Is there such a thing as collective identity?


To my last post I got a really interesting comment from Andrew Smart.

It is a motivating question that Andrew pose – is it really possible to talk about a collective personality or identity? Isn’t identity something that people construct so they don’t become a part of an anonymous mass? On the other hand, I believe that people today need to be a part of a community, where they develop a feeling of collective identity. This collective identity is, the way I see it, a more abstract identity that people for example find in different social groups. Work-life could be an example of a social group, where people get together around a collective identity.

The urge to express authenticity and uniqueness is a strong motivation for people, but in the same time this soul-searching and questioning about who we are can make people insecure. In my opinion identity is more a process than a position one has. Therefore, I think that it is possible to approach a kind of collective identity when you are studying a social group – which in this case is work-related.

In our work process in Stagis we value and map companies by doing observations, where we look at unwritten routines and carry out interviews with the employees. The questions we are asking concerns, among other things, the three dimensions of authenticity. By analyzing their answers and behaviour we define the core-values, and (often) non-spoken values of the company. I believe that the authentic values already exist within the company, but that these values not automatically are an explicit part of the culture of the organization. By mapping this implicit knowledge we make it explicit, which makes it possible for the company – both internally and externally – to communicate there authenticity. In this sense we are mapping the collective personality of a group and helping the company to make sure that there is consistency between the culture inside the organization and the way they communicate.

There could be many other anthropological studies of different kind of social groups – take for example the two groups that are fighting each other around Nørrebro in Copenhagen right now. What kind of collective identity dominates these kinds of social groups? In one way these social groups make the members unique from the rest of “us” and I’m positive that the members get a feeling of collective identity.