Cultural Identity and Personal Identity

Philosophical Reflections on the Identity Discourse of Social Psychology
  • Thomas Wren
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 11)


This chapter discusses the relationship between personal identity and what is variously called group identity, reference group orientation, and — in the broadest sense of the term — cultural identity, with a special interest paid to how the contrast between these two sorts of identity operates in the discourse of modern social science. The orthodox discourse of social scientists, especially that of personality theorists, treats personal identity as an epiphenomenon of group identity and as an amalgam of self-concept and self-esteem. This conceptual construction has grown out of a more general discussion in the mid-20th century social theory concerning how individuals are related to groups, and is represented by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s and, more recently, by contemporary racial identity theorists.

In opposition to Lewin, the latter argue that a positive personal identity (strong self-esteem, etc.) can and often does coexist with a negative group identity (reference group disaffiliation, etc.). However, they share with Lewin and most social scientists the uncritical assumption that identity — individual or group — is static and integral, rather than the discursive outcome of a fluid, collaborative dialogue among real people with overlapping perspectives and preferences. Beneath their claims that personal and group identity are social constructions lies an unreconstructed essentialism that reifies these concepts.

Key Words

cultural identity group identity person personal identity personality racial identity self self-esteem social construction social science 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

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  • Thomas Wren

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