Category Archives: Social Identity

Social Identity in Muslim Youth

The definition of what social identity is, taken from the web.

Social Identity Theory was developed by Tajfel and Turner in 1979. The theory was originally developed to understand the psychological basis of intergroup discrimination. Tajfel et al (1971) attempted to identify the minimal conditions that would lead members of one group to discriminate in favor of the ingroup to which they belonged and against another outgroup.

In the Social Identity Theory, a person has not one, “personal self”, but rather several selves that correspond to widening circles of group membership. Different social contexts may trigger an individual to think, feel and act on basis of his personal, family or national “level of self” (Turner et al, 1987). Apart from the “level of self”, an individual has multiple “social identities”.

Social identity is the individual’s self-concept derived from perceived membership of social groups (Hogg & Vaughan, 2002). In other words, it is an individual-based perception of what defines the “us” associated with any internalized group membership. This can be distinguished from the notion of personal identity which refers to self-knowledge that derives from the individual’s unique attributes.

Social Identity Theory asserts that group membership creates ingroup/ self-categorization and enhancement in ways that favor the in-group at the expense of the out-group. The examples (minimal group studies) of Turner and Tajfel (1986) showed that the mere act of individuals categorizing themselves as group members was sufficient to lead them to display ingroup favoritism. After being categorized of a group membership, individuals seek to achieve positive self-esteem by positively differentiating their ingroup from a comparison outgroup on some valued dimension. This quest for positive distinctiveness means that people’s sense of who they are is defined in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.

Tajfel and Turner (1979) identify three variables whose contribution to the emergence of ingroup favoritism is particularly important.
A- the extent to which individuals identify with an ingroup to internalize that group membership as an aspect of their self-concept.
B- the extent to which the prevailing context provides ground for comparison between groups.
C- the perceived relevance of the comparison group, which itself will be shaped by the relative and absolute status of the ingroup.

Individuals are likely to display favoritism when an ingroup is central to their self-definition and a given comparison is meaningful or the outcome is contestable.

I found this interesting article written back in 2001. It looks at Muslim social identity in Canadian schools. This is an area that needs more looking into especially considering the political and social climate we are dealing with these days. InshaAllah, I hope to contribute one day to the body of literature already out there!
Here is an excerpt:

Zine Jasmin, Muslim Youth in Canadian Schools: Education and the Politics of Religious Identity,
Anthropology & Education Quarterly December 2001, Vol. 32, No. 4: 399-423

In an empirically based study, Jacobson (1998) examined the issue of religion and identity
among British Pakistani youth. She discovered a sense of ambivalence among her participants as they not only attempted to negotiate a sense of religious identity, but also to contend with cultural hybridity.

Jacobson argues that it is precisely within the complex and mutable social arrangements of identity formation that religious identity flourishes. She found that the contradiction of adherence to a “clearly defined set of absolute universal values,” (1998:104) and at the same time, varying degrees of ambivalence over their identity engendered by their social conditions and minoritized status, actually helped these youth anchor their sense of religious identity.

In Jacobson’s study, religious identity was regarded as an “anchor” to help keep Muslim youth grounded amidst the complex malleability of contemporary identity politics.

In a study of Somali Muslims in Toronto and London, Berns McGown makes a similar contention, also describing religion as an “anchor” that provided certainty during the tumultuous experience of displacement and integration into a new society: It [Islam] provided an oasis of tranquility amid the dislocation of refugee straits and the turmoil of adjusting to a new culture, trying to learn a new language, and attempting to find jobs What was valuable about it was the very ritual of stepping outside the daily struggle, five times over the course of the day, to concentrate on the prayers that never alter, in rhythmic language that linked them to a community of believers that was theirs no matter where in the world they were. [1999:98]

Both studies point to the saliency of religious identification in diasporic settings as a means to mediate the dissonance and challenge of living inenvironments that were laced with conflicting cultural values and practices.

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