Social Identity Theory and the Or...
. 1989. Vcd. 14. Ho. 1.20-^39. Social Identity Theory and the Organization BLAKE E. ASHFORTH Concordia University FREDMAEL Wayne State University It is argued that (a) social identification is a perception of oneness with a group of persons (b) social identification sfems from (he ccrt- egorization of individuals, the distinctiveness and prestige of ihe group, the salience of outgroups, and the factors that traditionally are associc'ed with group formation and (c) social identification leads to activities that are congruent with the identity, support for institutions that embody the identity, stereotypical perceptions of self and others, and outcomes that traditionally are associated with group formation, and it reinforces the antecedents of identification. This perspective is applied to organizational socialization, role con- flict, and intergroup relations. , , : :......������ ..-, : Organizational identification has long been recognized as a critical construct in the literature on organizational behavior, affecting both the satisfaction of the individual and the effective- ness of the organization (Brown, 1969 Hall, Schneider, & Nygren, 1970 Lee, 1971 O'Reilly & Chatman, 1986 Patchen, 1970 Rotondi, 1975). However, as discussed below, theoretical and empirical work has often confused organiza- tional identification wilh related constructs such as organizational commitment and intemaliza- tion and with affect and behaviors, which are more appropriately seen as antecedents and/or consequences of identification. Social identity theory (SIT) can restore some coherence to organizational identification, and it can suggest fruitful applications to organiza- tional behavior. SIT offers a social-psychological perspective, developed principally by Henri Tajfel(1978, 1981 Taifel &Tumer, 1985)andlohn Tumer (1975, 1982. 1984, 1985). Following a re- view of the literature on SIT, the antecedents and consequences of social identification in or- ganizations are discussed. This perspective is then applied to three domains of organizational behavior: socialization, role conflict, and inter- group relations. Social Identity Theory According to SIT, people tend to classify them- selves and others into various social categories, such as organizational membership, religious affiliation, gender, and age cohort (Tajfel & Tumer, 1985). As these examples suggest, peo- ple may be classified in various categories, and different individuals may utilize different catego- rization schemas. Categories are defined by prototypical characteristics abstracted from the members (Turner, 1985). Social classiiication serves two functions. First, it cognitively seg- 20
ments and orders the social environment, pro- viding the individual with a systematic means of iefining others. A person is assigned the proto- typical characteristics of the category to which he or she is classified. As suggested by the lit- erature on stereotypes, however, such assign- ments are not necessarily reliable (e.g., Hamil- ton, 1981). Second, social classification enables the indi- vidual to locate or define him- or herseif in the social environment. According to SIT, the self- concept is comprised of a personal identity en- compassing idiosyncratic characteristics (e.g., bodily attributes, abilities, psychological traits, interests) and a social identity encompassing sa- lient group classifications. Social identification, therefore, is the perception of oneness with or belongingness to some human aggregate. For example, a woman may define herself in terms of the group(s) with which she classifies herself (I am a Canadian 1 am a woman). She per- ceives herself as an actual or symbolic member of the group(s), and she perceives the fate of the group(s) as her own. As such, social identifica- tion provides a partial answer to the question. Who am I? (Stiyker & Serpe, 1982 Tumer, 1982). Note that the definition of others and the self are largely "relational and comparative" (Tajfel & Tumer, 1985, p. 15) they define oneself rela- tive to individuals in other categories. The cate- gory of young is meaningful only in relation to the category of old. It should be noted, however, that social identification is not an all-or-none phenomenon. Although many social categories are indeed categorical (e.g., Canadian, female, a member of XY2 Co.). the extent to which the individual identifies with each category is clearly a matter of degree. Further, such identi- ties tend to be viewed positively inasmuch as the individual vests more of his or her self- oonceptions in valued personas (Adler & Adler, 1987 Schneider, HoU, & Nygren, 1971). Thus, bckail (1978) found that people working at me- nial jobs in a bank often distanced themselves their implied Identity (e.g.. This is only a stopgap job I'm trying to save enough to start my own business). The major focus of both SIT and the present paper is tQ understand the implications of the second function of classification, that of social identification. Social Identiliccrtion and Group Identification Social identification appears to derive from the venerable concept of group identification (Tolman, 1943). (Indeed, we will use social and group identification interchangeably.) The liter- ature on group identification suggests four prin- ciples that are relevant to our discussion. First, identification is viewed as a perceptual cogni- tive construct that is not necessi^rily associated with any specific behctviors