An Integrated Developmental Model for Studying Identity Content in Context

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Abstract

Historically, identity researchers have placed greater emphasis on processes of identity development (how people develop their identities) and less on the content of identity (what the identity is). The relative neglect of identity content may reflect the lack of a comprehensive framework to guide research. In this article, we provide such a comprehensive framework for the study of the content of identity, including 4 levels of analysis. At the broadest level, we situate individual identity within historical, cultural, and political contexts, elaborating on identity development within the context of shifting cultural norms, values, and attitudes. Histories of prejudice and discrimination are relevant in shaping intersections among historically marginalized identities. Second, we examine social roles as unique and central contexts for identity development, such that relationship labels become integrated into a larger identity constellation. Third, domains of individual or personal identity content intersect to yield a sense of self in which various aspects are subjectively experienced as an integrated whole. We explore the negotiation of culturally marginalized and dominant identity labels, as well as idiosyncratic aspects of identities based on unique characteristics or group memberships. Finally, we argue that the content of identity is enacted at the level of everyday interactions, the “micro-level” of identity. The concepts of identity conflict, coherence, and compartmentalization are presented as strategies used to navigate identity content across these 4 levels. This framework serves as an organizing tool for the current literature, as well as for designing future studies on the identity development.

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