HSP3M Grade 11 Anthropology – Social Identity, Roles, Racism, & Discrimination

Section 6.1—Sociology and Identity

Social Identity

  • socialization is the process by which individuals learn the beliefs and values of their society, enabling them to become well-adjusted members of that society
    • by internalizing the values of the group to which one belongs, an individual also develops a self-concept and begins to establish their place in the larger world
  • social identity is the way you define yourself to the world and to yourself
    • as an individual develops self-concept and begins to establish their place in the world, social identity begins to emerge, allowing a person to interact socially with a number of people in a variety of different situations
      • the challenge becomes knowing when and how to act in these carious situations—the greater the number of interactions, the more a person is able to develop their approach to social interactions/social identity creating a reciprocal relationship between individual and society
  • many elements work together to establish identity, including gender, culture, age, and social class
    • throughout the course of one’s life, these elements aid in the formation of social identity


Social Identity and the Life Cycle

  • social identity isn’t static—it changes and grows along with the individual through their life, and is influenced by life experiences
  • life stage is a key determinant of social roles and identities
  • for many sociologists, the key to understanding the emergence of a specific behaviour/role in society is to study its progress throughout a person’s life
    • sociologists assume individuals will pass through different stages in their life, and while doing so, the individuals are meant to accomplish certain developmental tasks
  • like Erikson’s and Piaget’s stages of development, stages of the life cycle refer to developing social skills and abilities that form your behaviour in society
  • the importance of socialization in a person’s life is clearly seen as individuals constantly develop, examine, and re-examine crucial roles they play in the family and in society at various stages of their life
  • not everyone passes through all the stages, nor will the stages necessarily occur in the same order (ex: many people today may never get married; others will get married to someone who already has children)
    • these stages have been altered by greater choices in career and lifestyle, and influenced by socio-economic circumstances, and cultural backgrounds
  • there are several elements that reappear routinely throughout the life cycle, including gender, culture, and social class
    • each person fashions a unique social identity out of these experiences
  • long before we learn anything from society, we learn from our formative experiences of belonging to a family
    • we take these lessons and translate them into a broader identity that will serve us in the “real world”
  • life stages:





Young Single Adult

  • establish one’s independence as an individual and setting life direction
  • plan and obtain an appropriate education
  • establish social class and status
  • develop love relationships in connection to one’s identity
  • acknowledge cultural traditions of the family
Newly Married Couple

  • determine social and gender roles
  • further establish social class and status
  • decide on parenthood
  • teach cultural traditions of one’s family to spouse
Family with Young Children

  • integrate gender roles and expectations of parenthood
  • act as the primary agent of socialization for children
  • pass along cultural traditions to offspring
  • confirm social status and class
  • integrate important agents of socialization (ex: school, religion)
Family with Adolescents

  • further integrate agents of socialization
  • establish balance of autonomy and control for adolescents
  • cope with strong social influences on the family
  • ensure cultural traditions are maintained by all members of the family
Family in Mid-Life

  • launch grown children (sometimes relaunching them more than once)
  • incorporate new members through social institutions (like marriage)
  • maintain cultural traditions of the family while expanding traditions to include new members
  • aging and possibly developing alienation between older and younger generations
Family in Later Life

  • adjust to retirement and possible changes in social status and class
  • maintain love, sex, and marital relationships
  • reintegrate important agents of socialization (religion)
  • pass along cultural traditions to future generations



Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory

  • humans seek interaction with others whenever possible, and use those experiences to shape our future responses and behaviour
  • who we are is formed by our gender, class, age, and culture; our daily interactions with others, where we learn about important social roles and values, also have a great influence
  • our behaviour in a group can also influence our attitudes and behaviours
    • sociologists observe group behaviour to reveal important info on individual motivation and social values
      • ex: conformity (process by which one changes their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour to meet the expectations of a group/authority figure) by simply observing how individuals interact with members of their group
  • when studying group behaviour, sociologists aim to discover the nature of the group relationship and the amount of influence it exerts on our attitudes and identities as individuals


