A Complex Dynamic Systems Perspective on Identity and its Development: The Dynamic Systems Model of Role Identity

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Abstract

Current prominent models of identity face challenges in bridging across divergent perspectives and apparent dichotomies such as personal or social-collective, conscious or unconscious, and epigenetic or discursive-relational, and affording pursuit of research questions that allows integrative answers. This article presents a coherent theoretical perspective on the integrative nature of identity and its developmental mechanisms. Adopting the contextual social role as a primary unit of analysis, the Dynamic Systems Model of Role Identity (DSMRI) conceptualizes role identity as a Complex Dynamic System (CDS) anchored in action that comprises the actor’s ontological and epistemological beliefs, purpose and goals, self-perceptions and self-definitions, and perceived action possibilities in the role. These system components are conceptualized as interdependent, and identity development is viewed as emergent, continuous, nonlinear, contextualized, and given to influences from within and without the system. The role identity itself constitutes an element within a multilevel hierarchy, which at the unit of analysis of the individual reflects a CDS of the multiple roles that constitute the person’s psychosocial identity. Identity development involves the formation and restructuring of relations within and among role identities through intra- and interpersonal processes that are mediated by sociocognitive and cultural means, and framed by the context as well as by implicit dispositions. The DSMRI provides a framework to conceptualize and investigate the nature of the identity system, its development, and the relationship between identity development and psychological functioning at different units of-analysis, across different developmental stages and contexts, and using quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

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