How are marked and unmarked identities socially produced

Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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A simple definition of identity might be no more than “who we are”. People of the same nationality or age, for example, can be said to have an identity in common. It follows that by virtue of belonging to more than one group, or “collective identity”, we all have multiple identities. Identities can connect people; and disconnect them too. Similarities in group identities may give rise to positive connections between people, but equally connections may be negative when referring to differences.

An identity created by differences can be: one that is negatively valued; one which ceases to be equal; and one where social life is maintained on an imbalance. Identities can be both individual (for example: female, Southerner) and, through referring to relationships and connections to others (whether they be similar or different), social. Furthermore, social identities can be either situated, that is given by what people are doing (shopping, working), or relational and given by the relationships between people.

It is important to note this relational identity can be unequal. The concepts of marked and unmarked identities are a pairing of unequal relational identities where the unmarked identities - taken for granted - are not noticed; in contrast to the marked identities, which always are. As Taylor states, the marked identities “in most cases carry a negative value” (Taylor, 2009, p179). This essay describes the way marked and unmarked identities are created. An example of marked and unmarked identity is found in Raban’s Street People.

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They were the homeless living on the streets of New York; they were grouped by “others” (everyone else) as a collection of “thieves, alcoholics, the temporarily jobless” (Raban cited in Taylor p176). The identity given to the Street People is relational; it is both detailed and negative and is the marked identity of the pairing. “Everyone else”, the other half of the relationship, is of course the unmarked identity. People with unmarked identities have a “vaguely positive ‘normal’ identity which is not really described” (Taylor, 2009, p179).

Moreover, the Street People were grouped together as being the “same”, because as Taylor suggests it is part of the nature of group identities that they are not seen as individuals with different life histories (2009, p177). “The social process through which the difference of other people is marked and their negatively valued identity becomes established” is known as Othering (Taylor, 2009, p179). From the articles both the Roma or “immigrants” and the “thugs” are the marked identities.

The Roma immigrants have a racial and ethnic collective identity; they are Roma, from Romania, living in Northern Ireland, some of whom are English-speaking. The attacks against them (by the thugs) are racially motivated, and in racist rhetoric a frequent insistence is that immigrants should ‘go back to where they come from’. As Taylor observes, a racial and ethnic identity, like the Roma, often positions people “as recent immigrants to the country in which they were born and grew up” (2009, p182).

Although the article doesn’t say how long the immigrant Roma people have been living in Belfast, the mention of a baby indicates that in this community there is at least a second generation. The other marked identity is that of the thugs. They are described with labels such as, “gang”, “neo-Nazi”, “racist criminals” and “far-right faction” whose actions were “illegal”; although unlike the Street People they may be comfortable claiming at least part of that identity.

In both articles figures of authority use powerful language to condemn the behaviour of the thugs and unconditionally support the Roma. The Roma are recognised as making a contribution to the community where they were living, presumably side by side with their assailants, in a cosmopolitan district of Belfast. Despite this, however, they remain marked; their identity is further reinforced and re-created by the negative effect of the rhetoric of persecution and discrimination in both the articles.

In contrast, the unmarked identity are the Western, white, Irish who are also given a situational identity by association with their “cosmopolitan and affluent” place of residence - a strong impression is given of a “nice” (not a “working-class”) place to live. In the article the journalist makes a particular point of mentioning that the attacks did not happen in a working-class, Protestant neighbourhood, where perhaps it would be less surprising to see this behaviour? In a modern society it is no longer possible to divide up a community into Karl Marx’s neat groups of capitalists and workers.

A more complex picture exists in the contemporary UK of “middle-class” and “working-class” groups. Both terms refer to characteristics such as affluence, education, background and even accent, furthermore terms, such as “chav”, “posh” or “yummy mummy” can add further detail. In the article the description of Lisburn Road with “coffee shops full of affluent young mothers” is describing a comfortable, middle-class district which confers an identity just on the unmarked.

As with Raban’s Street People, the Roma and the thugs have been grouped into an “imagined community”. ’Imagined’ refers to the importance of our ideas and beliefs about the world” (Taylor, 2009, p178). Typically, members of an imagined community are too numerous to be personally acquainted, however, as both the Roma and thugs were relatively small groups it is probable that members were acquainted. The negative collective identity, again as with the Street People, was given by others. Taylor suggests that at some level the experience of being homeless in a modern society in some way constituted the Street People as a group, as the experience of persecution helped constitute the Roma as a group (2009, p178).

Finally, the story of the Roma people here is an example of how established differences and inequalities are reinforced. The attacks by the thugs were “part of a trend of growing abuses against the Roma across Europe” (www. amnestry. org. uk accessed December 2010) they were challenging and contesting the right of the Roma to live in their community. In turn their persecution of the Roma was challenged by residents of the community and figures of authority in an attempt to repair and improve society. Taylor, S (2009) ‘Who do we think we are? Identities in everyday life’ in Taylor, S. Hinchliffe, S. , Clarke, J. and Bromley, S. (eds) Making Social Lives, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Amnesty International accessed 4th December 2010 http://www. amnesty. org. uk/news_details. asp? NewID=18258 Order and predictability are important if society is to exist therefore it is inherent that social order is maintained. Social order can be referred to as a set of linked social structures, social institutions and social practices which act to conserve, maintain and enforce an orderly way of relating and behaving within society.

