2.1.2 Properties of Cultural Identity

Avowal and ascription

How a person perceives himself or herself is called avowal. It means in what way a person demonstrates to others "who I am". Ascription is how others perceive and communicate a person's identity.

Modes of expression

The second property of cultural identity are the modes of expression, which include core symbols, names and labels, and norms. Core symbols are cultural beliefs and interpretations of people, world and the functioning of society. The shared use of symbols and ideas provides people the membership of a group. Names and labels are categories of core symbols. Norms affect our cultural identity. Cultural groups create norms for appropriate conduct and acceptable behaviour.

Defining who we are includes what and how we should behave in a particular situation.

Individual, relational and communal identity

Individual identity refers to the individual's interpretation of his or her cultural identity, which is based on his or her own experiences. It includes understanding multiple degrees of differences and similarities among group members.

Relational identity refers to relationships between persons. There are norms for appropriate behaviour in relational contacts, which occur for example between friends, colleagues, coworkers or neighbours. Expectations for behaviour vary according to types of interactions, situations and topics. Communal identity is identified by observing a group's communal activities, rituals, rites and holiday celebrations. Group members use cultural membership to maintain community with one another. Examples of ceremonies are baptisms, graduations and weddings. Informal conventions include such as greetings, leave-taking, compliments, and gift exchanges.

Enduring and changing aspects of identity

Identity features enduring and changing aspects. Cultural identities may change due to several types of factors that influence a group of people. These factors may be social, political, economic or contextual.

Manuel Castells underlines the fact that today our world and our lives, as well as our identities, are strongly being reshaped by globalization and information technology revolution. People are influenced by pervasive, interconnected and diversified media systems. Work has become flexible and unstable, labour is being individualized. Globalization and the restructuring of capitalism are part of the process that is reforming societies and people's identities.

© Irmeli Luoma, 2005


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