Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schmidt-Denter
Personal and Social Identity in the Context of Globalization and National Differentiation 

Description of the Research Project

"Who am I?": the question of personal identity is as old as humanity. Many fieldsof science, including psychology, philosophy, the social sciences and now neuroscience, too, are busy working on this question. In the course of globalization and due to numerous migrations the issue of keeping one’s own identity as well as "the search for social affiliation has become a hot topic" (Keupp, 1997, p. 30, translation by D. Schöngen). Simultaneously it is possible to observe a growing tendency toward nationalistic thought and differentiation worldwide, which can be seen in anxieties about strangers and violence against foreigners. This problem of safeguarding an identity in the tension between the desire to be open to the stranger on the one hand and the innate need for intimacy and social affiliation on the other hand is the subject of the research project "Personal and Social Identity" at the Universities of Cologne and Magdeburg. Different research areas will be connected conceptually, including research about self-concept, newer and older forms of identity research and research about social identity.

In work on personal identity the phenomena of the individual’s awareness of being the same person despite development over time and in different situations and contexts (Erikson, 1980) is a central issue. Social identity describes the feeling of affiliation within social groups, which contributes to a person’s identity (Tajfel, 1982). Everyone has several social identities, based on being an insider in social groups in different micro- and macro-layers (e.g. family, friends, place of residence, state, nation, or the European Union). National and cultural identity are special forms of general social identity. If identity is endangered, e.g. due to migration, critical life events or social-historical issues related to collective feelings of guilt and divisions within a country (as in Germany), a person uses specific strategies to recreate a positive social identity (Tajfel, 1982). These strategies include increasing the perceived value of the in-group and reducing that of the out-group. These strategies can take extreme forms, like xenophobia and excessive national pride, and influence opinions about other people and groups. But it is also possible to increase the perceived value of the out-group and reduce that of the in-group. Thus we see the complex relationship which underlies the interaction between personal and social identity. The definition of the self and that of others, the process of social affiliation and the definition of individual boundaries all interact dynamically. Creating the connection between the preservation of one’s self and tolerance towards others is a difficult developmental task. This hypothesis should on the one hand be viewed from a developmental perspective, in particular during the different phases of life and on the other hand from a country and culture-comparative perspective in different European states. Particular interest should be paid to early, middle and late adolescence as the central phases of identity construction and early adulthood, with a special focus on the transition to becoming parents as an important life event and trigger for identity regulating processes. Further, the meaning of socialization influences and parental upbringing for identity development and the transmission of identity from parents to their children will be explored.

The project is supported by a theoretical model (a structural model of personal and social identity), which is on the one hand based on Williams Stern's (1918) critical personalism and on the other hand on Fend’s (1994) research on the development of the self in youths. Identity is defined there as a "unitas multiplex", which is composed of the components

The model was enhanced by the addition of the aspects of social identity and a concept describing the relationship between to personal and social identity. In the field of personal identity other models were integrated including the concept of identity style by Berzonsky (1989) and the identity regulation model by Haußer (1995), who defines identity as a relationship structure of combining
The project is laid out as a questionnaire study. The development of the inquiry instruments and pretests have been successfully completed. Questionnaires for different countries and age groups are already complete. We have started from the assumption that different countries, based on their history and national self-understanding, experience different influences on identity development and so the developmental context for the individuals living there diverge as well. In the context of the growing together of Europe data will be collected in countries belonging to the EU like Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Austria and in potential members like the Czech Republic and Turkey. Different states of the USA will also take part in the study, because this country has a long tradition of experience with multicultural processes.



Projekt-Homepage: Personale und soziale Identität