice
Studies found that people who are highly fond of their group have high self-esteem as a group and showed loyalty in the group. Lalonde’s study of a hockey team showed that this particular hockey team knew another team was better than them but did not admit the team was better and showed in team favoritism. The theory is useful as it can help people of certain professions develop an identity.

Criticisms of social identity theory
The criticisms started when social identity theory became used for general theorizing of human social selves and researchers begun to treat it as such. It is thus valuable to remember social identity theory was never meant to be a general theory of social categorization. Still New York University psychologist, Jay Van Bavel contradicted some of the premises put forth by the theory defending the view that humans can associate with other in groups when they combined to complete tasks. He defended this theory with a study conducted in 2009 where participants who were randomly given groups tended to stick up for team members despite main categorization like inter racial bias. According to Van Bavel, humans were seen as chameleons who blended into any situation by changing their spots. Then again older criticism of the theory includes the fact that the theory worked on experimental groups who lacked in history, were untroubled by internal power and status issues and expected no longer term consequences due to their actions. Again, critics emphasize that identities are constructed through daily interactions to achieve a certain end in a certain situation. According to Marcus Lyon, “Identity can be a journey.”

Further research. As strong as the theory is, further research needs to be conducted. Firstly, the role of argument and persuasion needs to be accounted for when studying the theory. An analysis of realistic conflict theory needs to be studied in amalgamation with the social identity theory and lastly the complexity of in-group favoritism in relation to out-group hostility needs to be accounted for. Accordingly, since the theory’s inception organizational psychologist have grounded the theory in defining their thinking of social identity within an organization. They have used only the early research on the theory, the research needs to be broadened the theory when assessing social identity processes within an organization.

Free essay samples and research paper examples available online are plagiarized. They cannot be used as your own paper, even a part of it. You can order a high-quality custom essay on your topic from expert writers:

Get Custom Essay on Any Topic is a professional essay writing service committed to writing non-plagiarized custom essays, research papers, dissertations, and other assignments of top quality. All academic papers are written from scratch by highly qualified essay writers. Just proceed with your order, and we will find the best academic writer for you!

Audiopedia “What is Social Identity Theory? What does Social Identity Theory Mean?” (2017, November 13). Accessed February 03, 2019,
Brain, C. Psychology. Social Psychology and Cognitive Psychology (with issues and debates). Oxfordshire: United Kingdom, 2015.
Brown, R. & Capozza, D. Social Identity Processes. Trends in Theory and Research. Sage Publications: London, 2000.
Hogg, M.A. & Terry, D, J. Social Identity Process in Organizational Contexts. Haworth Press: New York, 2001.
Jenkins, R. Social Identity. Routledge: London, 1996.
Lyon, M. “Is your identity given or created?” 2016, May 11. Accessed February 03, 2019,
Moon, E. “There’s A Name for That: Social Identity Theory”. Pacific Standards, (2018, December 3). Accessed February 03, 2019,
Shavonne, L.V. The International Handbook on Innovation. Oxford: United Kingdom, 2003.
Tajfel, H. Social Identity and Intergroup Relations. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1981.