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social identity(SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY) those aspects of the individual's self-concept which are derived from membership of and identification with social categories, e.g. race, gender, religion, occupation, and which are made salient in contexts where those social categories assume importance. Associated with each descriptive social identity is an evaluation which imparts positive or negative status. The social identity approach in modern social psychology originated in the work of Henri Tajfel, and his attempt to explain intergroup discrimination and conflict in ‘minimal group’ conditions, i.e. where group members are aware only of their group membership or category Social categorization is followed by a social comparison process. In this in-group, members seek to maintain a positive social identity by comparing themselves with the out-group on dimensions which ensure a favourable self-concept is retained, creating positive distinctiveness. Where this is difficult, perceptions of the out-group may be distorted, resulting in PREJUDICE. Minority groups in society face a situation where their social identities are largely or wholly negative. Tajfel and Turner (1979) have described a number of different strategies minorities are likely to adopt as a means to attain more positive social identities. Social mobility strategies involve attempts to leave the minority group; social creativity strategies seek to change the dimension, value or focus of the comparison process; and social competition strategies challenge or instigate direct conflict with the majority Social identity theorists explicitly reject the notion of individualism and REDUCTIONISM in social psychology that has, for example, led to attempts to explain prejudice in TRAIT terms (e.g. AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY), or in terms of individual personality dynamics (e.g. SCAPEGOATING). While individuals do obviously act in terms of personal identities in many situations, the presence of salient out-group members is much more likely to foster behaviour consistent with social identity and in-group membership. Cognitive explanations of prejudice, such as STEREOTYPING, are also rejected on reductionist grounds, and because they fail to explain why comparisons between in- and out-group always occur on dimensions favourable to the in-group.
Studies in a number of contexts have confirmed the appropriateness of the social identity perspective as an explanation of intergroup behaviour; e.g. Brown (1978) on occupational groups seeking to maintain wage differentials; Giles and Johnson (1981) on the behaviour of ethnolinguistic groups. More recently the approach has also been used successfully to explain intragroup processes such as CONFORMITY, minority influence, and group polarization.