Identity and Meaning

I read an interesting review of the recently-released second edition of the book by Harrison White on Identity and Control. A couple of sentences caught my eye:

“Meaning” is triggered by switching among the countless networks in which we are enmeshed.
Identities are from the interaction of relations in the social environment.

The meaning comment particularly rings true for me at the moment as I switch between my various identities and networks of father and husband, friend and bachelor, worker and networker, and futurist and strategist!  Often, greater meaning is generated when I switch networks but also when those networks interact.

White points out that rather than assigning the attributes of a particular identity as an individual, you look at the role in relation to others and the context of the group. Identity is socially assigned, not individually assigned. You can act the clown but that clown identity is only yours if others give it to you. 

He further notes four different types of identities:

  1. If you are in a new situation, you need to establish your new identity that achieves a social footing as source and destination of communications to which identities attribute meaning.
  2. This second sense of identity is that of a role where a group might settle down and celebrate themselves by story or other work.
  3. The third is when you carry the identity you achieve in one setting into another setting, often resulting in a mismatch between what is appropriate for one role and the other.
  4. The fourth sense of identity is “what is usually meant by identity in ordinary talk”: identity constructed by stories after the fact.

PS. It’s been a long while since the last post due to travelling with the family around the UAE and in Egypt over the past few weeks. The posts will keep coming with more frequency over the next couple of weeks.


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