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What is Collective Identity? - Definition, Theory & Examples

What is Collective Identity? - Definition, Theory & Examples
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  • 0:01 Definition & Example
  • 2:03 Theory of Collective Identity
  • 2:55 Additional Example
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that the Occupy Wall Street movement was powered by collective identity? Learn more about collective identity from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition and Example

Jane just moved to town and is a freshman in high school. She longs to be included in the popular group at school, so she starts to follow them around and learn their habits. Jane notices that every day for lunch, the popular girls go to the back of the school and smoke. She also notices that they wear charm bracelets, leather jackets, and other fashionable items. One day, Jane shows up in the back of the school dressed in similar attire and smoking a cigarette. The other girls in the group seem to accept Jane into the fold. Even though Jane promised her mother that she wouldn't smoke after her grandfather died from lung cancer, Jane becomes an avid smoker to fit in with the group.

Jane has adopted the group interest of smoking, even though it is unhealthy.
Teen smoking

She also drastically alters her clothing to match the other members, wears her hair in similar ways, and only talks to people that the group deems worthy. When the group decides to skip school to protest a homework assignment, Jane feels it is her duty to join them. Jane eventually starts stealing money from her mother to bribe strangers to buy her cigarettes. After a few weeks of following the rules of the group and attending social events with the other girls, Jane starts to identify herself as one of the popular girls and feels like she belongs there. This is an example of collective identity.

Collective identity refers to a person's sense of belonging to a group. The identity of the group, or the 'collective,' becomes a part of the person's individual identity. The idea here is that by participating in social activities, a person can develop a sense of belonging and an identity that goes beyond the person. This sense of belonging can become so potent that it takes over other pieces of the person's identity. In the example above, Jane's identity became so wrapped up in the group that she started smoking, even though it violates her family pact. Jane also risks getting caught stealing from her mother and breaking school rules by smoking on the grounds. However, the risks are worth it to Jane since she is now popular. From Jane's example we can see that there are both rewards and risks involved with collective identity.

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