Social Identity in Context: Behavioral Engagement and Institutional Commitment

Awarded Scholars:
Diane Ruble, New York University
Jacquelynne Eccles, University of Michigan
Project Date:
Jun 2000
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

In recent years, social psychologists have rediscovered the importance of "social identity:" the social categories-- such as race, gender, occupation, or political affiliation-- that people belong to and identify with. Research suggests that a person's social identity may influence her choice of friends, her educational and occupational aspirations, her political activities, and her commitment to various social institutions. With Foundation support, Kay Deaux of the City University of New York, Jacquelynee Eccles of the University of Michigan, and Diane N. Ruble of New York University have established a working group to study the way social identity affects a person's commitment to key social institutions, such as jobs, schools, or community organizations. In order to be fully engaged with an institution, a person must often invest their social identity in that institution-- it must become an important part of who they are to the rest of the world. But how is this kind of investment encouraged, and how is it undermined? What kinds of schools, for example, make children with diverse social identities feel welcome and engaged, and what kinds make them feel that their identity is under threat?


The working group will also investigate how our social identities originate and develop. Several members of the working group have studied how socialization within the family molds the identities of children as they grow up. The working group will consider whether other institutions, such as schools, can learn anything from the way families forge bonds among their members. The working group will also study how social identities stand up to major upheavals and transitions in life, such as the move from school to work or college. They have already contributed to a study of poor children who move to affluent suburban neighborhoods under New York City's Moving to Opportunity program. The move brings better opportunities, but it can also induce an acute "identity shock" in children whose established social identities no longer apply in their new surroundings. The researchers will look for practical ways to ease such transitions.





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