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a203-11f-17-IdentityRitesOfPassage - Introduction to...

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Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: Class 17 Constructing Identity: Self, group, and rites of passage Copyright Bruce Owen 2011 - If you are in college, you are probably in the process of “finding yourself” - figuring out who you are, or searching for your identity - this is a process that anthropologists have looked into quite a bit… - Identity is a social construct - To know how to respond to some one, you have to identify him/her - you place him/her in one or more socially defined categories - parent, sibling, classmate, professor, boss, potential girlfriend, etc. - these identities are arbitrary cultural constructs - then apply the socially defined rules about how your own type of person interacts with that type of person - this is another example of how we respond to the meanings we place on things (or people), as much or more than to the things or people themselves - say you identify a young man as a “skinhead” - based on dress, hairstyle, tattoos, etc. - you might then place the meaning “threatening person” on him - and interact with him accordingly - even if he has made no actual threat at all - these associated meanings and rules of behavior are arbitrary cultural constructs, too - for example, in parts of highland Peru, a girl who is interested in a boy taunts him, hits him with sticks, whips him in certain dances, etc. - or a great scene in West of Kabul, East of New York , by Tamim Ansary (pp. 156-157). He is on a bus in Algeria: “There was another American on the bus, too. To my eyes, his unshaven chin, his shitkicker boots, his hip-hugging Levi’s, and his bandanna said tough mother-fucker . In some biker bar in north Portland, he might well have intimidated me. Here in Algeria, surrounded by Arabs, he didn’t look so tough. The Arabs attached no meaning to his clothes and hair. He might just as well have been wearing Bermuda shorts. Power is a social construct, right down to the kick-ass level.” - As Robbins says, you are not born knowing who you are: you learn your own identity - From infancy, you learn your identity from others - You learn from parents and relatives who consciously and unconsciously teach you aspects of your identity - Consciously: your name, your family and ethnic background, what kind of clothes you should wear, how you should talk and behave, etc. - Unconsciously: modeling aspects of behavior, beliefs, etc. that others will use to define your identity - You infer what others think your identity is from how they respond to you - In addition, you try to project an identity as who you think you are, or want to be - you learn from people’s responses whether they agree that this is your identity, or not - so identity is learned and negotiated: it is constructed
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Intro to Cultural Anthro F 2011 / Owen: Constructing identity… p. 2 - this is a social process, accumulating through many interactions - a cultural process, involving shared, cultural ideas about - what kinds of identities are possible, normal, deviant, desirable, etc.
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