Chapter 13: Social Identity, Personality, and Gender
ENCULTURATION: THE SELF AND SOCIAL IDENTITY
There is much debate over to what degree human behavior is influenced by genetic versus cultural factors. Some scientists think of humans as blank slates onto which our identities and personalities are written throughout our lifetimes, influenced by culture and experience. Other scientists believe that our genes might set some broad constraints and potentials on our identities and personalities. Regardless of which side one is on, it is indisputable that culture is the key to understanding how human beings learn about their society as well as develop the personalities they do. For all humans, roughly similar types of activities and orientations arise as they go through the process of enculturation and development.
- Enculturation begins with self-awareness (our ability to identify ourselves as an individual).
- However, for self-awareness to emerge and function, including the creation of a unique social identity, four basic orientations must develop to give structure to our behavioral environment: object, spatial, temporal and normative.
- Object orientation deals with a recognition and knowledge of objects other than ourselves.
- Spatial orientation deals with our ability to move through space among objects and to get from one place to another.
- Temporal orientation deals with our understanding of time and creates a sense of continuity.
- Normative orientation deals with our culture’s morals, standards, ethics and learning what behaviors are acceptable in our society.
Through the process of enculturation, an individual develops their personality (the way that a person behaves, acts, thinks, or feels). Enculturation, through setting limits and teaching people about acceptable behaviors, sets certain broad limitations and potentialities for the development of personality in a culture. The development of personality is incredibly complex.
- Because of the important role of culture in identity development, anthropologists are interested in personality and the self, a subfield of cultural anthropology known as psychological anthropology (the study of how different cultures define and create personality, identity and mental health).
- Furthermore, because the process of enculturation that helps to shape our personalities begins so early in life, many psychological anthropologists are interested in childhood experiences.
- Some of the areas on which researchers have focused include child rearing practices, how cultures divide up the human lifespan, and the distinct obligations, limitations and freedoms associated with particular age groups and genders.
- Within research on child rearing practices and their effects on personality, anthropologists explore dependence and independence training. These child-training practices are often intimately linked with personality development and the types of training used often vary with the economic system a particular culture uses.
- Dependence training refers to child rearing practices that foster dependence on the family rather than reliance on oneself. Children learn to think of themselves as part of the larger family and sublimate their own wants and desires in order to focus on the good of the family. We find this type of child rearing practice in cultures with extended family systems, which is typical of some food foraging, subsistence horticulture/farming and pastoralist lifestyles.
- Independence training refers to child rearing practices that foster independence, self-reliance and personal achievement. Children are taught to focus on their own goals. We find this type of child rearing practice in cultures with nuclear families, which are common in large state level systems with industry and in some foraging societies.
- Because culture plays such a large role in shaping personality, there is often the suspicion that people from one culture share a personality type. Over the years, there have been many attempts at trying to deduce a group personality or national character. What usually results are stereotypes and over-generalizations.
- A more fruitful approach to the idea of a group personality for a culture is the modal personality, or the character traits that occur most often in a specific culture.
- Another approach to shared personality types are core values, which are values that are especially promoted by a given culture.
GENDER MODELS FROM A CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE
We may think about sex (the presence of particular genitalia) as a binary state, you are either male or female. However, on a biological level, there are numerous examples of individuals occupying an ambiguous sexual position. Likewise, many cultures allow for more than two genders and permit various forms of sexual orientation. Puberty is the time when sexual maturation occurs and an individual’s sexual and gender orientations become apparent. Some believe that genes or hormones determine sexual preference while others believe it is culturally learned, like gender.
- Intersexuals, or intersexed individuals, are people born with reproductive organs, genitals or genes that are not exclusively male or female. These individuals have a hard time fitting into many cultures’ binary gender role systems. And while it may seem unusual to us, somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of all individuals born are intersexed in one way or another.
- Besides the biological differences of intersexuals, there are a variety of different gender systems in the world, some with more gender roles than the two with which we are familiar.
- Many gender systems cross-culturally make room for transgender individuals, or people whose gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex.
- In some cultures, transgender individuals are an accepted part of the gender system, occupying a place between male and female.
- Many cultures have even established roles for what are referred to as third gender people. Native Americans refer to them as winktes, hemanah and Berdache. In Samoa they are called fa’afafines, in India the hijras, in Thailand the kathoeys. In Oman in the Middle East they are known as Xaniths and in the Balkan region of Europe they are known as Sworn Virgins. As is apparent, a wide variety of different cultures have made room in their gender systems for more than just two roles.
- Transgender identity should not be confused with homosexuality. Homo- or heterosexuality is about sexual orientation. Gender is about the roles you play based on your sex.
NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PERSONALITY IN SOCIAL CONTEXT
Definitions of normal and abnormal behavior are culturally specific; what one culture feels is perfectly acceptable behavior, another will find odd or strange. Just as definitions of abnormal and normal behavior are culturally specific, they also change over time, where behavior that may have been previously labeled as abnormal is accepted as normal at a later date.
- However, in all cultures, there are individuals who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to operate within the bounds of acceptable behavior. An individual’s inability to operate by the rules that a culture establishes as normal may result in them being labeled eccentric, insane or criminal.
- While there are truly medically rooted mental disorders, things like schizophrenia, others that are found only in a specific ethnic group or culture are termed ethnic psychoses or culture-bound syndromes. Psychosocial issues such as stress are the cause of many syndromes or psychoses. Amok, evil eye and anorexia are three syndromes. Amok is recognized in Indonesia and causes sudden outbursts of violent and aggressive behavior, which is where we get run amok. Anorexia and bulimia are culture-bound syndromes of the West.