or affective states. To identify, an individual need not expend effort toward the group's goals rather, an individual need only perceive him- or herself as psycho- logically intertwined with the fate ot the group. Behavior and affect are viewed only as potential antecedents or consequences (Foote, 1951 Gould, 1975). As noted below, this conceptual- ization distinguishes identification from related concepts such as effort on behalf of the group (behavior) and loyalty (affect). However, our view does contrast with some literature on SIT, which includes affective and evaluative dimen- sions in the conceptualization of identity (e.g., Tajfel, 1978). Second, social/group identification is seen as personally experiencing the successes and fail- ures of the group (Foote, 1951 Tolman, 1943). Often, identification is maintained in situations involving great loss or suffering (Brown, 1986), missed potential benefits (Tajfel, 1982), task fail- ure (Tumer, 1981), and even-expected failure (Gammons, 1986). Third, although not clearly addressed in the literature, social identification is distinguishable from intemalization (Hogg & Tumer. 1987) (cf. Kelman, 1961 O'Reilly & Chatman, 1986). Whereas identification refers to seli in terms of social categories (I am), intemalization refers to I m
the incorporation of values, attitudes, and so forth within the self as guiding principles (I believe). Although certain values and attitudes typically are associated with members of a cfiven social category, acceptance of the cate- gory as a definition of self does not necessarily mean acceptance of those values and attitudes. An individual may define herself in terms of the organizcrtion she works for, yet she can disagree with the prevailing values, strategy, system of authority, and so on (cf. "young Turks," Mintz- berg, 1983, p. 210 "counterculture," Martin & Siehl, 1983, p. 52). Finally, identification with a group is similar to identification with a person (e.g., one's father, football hero) or a reciprocal role relationship (e.g., husband-wife, doctor-patient) inasmuch as one pxartly defines oneself in terms of a social referent. To be sure, the various literatures reach this conclusion from different directions. Whereas identification with a group is argued to be predicated on the desire for self-definition, identification with an individual���referred to as "classical identification" (Kelman, 1961, p. 63)��� is argued to be predicated on the desire to ap- pease, emulate, or vicariously gain the qualities of the other (e.g., Bandura & Walters, 1963 Kets de Vries & Miller, 1984). Kelman (1961), for ex- ample, argued that in classical identification the individual "attempts to be like or actually to be the other person" (p. 63). Nevertheless, the ele- ment of self-definition suggests that these forms of identification are complementary. Indeed, we will suggest that organizations often seek to gen- eralize identification with an individual to iden- tification with the organization through the rou- tinization of charisma. Social Identification and the Organization The individual's organization may provide one answer to the question, Who am I? Hence, we argue that organizational identification is a specific form of social identification. This search for identity calls to mind a family of existential motives often alluded to in the literature on or- ganizational behavior, including searches io\ meaning, connectedness, empowerment, and immortality (e.g., Denhardt, 1987 Fox, 198(5] Katz & Kahn, 1978). To the extent the organiza-t tion, as a social category, is seen to embody ol even reify characteristics perceived to be proto-i typical of its members, it may well fulfill sucb motives for the individual. At the very least, SITi maintains that the individual identifies with so- cial categories partly to enhance self-esteenfl (Hogg & Tumer, 1985 Tajfel, 1978). This is un- derstandable in view of the relational and com-J parative nature of social identities. Through so- cial identification and comparison, the individ-J ual is argued to vicariously partake in thej successes and status of the group: Indeed, pos- itive and negative intergroup comparisons have been found to affect a member's self-esteem ac- cordingly (Oakes 8c Turner, 1980 Wagner, Lam- pen, & Syllwasschy, 1986). The individual's social identity may be de- i rived not only from the organization, but also' from his or her work group, department, union, lunch group, age cohort, fast-track group, and so on. Albert and Whetten (1985) distingijished between holographic organizations in which in- dividuals across subunits share a common iden- tify (or identities) and ideographic organizations in which individuals display subunit-specific identities. General examples of the former in- clude Ouchi's (1981) Theory Z organization in which "management styles are blended to- gether and diffused evenly throughout the entire organization" (Albert &. Whetten, 1985, p. 271) and Mintzberg's (1983) missionary organization in which members strongly subscribe to a com- mon set of values and beliefs. Given the com- parative rarity of such organizations, however, the notion of a single or blended organizational identification is problematic in most complex or- ganizations. Thus, as discussed below, the or- ganizationally situated social identity may, in fact, be comprised of more or less disparate and loosely coupled identities. This parallels work in various social ^omains which indicates that in- 22