Socially Situated Identities
An important distinction exists between individuals’ core identities and their socially situated ones (Gee, 2001). Core identities are individuals’ stable and continuous manifestations of the self. Core identities are revealed by peoples’ words and actions that generally hold uniformly across situations. When people say, “That’s just Pat being Pat,” they are referring to Pat acting according to an identity that is relatively fixed, enduring across time and circumstance. Core identities express people’s somewhat predictable responses to each and every situation. In contrast, socially situated identities shift across circumstances; they are to be found among particular group environments. Referring to such identities as socially-situated conveys the idea that individuals act somewhat differently as they move in and out of different social situations (McCarthy & Moje, 2002).
Outside of school many youth interact with community, family, peer group, and popular culture influences whose ways of thinking and communicating differ from mainstream academic ones (DeBlase, 2003; Jimenez, 2000; Moje, Ciechanowski, Kramer, Ellis, Carrillo, & Collazo, 2004). In order to be successful students, many youth shift their identities across situations. For instance, a culture that expects girls to regularly interact with the family at home presents different expectations from an academic culture that encourages girls to regularly read silently at home. A culture that regards school success as selling out to an oppressive, dominant establishment differs from an academic one that regards school success with pride. A culture that expects readers to obediently accept the written word holds different expectations from an academic one that expects readers to constantly question what they read. Cultures that endorse several individuals participating in story retellings differ from academic ones that expect one individual at a time to retell a story. To cope with social groups’ particular cultures that differ from schools’ academic cultures, youth adopt flexible identities, shifting what they say about themselves and how they act, according to the situation.
Not only do many youth alter their outside-of-school identities to fit inside-of-school requirements, they further adjust their identities from class to class. Students need to cope with different views of learning and ways of thinking and communicating that different teachers present across different content areas (Moje & Dillon, in press). For instance, students in a math class might be expected to act as problem solvers who calculate unambiguous data precisely and record their findings in meticulous order. These same students in literature class might be expected to act as problem solvers who form several possible interpretations of deliberately ambiguous text and present them in open-ended discussions. To do well, these students need to identify themselves as meticulous problem solvers in the math class, calling for meticulous problem solving, and adventurous problem solvers in the literature class, calling for adventurous problem solving. And in other classes, they may be expected to identify themselves not as problem solvers at all, but as bankers of information who accurately recover what is deposited during class lectures and seat work.
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