Toward a better understanding of social identity : exploring linkages with agency and communion
Kinzel, Margaret Ruth
This thesis explored linkages between aspects of Social Identity Theory (SIT) and the constructs of agency and communion. SIT is a theory of intergroup relations pertinent to groups of unequal power that integrates social and psychological variables to account for the impact of group memberships on intergroup behaviour, particularly ingroup bias. Recent developments in SIT include a taxonomy which delineates four types of groups specified by the dimensions of individualism-collectivism and autonomous-relational group orientations. In Study 1, college students (n = 368) completed a series of scales assessing each of the dimensions of the taxonomy, un/mitigated agency and communion, ingroup bias, and strength of social identity. A field sample of employed individuals (n = 190) was administered the same measures with the exception of ingroup bias and social identity. Confirmatory analyses of Study 1 indicate that in this research context the dimensions of the taxonomy are reliable, valid and orthogonal. In addition, the results show that, as hypothesized, the relationship between social identity and ingroup bias is strongest in the collectivist-relational quadrant of the taxonomy. Agency and communion are multidimensional constructs that refer to individuals' needs for autonomy and connection, needs which must be balanced or mitigated in the interests of health. Study 1 also investigated the relationships among the two dimensions of the taxonomy and un/mitigated agency and communion. The results indicate that there is a relationship between communion and collectivism and between individualism and unmitigated agency in both the college and field samples. Unmitigated agency also relates to a relational group orientation in both samples while mitigated communion is associated with an autonomous group orientation for the college sample. A psychometric review of the agency and communion scales is recommended. The relationships obtained in Study 1 between strength of social identity and the agency and communion measures suggest that social identity relates not to agency or communion per se but to their mitigation. In order to explore the meaning of this novel finding, Study 2 consisted of qualitative interviews conducted with 6 highly mitigated individuals selected from the college sample of Study 1. The results suggest, in part, that similarity between the mitigation of the group and the individual is related to strength of group identification. Further, they suggest that mitigation may be one of the variables upon which perceptions of dis/similarity between group members and the group are based. It is suggested that mitigation may constitute a point of "optimal distinctiveness" (Brewer, 1991) where needs for assimilation and differentiation are balanced, and that assimilation needs may be met through the intragroup comparisons of an autonomous group orientation while differentiation needs may be met through the intergroup comparisons of a relational orientation, a theoretical direction that clearly warrants pursuit. Other potential avenues for research also emerged through the interviews, including a need for examination of agentic and communal behaviours in a group context, exploration of the consequences of mitigation for group life, and indications that the qualitative method is valuable in the study of social phenomena. Implications for applied research and practice in organizational development are also discussed.