Symbolsk interaktionisme og identitet
YOU ARE HERE: Workshop Sessions » Symbolic interactionism and identity

Symbolic interactionism and identity

Departing from William James' ideas, not only about identity as mutable, but also about us having several identities simultaneously, the tradition known as symbolic interactionism  continues to view identity in this manner. The purpose of this workshop is to clarify this approach in the present with an historical outlook. Also emphasised is the union of theory development with empirical "reality".


Henriette Frees Esholdt: TBA


Annika Jonsson: Identities in a local order – troubling notions of what is important about people

There is a tendency to perceive and analyse identities primarily in light of social categories, such as gender, class, age and ethnicity. There are some good reasons for this – most people will claim membership in such categories in different respects and to various degrees. They will also, as a general rule, be involved in gender attribution, age attribution etc. on a regular basis. Geography, i.e. where a person lives or used to live, as well as occupation is sometimes taken into account, and occasionally other aspects of an individual’s life are made relevant. Of course we could spend all our time sorting out everything that matters when identities are formed and transformed, but what should be duly noted regardless of this is the lack of variation when it comes to conceptualisations of identity.

When identities in a local order are explored it seems that other, less theory-dependant, features can be detected. Using data from an ethnographic study of a museum, I argue that even though gender, ethnicity, and so on, in different situations make up the core of the identities performed, there are also identities that are not part of the commonly recognised identity-categories. Instead they should be understood as part of and constitutive of, through everyday interaction, the local order where they are to be found. The overall purpose of this paper is to trouble the often favoured way of linking identity to certain identity-categories, by highlighting other important and interconnected dimensions of peoples’ place-bound activities. Embedded in this we find questions of how, for instance, the methods we use facilitate different notions and investigations of identity, and how looking beyond the sociologically obvious can help us to discover the situatedness of situated identities. From an ethnomethodological perspective there is, finally, the question of intelligibility – to what extent, when and why is it possible to make alternative accounts of identity, and still be intelligible as a serious sociologist?

Clary Krekula & Magnus Nilsson: AGE, TIME AND IDENTITY

Age is an organising principle for both social relations and for welfare policy. In recent years age has come to be increasingly politicized as debate over the growing number of elderly in society and how society will manage the costs of future elderly care has gained momentum. The politicization of age is not new, however. Different social movements throughout history have been shaped by and have had age as a point of departure for political mobilization. Examples of such political organisation include pensioner organisations, pensioners’ political parties, and interest groups for elderly workers. Also young people have organised themselves in different political contexts on the basis of a commonality in age. A distinction between old and young has also been made within political parties whereby one has repeatedly argued for renewal and change to increase representation of younger members. The aim of this presentation is to investigate and discuss the articulation of age as a political identity by way of examples of current political organisations. In this case, our focus is primarily upon old age as a political identity

Jan Trost: Identities

The term, and also the concept, of identity refers often to as if a person’s identity at every moment is just one, is singular. I argue for a person’s identity at any occasion is plural: we have several identities at every moment.

One can find hints to that effect in the original writings of William James and the idea becomes even more evident in the writings of Gregory Stone. In my presentation I will go further in the development of this theoretical part of what is usually labeled as symbolic interactionism.


The paper addresses the problem of how to define culture and multicultural selves within the growing field of multicultural studies.

The discussion comprises a critical view of the notion that each human being possesses a multicultural self (Lott 2009).It further examines the difference and the relationship between cultural and social selves from a symbolic interactionist perspective with a special focus on socialization and the concept of the significant other.


Jan Trost, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, Uppsala University



Johansson, Annika: Identities in a local order – troubling notions of what is important about people

Krekula, Clary & Magnus Nilsson: Age, time and identity

Misheva, Vessela: "What is wrong with the idea of multiculturalism? A symbolic interactionist perspective"

Trost, Jan: Identities

Esholdt, Henriette Frees: Terror, jomfruer, flerkoneri – og anden selvironisk omgang med etniske stereotyper i interetniske kollegiale relationer

Comments on content: 
Revised 2012.01.15