2 - Identification theory – its structure, dynamics and application  pp. 25-53

Identification theory – its structure, dynamics and application

By William Bloom

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The purpose of this chapter is twofold:

  • 1 To explain identification theory.
  • 2 To demonstrate how it provides a solution to the problem of not having, in Smelser's words (quoted above), ‘the methodological capacity to argue causally from a mixture of aggregated states of individual members of a system to a global characteristic of the system’.

The theory itself is presented through an exegesis of the identification theories of Sigmund Freud, George Herbert Mead, Erik Erikson, Talcott Parsons and Jurgen Habermas. The general flow of the chapter is to focus first on the psychology of the individual and then to work outwards, through the psychology of small social groupings, to the psychology of mass national society.

That both Freud and Mead can be understood as adopting the same theoretical stance towards identification provides the crucial epistemological basis for this chapter. This is so because Freud and Mead are respectively the theoretical patrons of the two major contemporary and contending schools of psychology: the introspective or analytical, and the behaviourist. Although the two men and the two schools differsubstantially in most other theoretical areas, they find common ground in their understanding of identification.

Erik Erikson is centrally important, for it was his writings which demonstrated the crucial nature of satisfactory identifications for personality integration and stability. He made clear the fundamental importance of identity in the health of the individual and demonstrated its dynamic adaptive quality from infancy through to old age.