In What Ways Can Occupation and employment affect identity

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Last updated: March 31, 2019

Having an identity helps individuals to distinguish their place, relative to others, within social structures and, in providing a personal reference point, can give a sense of security.Identities can be both individual and group based. In this respect, the identification with self is expressed as “me” and with others as “us”.Belonging to a local community is a form of group-based identity; as is supporting or playing in a sports team or being a member of a pressure group or charity.

Attending a specific educational institute can assert a life long identity. i.e.: Eaton school, Winchester college, or Oxford and Cambridge universities. In the U.

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S.A., attending Yale or Harvard has a tremendous social impact in terms of both personal and group identity.Individuals may also have multiple identities. Multiple identities arise when prominent facets of a person’s life can be separated as distinctly individual roles, (Goffman, 1967)In the act of 1) walking to a car, 2) driving home, 3) stopping to make a purchase, 4) greeting the person next door, 5) entering their own home, 6) greeting their children and 7) greeting their spouse, an individual can move through seven distinct social roles or identities. These are, respectively: pedestrian, motorist, consumer, neighbour, householder, parent and partner. The person has not changed, but they will acknowledge each of the identities and, broadly speaking, conform to them as they occur, (Ibid, 1967)Erving Goffman, using a theatrical metaphor, asserts that, in recognising and adopting roles, we become actors on a stage. The stage in question is life.

Knowing who we are allows us play each part convincingly. Goffman insists that the parts we play are not simply given (pre-formed) but created within social rules. Whilst the lines are already written for us, as “actors” we can conjure our own interpretations within the constraints of the part itself, (Erving Goffman, 1959).A group identity can spur powerful feelings of loyalty to a common set of values or goals. Employment can sponsor a strong group identity. Coal miners, fire fighters, soldiers and police officers all have a tradition of strong common identity.

In many cases, the dangers faced can forge an identity so overwhelming that individuals will risk their lives for each other.If performing a particular job of work can generate identity, then, so can having no work at all. Unemployment can form a feeling of group identity.The identities of certain forms of work are widely connected with attributes of bravery, selflessness, generosity, determination or stamina. The general public would be readily able to list the attributes of a nurse or a lifeguard or a scientist, for instance.For the unemployed, there is no positive enforcement of identity and no aspirational role model. The unemployed are often stereotyped as lazy, dishonest, ill educated and without talent.

This can undermine self-respect and negatively impact on identity.In western society, employment itself bestows an automatic dignity. Those who work are perceived as “one rung up the social ladder” from those who do not.The dignity that work confers, as with most things in society, is not distributed equally. While some occupations are traditionally deemed to infer high social standing, other occupations are regarded as lowly and menial.

Accountants, barristers, doctors, company directors and architects are perceived to be amongst the social elite and, traditionally, carry a class-based assumption of conservative personal politics.Building site labourers, refuse workers, bus conductors and hospital porters would be widely associated with lower social status. They would also tend to be connected with left of centre personal politics.The role of housewives is generally under valued. Their vast contribution is invisible and generally unappreciated (Norris P.

, 1987)The disposable income available to different occupations manifests itself in distinct spending patterns i.e.: cars, houses and holidays (Bourdieu, 1984).”Reality” TV programmes such as “Trading Places” in the U.K. ; U.

S.A. illustrate that uprooting members of one social and occupational class into the role of another, changes their perspective on life and appreciation of circumstance. If occupation did not appreciably influence identity then the premise of these programmes would be groundless.Although income often influences the status of an occupation, this is not a hard and fast rule. Whilst a junior doctor may have status and prestige, the average plumber probably earns three times as much.

This underlines the connection between the class structure and professional status.If social status, income and (assumed) politics can be associated with particular occupations, then it is hard to contemplate that such occupations will not automatically influence identity.The unemployed, against the social background we have explored, are rendered a virtual under class whose personal identity is in conflict with social perception (Robinson ; Gregson, 1992).Identity is both the way one feels and the way one is perceived. Since occupation (and unemployment) already carries preconceptions about identity, this must affect both the individual and the group identities of those who perform them.

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