There are various views and theories of how social order is created within society two such views come from Erving Goffman and Michael Foucault. The difference between theories such as those of Erving Goffman and Michael Foucault is primarily one of focus. Goffman analysed social rules governing nonverbal interactions by individual people to develop his theories using the metaphor of a theatre. Goffman demonstrated that the most casual actions, such as posture, body and eye movements that people make are performances aimed toward communicating a positive impression for an audience.

Goffman focused on the self and self-presentation he preferred to study individuals. Goffman’s descriptions of individual’s face-to-face interactions formed the large body of his work through this he noted that social interactions could be reworked by changing interactions. In contrast, Michael Foucault preferred to analyse the entire society. He examined the ways in which societies function and the principles of exclusion societies developed to define their differing forms of order throughout different historical times.

Foucault did not conduct the type of first hand and intensive field work characteristic of the development of Goffman's theories. Foucault's theories on history and the self were more impersonal and global in focus. They centred on how societies interpreted and implemented their definitions of sane and insane, innocent and criminal and insider and outsider and how with each differing discourse social change emerged creating a new and greater power than the last.

Goffman looks at the way individuals present themselves and their activities to others using the theatre as a framework. In his theory of impression management Goffman saw that through interaction with others in society an impression of the subject is given off to others. This is automatic and inevitable. The way people perceive others is through this social interaction. This means that through messages that are given off whether intended or unintended they are the judgments by which people will hold their opinion of others they come into contact with.

According to Goffman impression management is fundamentally about expressive responsibility it is about self-consciously crafting an exterior appearance that will not offend the audience. In other words social interaction is an act of dramatization in which people perform in accordance with the social order or environment expected of them the nature of the environment and with the goal of manufacturing performances that are acceptable keeps social order constant but if these interactions are changed or reworked the result will be different disrupting the social norms within society (Silva, 2009, p. 16).

In contrast to Goffmans research Foucault dismisses the view that individuals have any power or control over society looking instead at historical evidence and exploring how social order is written and talked about differently depending on what is deemed appropriate by the organisations which govern society at the time which he is studying he called these discourses the way different frameworks guide what is acceptable within these periods of time whether it be the way people are talking or acting at any given point in history.

So as well as looking at how these subjects act within the larger society he is looking at society itself as a larger organism this allows him to explore micro as well as macro rather than Goffmans studies of only the micro or the individual. (Silva, 2009, p. 319) There are however similarities between the two in that they are both concerned with the bigger picture of understanding how society and social order is formed, maintained, changed and rebuilt over time the differences only become visible when their methods and theories are broken down.

A good way to explore both the similarities and differences in these theories is to look at the case studies by Buchanan and Monderman In these instances the focus is the relationship between traffic and pedestrians and how the governance of these variables act as agents in the conception of social order. Buchanan and Monderman explored how the relationship between traffic and pedestrians makes and remakes social order.

Traffic congestion in Britain’s towns and cities increased in correlation with the rise in car ownership following the conclusion of the Second World War. Buchanan was commissioned in 1961 by the UK Government to deliver the report ‘Traffic in Towns’. This report was deemed necessary to avoid demand for road space being greater than that available. The recommendation of the Buchanan report was that traffic and pedestrians should be segregated.

Buchanan’s principle was to isolate areas for working, shopping and leisure, separate to ‘corridors’ where traffic could move freely without disruption, regulating the movements of both traffic and pedestrians. The isolated areas were described as ‘environmental units’ (Silva, 2009, p. 328). Monderman’s view directly contradicted the ideas presented by Buchanan. Monderman challenged the principle of segregation as well as other factors associated with traffic calming such as warning signs and speed humps.

This philosophy of shared space takes a different approach to public spaces and highways in that segregation are almost exclusive to highways. Monderman’s thesis uses psychological traffic calming to improve road safety using measures such as abolishing roadside markings and Signposting. Monderman pioneered the idea of the ‘naked street’ the removal of what he viewed as unnecessary ‘street furniture’ within this model which promotes the idea of social order being maintained and balanced by the interaction between drivers and pedestrians (Silva, 2009, p. 333).

Monderman displays awareness and understanding of the driver of the vehicle in contrast to Buchanan, Monderman implies that the driver rather than the vehicle is the true cause of potential danger on the road. Both of these studies can be used and compared to those of Foucault and Goffman both have differing views centred on the same big issue for example Michel Foucault theorised that we behave according to what he refers to as discourse. In this instance discourse is what is in everyday talking, thinking and reading, but it has come down from people and institutions invested with authority.

In his view we think we are free to act but in reality we are obeying authority figures this can applied to the report by Colin Buchanan When people drive they automatically obey road signs and physical features Foucault proposes that discourses are replaced as the need arises but that they are always cascaded down from authority figures. These figures change through time from the organisations in charge of social order and so on. So as we had more cars on the road we had new rules around their use.

Monderman’s approach had the street furniture and segregation and claimed that pedestrians going through what became known as shared spaces instinctively knew to be aware of other road users and pedestrians and negotiated their way by making eye contact with each other.

Erving Goffman's theory can be compared to this as he believed that people interact with each other in daily life to make things work better so that they can make changes in social order which they can claim as their own rather controlled governing bodies. n conclusion both have many similarities such as their desire to understand social life and order, they are both rational in their ideas of authority although neither claims to have a definitive theory of social order both believe it is made up of sequences whether it be small individual pieces or discourses that creates power and organisation however they differ in their approaches to what components make up society one taking the individual and one taking society as a whole.

One believing that the way individuals act towards one another directly affects how social order is made and remade one believing that this is only influenced by larger organisms such as government as a whole not as individual entities. Both views have merit and are not without fault but are in their own ways directly concerned with the bigger picture that is social order within society.

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