Emergence of a New Identity

Emergence of a New Identity

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-543-8.ch006
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Online learning communities are created and sustained by a collective sense of we-ness. There are many factors however, that influence the development of the community. Cyber educators may use digitally mediated communications (DMC) that are synchronous or asynchronous to promote social presence and connectedness within the online environment. The identity of the self as well as the identity of the group must be developed in order for knowledge to be co-constructed by the group and for trust to be established. Often times, however, a new self identity emerges as part of the process.
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  • Recognize the meaning of identity and social self.

  • Distinguish between deindividuation, depersonalization and the SIDE model.

  • Describe the impact of identity on virtual communities.



The concept of identity formation can be traced back to the psychosocial work of Erick Erikson, Sigmund Freud and others. Erickson (1968) coined the term “identity crisis” and explored how one’s feelings about the self and about one’s origins were reflected in character, goals and ability to handle life’s changes. Although it has become a common term in our vocabulary, the actual meaning of identity is still difficult to pin point. Most definitions of identity though, will show that it is comprised of two parts: personal identity and social identity. Personal identity is a set of beliefs and rules for action that a person holds about him or herself. This term is also a kin to individuation, which is a Jungian term that refers to the development of the self. Personal identity is sometimes used to describe the characteristics of the individual. Social identity on the other hand, is derived from membership in a group. Social identity attaches value and emotions to membership.

Social identity is formed when people see themselves as part of the group. In the context of digitally mediated communications, technology tools such as social software offers learners the opportunity to establish a social identity online (Meng, 2005). Below are few of the most commonly recognized definitions of identity as cited by Meng:

“…a subjective sense as well as an observable quality of personal sameness and continuity, paired with some belief in the sameness and continuity of some shared world image…” (Erikson, 1970).

“Social identity is the individual’s knowledge that he belongs to certain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to him of this group membership.” (Tajfel 1981, p. 255).

Self is construed in 3 levels: individual level, interpersonal level and group level. Individual level identity is the “…differentiated and individuated self-concepts...”

interpersonal self is “…the self-concept derived from connections and role relationships

with significant others…” and collective self “…corresponds to the concept of social

identity…”(Brewer and Gardner 1996. p. 84).

“The individual’s self-appraisal of a variety of attributes along the dimensions of physical and cognitive abilities, personal traits and motives and the multiplicity of social

roles including worker, family member and community citizen.” (Whitbourne & Connolly, 1999. p.28).

“Identity refers to either (a) a social category, defined by membership rules and (alleged) characteristic attributes or expected behaviors or (b) socially distinguishing features

that a person takes a special pride in or views as unchangeable but socially consequential or (a) and (b) at once.” (Fearon 1999, p.1.)

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