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This content is taken from the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)'s online course, Intercultural Communication. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds [CHI Ruobing] All of us obviously have many different types of identities, as you may have noticed in the exercise and the online discussion. [Steve Kulich] These include our distinctive personalities, whether we describe ourselves as “active,” “outgoing,” “shy,” “hardworking,” or many other personal descriptive terms, which we often call “personal identities.” [CHI Ruobing] Our “social identities,” on the other hand, are the various roles we take in family, school, or at work, for example, being a mother, a teacher, or a manager. Social identities also include being a member of a club or a society where many people share similar hobbies or interests, such as reading, hiking, gardening, or video gaming.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds [Steve Kulich] But none of these are what we might consider to be “cultural identity.” Here, we do need to distinguish between “personal identity,” “social identities,” and “cultural identity.” The concept of cultural identity implies both a shared sense of community and apparent similarities that generate both shared and common patterns, as well as social markers. And these help give participants a sense of belonging, a sense of security or satisfaction, and some continuing connectivity.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds [CHI Ruobing] This can include various levels of collectivities that we are perceived to belong to, such as a nation, an ethnical group, a certain region of a country, or a group formed out of a certain sexual orientation, a religious belief or faith, a social status, or a disability or medical condition, and so on. [Steve Kulich] With this in mind, please look at your list and circle those items that you now think have a cultural quality. We encourage you to reflect on what that means to you and then discuss your most important cultural identities with participants in this class.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds We’ve also prepared some readings that we think will help you better understand this very important part of who we are across cultures.

Considering cultural identity

Identities can be personal, social and cultural. As multifaceted people relating in different arenas, your identity list is probably made up of all three.

Your discussion helped reveal that we each have many different types of identities. These include our distinctive personalities or character, qualities (personal identities), our roles or responsibilities in our families, school or work place (social identities), or those facets influenced by our cultural context (cultural identities).

For this course, we’d like to focus on the concept of “cultural identity”, which arises from our sense of shared community and apparent similarities, and which usually generates some common patterns and mutually valued social markers. Cultural identities help us create a sense of belonging, security, satisfaction, and continuing connected-ness. They might exist at various levels, depending on whether we “identify” with our nation, ethnic group, or geographic region of a country. They can also come from group affiliations due to social status, faith in a religious belief or ideology, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition, and so on.

Please review your “list of 10” and circle those items you now consider to be linked to culture. Note what other learners have shared about theirs. We hope that this process helps you better appreciate these very important and diverse parts of “who we are” across cultural contexts.

How is the process of sorting through your identities affecting you? What ideas or realizations is it awakening in you?

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)