Three Faces of Identity (Annual Review of Sociology)

Timothy J. Owens, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Dawn T. Robinson

We review three traditions in research on identity. The first two traditions, which stress (a) the internalization of social positions and their meanings as part of the self structure and (b) the impact of cultural meanings and social situations on actors’ identities, are closely intertwined. The third, the burgeoning literature on collective identity, has developed quite independently of the first two and focuses more on group-level processes. Unlike previous reviews of identity, which have focused on the sources of internalized identity (e.g., role relationship, group membership, or category descriptor), we focus here on the theoretical mechanisms underlying theories of identity. We organize our review by highlighting whether those mechanisms are located in the individual’s self-structure, in the situation, or in the larger sociopolitical context. We especially attempt to draw connections between the social psychological literature on identity processes and the distinct, relatively independent literature on collective identity.