Reflections on Identity
When it comes to describing one’s own cultural identity there are as many approaches to the task as definitions of what the term ‘identity’ might constitute. Faced with the myriad of opinions on the matter and the staggering amount of sociocultural, anthropological, and psychological studies which endeavour to elucidate its meaning and implications, one cannot help but feel —if only slightly— discouraged at the prospect of having to complete such daunting an assignment.
To pin down precisely the various aspects of an intangible, multilayered, and dynamic construct remains a challenge, even for those lucky enough to have achieved a secure identity and sense of self. A clear conception of oneself and of one’s role in life would arguably place us in a haven of certainty; a personal development which can only be attained through socialization and enhanced by exposure to other cultures.
I could engage on the detailed account of my predilections, however I do not deem it particularly relevant because it is not so much a question of systematically categorizing my preferences according to an arbitrary set of values and beliefs and checking if they conform to a pattern as a question of “where I feel at home” (Hofstede, 2011), which in my case is “neither here nor there”; in the midst of a transition from an international to a transnational order, cultural identity becomes blurry. The importance and saliency of any single identity –be it ethnic, gender, national, organizational, generational, or religious—is a function of the situation, and each of them is tempered to a certain extent by culture.
Irrespective of one’s cultural background and unique personality, identity influences interaction through shaping expectations and motivating appropriate behaviour. Idiosyncratic communication styles evince both avowed and ascribed identities. These traits carry considerable potential for creating anxiety, misunderstandings and even conflict if participants fail to adjust to the intricacies of each culture and jointly negotiate what kind of relationship will be mutually satisfying.
Misleading and simplistic stereotypes stem from woeful ignorance and should not stand in the way of intercultural exchanges. Awareness of and interest in both one’s identity and that of others instill a motivation to establish contact and overcome differences so as to become acquainted with new realities, different conceptions of it (culture) and uniquely enriching perspectives (identity).
- SAMOVAR, L. A., MCDANIEL, E. R., & PORTER, R. E. (2007). Communication between cultures. Belmont, Calif. [u.a.], Thompson/Wadsworth.
- Seven Deadly Sins in a Multicultural World. Hofstede Symposium. September 2011, Groningen.