Identity is a complex and loaded term with many and partly conflicting perspectives on what it entails. One common denominator is that identity is about “being yourself over time”, i.e. that there is something stable and recognisable. This can be applied to both individuals and groups.
An essentialist or dynamic identity?
The notion that identity is linked to something stable over time can be interpreted in different ways. A static or essentialist approach to identity requires an unchanged core, unaffected by external influences. The idea of a dynamic identity requires the individual to develop and be shaped by external forces.
Group identity requires several people to share some fundamental common features that bind them together.
There are also many stances in between. Yet when the identity concept is applied to groups, these differences come to have significant consequences. A group identity or collective identity requires several people to share some common features that bind them together and create a sense of belonging and solidarity. The question then becomes whether this is based on inherent attributes (e.g. ethnicity), characteristics that are assumed to be very stable over time (e.g. shared traditions), or even more open categories such as shared interests and common practices (e.g. occupation).
In other words, ideas about group identity can be linked to an essentialist or a dynamic approach to identity. This is of significance when it comes to ideas about belonging and solidarity. If the criteria for being part of a we group are founded on characteristics linked to biology or assumed, unchanging traditions, it makes it very difficult for new members to join this group.
Cora Alexa Døving describes how a “thin identity” based on factors that people from very different backgrounds can share or unite over can be more inclusive than a “thick identity”, which requires them to bond over things that are inborn or inherited and therefore very exclusionary.
Author: Claudia Lenz