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A sociological approach to self and identity begins with the assumption that there is a reciprocal relationship between the self and society (Stryker, 1980). The self-influences society through the action of individuals thereby creating groups, organizations, networks, and institutions. And, reciprocally, society influences the self through its shared language and meanings that enable a person to take the role of the other, engage in social interaction, and reflect upon oneself as an object. The latter process of reflexivity constitutes the core of selfhood (McCall & Simmons, 1978; Mead, 1934). Because the self emerges in and is reflective of society, the sociological approach to understanding the self and its parts (identities) means that we must also understand the society in which the self is acting, and keep in mind that the self is always acting in a social context in which other selves exist (Stryker, 1980). This chapter focuses primarily on the nature of self and identity from a sociological perspective, thus some discussion of society is warranted. The nature of the self and what individuals do depends to a large extent on the society within which they live.
In general, sociologists are interested in understanding the nature of society or social structure: its forms and patterns, the ways in which it develops and is transformed. The traditional symbolic interactionist perspective known as the situational approach to self and society, sees society as always in the process of being created through the interpretations and definitions of actors in situations (Blumer, 1969). Actors identify the things that need to be taken into account for themselves, act on the basis of those identifications, and attempt to fit their lines of action with others in the situation to accomplish their goals. From this perspective, the inference is made that individuals are free to define the situation in any way they care to, with the consequence that society is always thought…

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