Social Identity and Categorization Problems

The concept of social identity refers to one’s set of beliefs, norms, characters, and expressions, which define an individual or a group of people. Social identity indicates a sense of belonging to a specific set of groups or membership (James, 2019). The existing social distinction within current society across the world is inherently linked to having a social identity either in a collective or individual manner. Such a unique social position varies due to personal and socio-cultural beliefs and moral principles and defines individuals’ self-esteem. Individuals still tend to identify themselves with specific social groups while growing up or in adolescence. People’s primary ways of associating and redefining their identity imply education, religion, race, gender, age, geographical location, and cultural environment (James, 2019). This research paper aims at examining the determining factors and concerns regarding the establishment of social identity by analyzing the social categorization, social identification, social comparison, and critical identity problems.

Social Identity Theory

Social identity encompasses a broad spectrum of identity problems, formations, transition, and transformation processes. Taijfel and Turner explored the social identity processes that generally transformed into a much more comprehensive social psychological theory of the role of self and identity within a group and intergroup (Hogg, 2016). The intergroup relationships are considered a central feature of the theory because the incidents occurring within groups are considerably affected by what happens between groups. Tajfel and colleagues argued that the dynamics of prejudice and intergroup conflict could be explained as a group phenomenon produced by basic human motivations and cognitive processes. Such processes are influenced by humans’ beliefs about themselves and society, social context, and immediate situations people experience.

In his book, Barrack Obama elaborates how he faced social identity challenges as a young man growing with a single mother. It is important to note that a single-mother parenting considerably affects a child’s emotional development, specifically in the adolescence age, which is a very sensitive stage in one’s development (Coutain, 2020). This inevitably guides a person in the establishing of personal self-identity and social position in the society. The author explains the impact of the strong religious faith on his early life and illustrates how the lack of a strong identity roots affects one’s life. Dreams from my Father (2020) examines the critical transition stages that Obama faced concerning his identity recognition. From the social science perspective, social identity affects individual behavior and readjusts the group identity. Charness & Chen (2020) classified the identity process into three cognitive stages: social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. The stages will be further explored to explain the particular features of the transition from individual identity to group identity by the example of Obama’s experience and life.

Social Categorization

Social categorization refers to the individual’s identification process aimed at a better understanding of oneself. In the case of Obama, the moment he met his future wife Mitchell was the turning point in his own identity journey. In turn, Mitchel had an established, rooted identity generated by the core family features, such as having white parents and extended family and American citizenship. Their acquittance made Obama question himself about his real self-identity. Although he considers himself a versatile person due to his multi-racial experience in life, Obama stated that he had low self-esteem, which served as a catalyst for the former US president to identify himself with a specific ethnicity or religion, if not race (Obama, 2020). The author was undergoing a critical process of social categorization in searching for his own identity, religious affiliation, and, most notably, his origin. The social categorization emphasizes the similarities of people in the same group and differences within the other group (Obama, 2020). On that basis, the book illustrates how belonging to the African-Americans group and being raised by a single mother facilitated and defined Obama’s pride and self-esteem.

Social Identification

Social identification is associated with the adoption of the group identity by a particular individual. Regarding that all groupings are unique because of the difference in purpose, an individual has to align his own character and beliefs with the group norms to claim one’s membership. Obama’s story illustrates how he identified himself as both an African-American and a Muslim. Therefore, Obama had to change his social behavior, personal beliefs, and principles to reflect the key notions and ideas of the groups he became a part of. The author was prepared to face the same socio-economic challenges peculiar to the immigrants in the United States. However, Obama felt genuinely happy as an African-American and a Muslim because he aligned his character and temper with these groups. As a consequence, by identifying and adopting a group boost emotion, one can increase his self-esteem and sense of an individual.

Social Comparison

The social comparison pertains to the group’s competition between the inter-group and outer-group. After categorizing and identifying a specific group, an individual tends to compare themselves with other groups, as in the case when Obama compared himself as an African-American with Mitchell, who was white American (Obama, 2020). This stage of social identity mainly focuses on prestige and social standing. People are prone to associate themselves with the selected societal groups to maintain their levels of self-esteem. Obama, as a black law student at Harvard School of Law, had to compete with other white students in terms of the leadership position.