  • Henri Tajfel studied how groups influence individuals; his experiment involved showing 14 and 15 year old boys a series of pictures of art pieces by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky
    • the boys were then told they would be grouped based on their preference of one of the artists (the boys weren’t told the whole process was a ploy meant to establish the notion of “us” and “them” between 2 groups)
  • after creating the groups, each boy was taken to a cubicle where he was given the task of distributing “play money” to other participants—the boys were provided with only 2 pieces of info about the person receiving the money (a code number for the boy, and the group the boy belonged to)
  • Tajfel wanted to discover how the boys would distribute the money (did they distribute money ensuring their group would profit, distribute money fairly, distribute money without care for group’s welfare)
  • results showed it’s possible for a group to form instantaneously without as much as a word exchanged between the group members
    • after reviewing how the money was distributed, the boys favoured their group over the other—even though the boys gained nothing if they favoured their own group, the boys consistently chose to favour their group members
      • concludes that group favouritism have advantages, because it’s part of our need for protection, acceptance, and security
  • conclusion of experiment showed a direct link between social behaviour and social identity—Tajfel’s social identity theory suggests group membership helps shape one’s identity (belonging to a group means protecting core beliefs of the group/any other group that might threaten the group’s existence, typically causing putting down opposing group)
    • Tajfel’s experiment proved that with minimal prompting, individuals are willing to join groups and one a member, internalize the group’s core beliefs as their own


Role Theory

  • the microsociological theories explain the “give-and-take” relationship between the individual and society
    • microsociology focuses on the individual’s behaviour in society
  • symbolic interactionists like Erving Goffman set out to understand individual behaviour in relation to social roles people willingly and unwillingly play in society


Social Roles

  • social roles are expectations attached to particular social positions
  • all human behaviour is acted—people manipulate their appearance in order to present a specific kid of self, depending on the audience
  • some positions in society are very clear, while others aren’t (ex: the teacher has many expectations from students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, each of whom have a different expectation; the teacher consolidates all these expectations and acts accordingly
  • sometimes we play our role willingly, and at other times we do so reluctantly; the most common role we are taught from birth is how to behave according to our gender


  • gender identify is expected to be enacted throughout an individual’s lifetime—what we believe about gender is internalized from a young age through the family
    • gender identity is based on accepted norms of masculine and feminine behaviour, as developed by family, society, and portrayed in the media
  • gender socialization occurs as the child ages—initially, very young children aren’t able to distinguish the differences between masculine and feminine roles; eventually they mature, and develop an understanding about the differences between the sexes
  • as children grow, the continuously re-examine and make adjustments to their attitude toward both sexes—they eventually come to appreciate the company of the opposite/same sex and see out intimate relationships possibly
  • gender roles have changed throughout time; economic and cultural globalization as redefined gender roles (especially in the role of the women in society)
  • in a study, children distinguished between male and female differences on factors of weak/strong and emotional/not-emotional
  • studies show that children with cross-sex identities (boys who thought of themselves in ways similar to how girls think of themselves; vice versa) were more likely to have low self-esteem


Dating and Courtship in the Digital Age

  • mate selection undergoes noticeable changes from one generation to another; these trends tell us a great deal about gender values of the particular generation
    • ex: during Victorian era, young ladies were under the watchful eyes of chaperones (an older/married woman who accompanies/supervises a young unmarried woman) accepted “invitations” by eligible men
    • ex: in some parts of the world, parents play a big role in dating and courtship, from choosing prospective mates and arranging contracts with the spouse’s family
  • in Canada, free-choice mate selection is the most common, although some cultures maintain some element of parental involvement
  • recently, many societies in the world have begun using digital dating
  • choosing a mate based on similar characteristics is known as homophily (the tendency to associate with those who are similar to us)
    • people gravitate towards those who are similar to them (core values, education)
    • online dating makes it possible to track factors that lead to selection of a mate (reveals that homphily is quite prevalent/dominant)
  • in India, technology has decreased popularity of arranged marriages
    • many young couples in arranged marriages also use cell phones as a way to get to know each other better (different from traditional method of meeting your spouse for 20 minutes, and getting married soon after)
  • use of email and social networking sites have changed the landscape of dating courting—many prospective mates can  be found on suitable cultural matches)
  • sociologists see changes in courtship as a natural response to the changing lifestyles of young singles today
    • fewer people are getting married in their early 20s
    • more individuals are choosing lifestyles and careers far from where they grew up (therefore less likely to participate in traditional social networks close to home for meting a mate, causing them to turn to technology methods)


