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Collective Identity and Expressive Forms

Abstract

This article provides an analytic overview of scholarly work on the concept of collective identity by considering its conceptualization and various empirical manifestations, the analytic approaches informing its discussion and analysis, and a number of theoretical and empirical issues, including a synopsis of the symbolic means through which collective identity is expressed and asserted. Although the scholarly roots of the concept can be traced to classical sociologists such as Marx and Durkheim, and more recently to the mid-century work of scholars such as Erik Erickson and Erving Goffman, it was not until the latter quarter of the past century that the concept generated an outpouring of work invoking the concept directly or referring to it indirectly through the linkage of various collectivities and their identity interests via such concepts as identity politics, identity projects, contested identities, insurgent identities, nationalism, imagined communities, identity movements and even social movements more generally. Conceptually, the essence of collective identity resides in a shared and interactive sense of "we-ness" and "collective agency." Although the concept is distinguished analytically from both personal identity and social identity, the three types of identity clearly overlap and interact. Empirically, collective identity can surface in a variety of contexts, although the preponderance of research has focused on its connection to gender, ethnicity, religion, nationalism and particularly social movements. Analytically, collective identity has generally been discussed from a primordial, structural, and/or constructionist standpoint. Primordial and structural approaches are discussed as variants of essentialism, which is contrasted to constructionism. Among other things, constructionism focuses attention on the symbolic expression and maintenance of collective identities.

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