According to Phoenix (2007) identity is an area of psychological study that is primarily concerned with understanding people and their everyday lives and it examines what it is that makes us unique as individuals and humans.
“Identity is the concept that refers to this aspect of existence; the aspect of existing as something in particular, with specific characteristics. An entity without an identity cannot exist because it would be nothing. To exist is to exist as something, and that means to exist with a particular identity”. (http://importanceofphilosophy.com/Metaphysics_Identity.html)
The work of early psychologists towards the end of the first half of the 20th century was largely based on this Aristotelian perspective (Erickson, 1950) and invoked questions such as; does an individual possess more than one identity? And is identity personal or social? (Phoenix, 2007)
This paper will summarise two major approaches to identity, namely, the psychosocial theory of identity and Social Identity Theory, respectively. Then it will examine how each has been used to further our understanding of this concept. Finally, it concludes that while both theories have aided our understanding of identity as a psychological concept, neither theory provides a comprehensive account.
Psychosocial theory was developed by Erikson from a combination of clinical work, naturalistic observations and from his analyses of the biographies of famous men (Phoenix, 2007). He viewed social and personal identities as being interlinked and believed that we all have various sources of identities that are integrated into a coherent whole (Phoenix, 2007). From this perspective the achievement of identity is considered to be “a lifelong developmental process involving a progressive resolution of conflicts or normative crises between individual needs and social demands and between positive and negative developmental possibilities” (Phoenix, 2007).