David Reimer: The Boy Who Lived as a Girl

  • Winnipeg twins Bruce and Brian Reimer were born in 1965—at 6 months they were circumcised, and the procedure damaged Bruce’s genitals beyond repair
  • one night, Bruce’s parents saw a TV profile of Dr. John Money claiming that boys could be raised as girls if taught early enough
    • they met with Dr. Money, and the doctor decided that Bruce was a perfect candidate for a gender reassignment
  • Dr. Money believed that genes are important, but a baby is essentially gender-neutral for the first 2 years of life; therefore a child’s upbringing and how they’re nurtured determines whether the child feels masculine/feminine
    • Dr. Money believed Bruce was young enough that he could be raised as a girl, and recommended parts of Bruce’s genitals be removed; his parents were to treat Bruce as a female
  • Bruce was renamed Brenda; however, Bruce looked like a girl, but wasn’t very feminine (got into fights often, didn’t play with girls)
  • as Bruce reached puberty, his thick neck and shoulders revealed a more masculine physique—it showed the experiment didn’t work, but Dr. Money under the Reimers to create female genitals for Bruce
  • finally the Reimers decided to tell their son the truth; once Bruce knew, he decided he no longer wanted to be female, and dressed like a boy again and named himself David
  • because of the surgical procedures he endured, David wasn’t able to father his own kids, but reconstructive surgeries allowed him to have a normal sex life
    • he did get married, and was stepfather to his wife’s 3 kids; when his wife asked for a separation in 2004, he committed suicide


Identity and Discrimination

  • society and its institutions (government and law enforcement) are responsible for ensuring everyone’s rights regardless of age, sex, race, or sexual orientation
    • in Canada, our rights and freedoms are written into the laws that govern our society—Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms demand the government treat all individuals and the groups to which they belong equally and fairly
  • Canadians enjoy these fundamental freedoms equally:
    • freedom of conscience and religion
    • freedom of thought, belief, opinion/expression
    • freedom of the press and other media of communication
    • freedom of peaceful assembly
    • freedom of association


Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination

  • despite the Charter, discrimination (act of treating groups/individuals unfairly based on their race, gender, or other common characteristic; can be overt or systematic) still exists; most forms of discrimination begin with stereotypes
    • discrimination comes in many forms, such as:
      • homophobia—fear of homosexuality
      • sexism—based on gender
      • racism—based on notion that some races are superior to others
      • classism—based on social/economic class
      • ageism—based on age, especially youths or the elderly
      • ableism—based on assumption of being able-bodied
  • a stereotype is an exaggerated view/judgement made about a group/class of people
    • ex: assuming certain tasks can only be accomplished by men and not women, cause men are stronger
    • stereotypes highlight a specific behaviour observed, in limited and infrequent form, about one group by another
  • stereotypes may extend to form the basis of severe beliefs such as:
    • racism: erroneous judgement, assumptions, opinions or actions toward a person/group, based on the belief that one race is superior to another
    • sexism: attitudes/behaviours based on predetermined ideas of sexual roles that discriminate against others because of their sex
    • classism: systematic or personal actions that discriminate against persons according to their socio-economic level
  • stereotypes may turn into prejudice (an individual judgement about/active hostility toward another social group)
    • prejudice isn’t illegal, but it’s unethical
    • the effects of prejudice on the victim are serious, making the victim feel isolated and fearful
    • when the victims of prejudice are children, they may also experience a decline in academic achievement and be emotionally withdrawn
  • people who act on their prejudice can lead to discrimination
  • there are 2 forms of discrimination:
    • overt—intentional actions that are taken against an individual/group because of distinguishing characteristics they possess
    • systemic—subtle/unintentional discrimination where consequences/outcomes aren’t fully understood by those taking action
  • Crayola use to have prejudice in the colours of their name(Prussian Blue changed to Midnight Blue; Flesh changed to Peach; Indian Red to Chestnut)
  • when faced with any form of discrimination, it’s important to act rather than ignore
    • an upstander is a person who takes action (particularly when the easiest/most acceptable thing is to do nothing) when they believe something is right


Defining New Ways to Discriminate in a Post 9/11 World

  • 9/11 changed the way many have come to view Islam and Muslims as many Muslims experience racism, prejudice, and discrimination
  • a popular form of discrimination became known as Islamophobia which is racism that leads to prejudice against and fear of Islamic beliefs and Muslims
  • since 9/11 peaceful, law-abiding Muslims have come under attack by those fearful and suspicious of their culture and religious beliefs


Discrimination against Obese People by Doctors

  • overweight people have been the target of scrutiny for a number of years—many believe that obese people lack willpower and thus overeat and don’t exercise (this isn’t always the case)
  • in an American study, 620 doctors were asked to describe obese patients; they used terms like awkward, unattractive, ugly
    • doctors also believed obese people were unlikely to comply with treatment, influencing the way doctors treat patients
  • another study shows the higher a patient’s body mass, the less respect a doctor has for the patient; less respect from a doctor leads to less time spent with the patient, and less info offered by the doctor
    • this leads to a cycle where the patient doesn’t get the help needed to manage the weight problem


What Causes Prejudice and Discrimination?