Despite the fact that such comparison could appear as a regular competition, it was, in fact, a racial contest. Obama had to ensure that black students won the presidential school competition. As a result, becoming the first president of the Harvard Law Review significantly impacted his self-esteem and other immigrants at large. In his theory, Turner argued that a group competition could create an “us vs. them” narrative, given that prejudice leads to a rivalry between the groups. According to Hogg (2016), the stereotyping of groups or individuals could result in hatred and even war in extreme cases. Cooper (2015) states that the race-related experiences of African-American men might transcend influences on their own well-being. With that said, the group competition should be a well-balanced process based on moral and social principles to avoid negative consequences.

Identity Concerns

A sense of belonging to promote one’s self-confidence and emotions of a particular individual within the selected groups serves as the driving factors for competition. Tajfel argued that rivalry between the groups could be caused by cognitive prestige competition rather than the regular resources competition. A group identity inherently leads to biased stereotypes and prejudices (Hogg, 2016). Moreover, the “us versus them” concept created by the in-group and out-group competition results in favoritism. This means that individuals are likely to prefer their groups compared to the other ones based on their sense of belonging. However, unrestrained favoritism can lead to discrimination against the other groups. For instance, white superiority and blacks’ inferiority myths could create hatred between the two races that are common in the current societal order.

Furthermore, inter-group competition can also provoke gender biases. The male groupings tend to be endowed with more favorable laws than females. However, gender biases could also lead to social inequalities, such as the male working-class, which tends to earn more than female colleagues in the same working group. As described by Charness & Chen (2020), the justification could be based on resources, like paying-for-bills responsibilities. In fact, the favoritism of males in terms of financial earnings could be based on stereotyping women as submissive. Therefore, social identity should only be grounded in positive competition to avoid extreme cases that could promote and enhance social conflicts or even social inequalities.

Transition Process

During the transition process, individuals tend to evaluate their groups to confirm if they match the characters. In some cases, the norms and beliefs of the particular group could interfere with the beliefs and values of the individual involved in this grouping. For example, an individual could convert from Muslim to Christian due to an identity crisis since people should stay in groups that match their characters. Sometimes individuals are mandated to change their characters in order to align with the new group. As such, Obama moving to Illinois and vying for a senatorial seat confirmed that he was changing his African-American group for the American one. Thus, he attempted to identify himself as an American who enjoys the same right as his wife, Mitchell. Individual mobility fosters the self-esteem of the individuals who migrate to the better groups that comply with their genuine desires and objectives.

Another transition process implies social creativity, which refers to the readjustment within the group to outsmart the outer-group. The individuals within the group could decide to improve themselves to compete with the rival group. It could be implemented by changing the norms or the competing group. When the rival group takes a leading position in specific circumstances, the competing group should consider readjustment or compete with the lower group. The final identity maintenance procedure is social competition, concerning that the group could decide to work collectively to outsmart the rival group. The group members could decide to support the competing partner due to their competitive advantage. During the elections, political parties regularly compete for the strategies to apply in the next election, meaning that the only thing that is being changed is tactics (Charness & Chen, 2020). The same principle applies in the social identity concept, wherein the group needs to keep winning to maintain its self-esteem. The members-only stays in the selected group due to recognition and a sense of belonging.


To conclude, social identity focuses on the importance of individuals’ recognition in terms of the existing societal structure and sense of belonging to a particular group. People tend to associate themselves with the groups that align with their core values, beliefs, and cultural affiliations. The sense of belonging within a certain group directly changes individual behavior in order to comply with the standards of the group. The transition process can be a challenging issue due to the stereotyping biases of individuals and extreme prejudice, leading to social discrimination against other groups. The disagreements concerning racial inequalities and faith enhance the social problems based on unethical inter-group competitions, which indicates that people need to adhere to moral guidelines on inter-group competitions. Therefore, individuals should adopt a careful and positive approach while competing as a group to avoid identity problems.


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Cooper, S. M. (2015). Reframing the discussion on African-American fathers: Implications for positive development of African American boys. American Psychology Association. Web.

Coutain, J. K. (2020). Single African American mothers’ experiences of relationships with their sons: A qualitative investigation. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Web.

Hogg, M. A. (2016). Social identity theory. In S. McKeown, R. Haji, & N. Ferguson (Eds.), Peace psychology book series. Understanding peace and conflict through social identity theory: Contemporary global perspectives (p. 3–17). New York, NY: Springer International Publishing. Web.

James, G. (2019). The emergence of footballing cultures, Manchester, 1840–1919. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Obama, B. (2020). Dreams from my father. Tullamarine, AU: Bolinda Publishing.