  • sociologists look for answers to the question of what causes prejudice and discrimination in the process of socialization and conformity to group behaviour
  • there are numerous theories that aim to explain the unfortunate origins of discrimination 


Learned Theory

  • prejudice and discriminatory behaviour are learned behaviours individuals acquire through socialization
    • children learn by observing their parents and often imitate the behaviours they see
  • many of the behaviours parents demonstrate are meant to help their kids function and get along in society as they age
    • unfortunately not all lessons learned at home are positive—in some cases, prejudicial views are passed along from parent to child (often children carry those views with them until adolescent years, when they abandon beliefs of parents in favour of peers’ beliefs)
  • the family isn’t the only agent of socialization carrying potentially negative ideas that can lead to intolerance—media is responsible for portraying both positive and negative views of race, gender, and sexual orientation
    • images in media have been known to spread stereotypes (ex: white people are typically in lead roles)
  • the English language is also riddled with inappropriate terminology (fireman, mailman, policeman, weatherman), allowing children to make assumptions about gender roles and career choice
  • family and media has allowed individuals to learn and retain prejudice and discrimination


Competition Theory

  • prejudice in Canada exists against visible (non-white immigrants) within the country
  • according to the theory, the reason people distrust immigrants is economic competition—whenever an economic crisis occurs in society, people incorrectly assume that immigration policies and immigrants are at fault
    • the unemployed may come to believe that newcomers have taken jobs, creating a sense of competition between the 2 groups
  • some believe the large influx of new Canadians place strains on our social and economic hardships of the country
  • unfounded and inaccurate assumptions may lead some to hold deep resentment toward immigrants and may account for certain prejudice and discrimination in society


Frustration-Aggression Theory

  • sometimes the shortcomings an individual experiences in their financial status provide a reason to resent groups in society that may appear to have greater access to wealth and prosperity, especially for those in low-income situations
  • frustration is often displaced and turned into outward aggression toward the rivals who an individual feels is responsible for holding them back
    • people in this situation will act on their frustration by lash out at the other people
  • this theory believes in the creation of a scapegoat (a specific person/group of people who become the target of hatred/blame for the hardships of others), who are a specific group of people who become the target of hatred and blame for the majority class in society
    • ex: treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany—Jews were scapegoat along with disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses, and homosexuals


Ignorance Theory

  • lack of personal and social experience can cause people to make incorrect assumptions about a specific class/group in society
  • when we refuse to learn about a group, we remain unaware of how and why they function as they do; without adequate knowledge, we may view the group’s behaviour as strange
    • these beliefs can become the basis for later discrimination toward the group
  • according to the theory, it is fear of unfamiliar cultural practices that guide discriminatory behaviour
  • when one group targets another to blame the other for something, the focus is taken away from the first group and any faults they might have (it’s easier to focus on some else’s faults than to change your own behaviour)
  • ethnocentrism is the practice of evaluating other cultures based on the customs and behaviours of one’s own culture, which is considered superior to others’


Do Parents Have the Right to Teach Kids Antisocial Beliefs?

  • Do parents have the right to raise their kids with specific set of beliefs that go against the norms of society?
  • does the government have the right to remove children from their parents if they are being taught hateful ideas:


  • parents have the right to their religious beliefs, but if this causes emotional harm, these rights may be suppressed
  • the welfare of the child must be considered first and foremost (being the biological parent doesn’t mean they are the best person to raise the child)
  • we have laws to protect against the abuse of children and teaching children hateful attitudes is considered abuse
  • research shows children who are exposed to antisocial ideas may incorporate these ideas into their identities and behaviours
  • it’s important to educate children on tolerance and acceptance—in extreme case when the opposite as been taught, it’s important that these ideas be reversed at a young age when attitudes can be more easily changed
  • parents have the right to raise their child as they choose
  • freedom of expression and religious freedom mean parents can believe what they want and pass on their beliefs to their children
  • the state can’t interfere with parents’ rights to raise their children just because they disagree with their values/religious beliefs
  • children don’t always accept the values of their parents (since they have freedom of thought) and this beliefs of parents aren’t abuse
  • who decides what’s “antisocial”—it would be hard to draw the line