I was asked to describe the above terms and am not sure how much depth I’m meant to go into here, given there is a whole separate module on identity alone.
Self – the “I” inside of us. Depending on one’s view and world beliefs the “I” is either the individual’s soul -a kernel or essence of a person that exists inside someone and comes from God or some spiritual plane; Or else the “I” is an illusion brought about by the brain’s physical ability to “generate a mirage of consciousness”. (Ananthaswamy, 2016:31). As discussed by Julian Baggini in his book, The Ego Trick, our relationship with self changes throughout life – the I you were as a small child is not the same I you were in your 20s and later in your 60s. However, there is strong sense of continuity in most of us (but not all for various reasons such as mental illness or effects of trauma for example). The difference between the two positions described above boils down to whether or not you believe the mind is separate from the body or, as I believe, physical and mental states are one and the same thing. According to Anil Ananthaswamy in last week’s edition of New Scientist consciousness, and therefore the sense of having an “I”, exists due to our need to pay attention to our environment in order to survive. “As a result our brains have become very skilled at representing the world around us. Somewhere in the course of evolution they began representing objects as having immaterial properties, and in doing so it generated the mirage of consciousness.” Regardless of one’s view pertaining to how a self comes into being, a sense of self is the internal sensation of being an individual, separate from others, the person who experiences existence.
Identity – I suppose I see identity as the outside description of who I am in the world. I identify with other people like me. We may collectively have an identity. It is the material description of how I am shaped and how I can be recognised in relation to others. For example, I am a white, youngish/middle-aged, divorced, mother of boys who doesn’t have much money and lives in London, and studies photography/art history and occasionally earns money from photography too. There could be any number of people described as such. I can be recognised by others through that description. However, it is separate from ‘self’ – as the internal world may have little or much to do with that outside identification. If I were in a relationship with someone, I would very much hope they saw more than my identity which is the superficial me, and an interchangeable one at that. Nevertheless, my identity very likely has an impact on how I view my inner self. If I were to be plucked by an alien out of my current living situation and placed in one very different, made to wear different clothes and suddenly living an alternative existence, then my sense of self would be affected but I would still feel like me even though I might start to look different. I think it is fair to say that when self and identity feel in conflict with each other then life is difficult to live. For instance, someone who feels like a boy but looks and lives like a girl or the other way around, might struggle mentally/emotionally. To feel secure in one’s self it probably helps to have a positive relationship with one’s identity, and perhaps a clear definition of it too.
Subjectivity – perhaps this is the hardest to define and differentiate. I start by thinking it is the opposite of objectivity, which is a view of something that is not affected by personal views and biases. Which means that subjectivity will be how an individual views the world in a way that might be affected by individual character traits, innate personality tropes, personal history, by the things that have shaped her. I see and respond to things differently to other people. I appear more maternal than some perhaps due to a genetic predisposition combined with a personal history that has made me so. I described a little boy recently whom I knew when I was a child who lived across the road from me. He was very racist. His subjective view of the world meant he found it difficult to see things any other way. The world he was born into made him see and experience life that way – his subjective view give him abhorrent opinions about others.
I feel I will need to talk about subjectivity again at a later stage when I have investigated it more fully.
The self inside me, the ‘I’ looks for an identity throughout life and identifies with others who I believe may have something in common with me. I may dress and look the same as others in my tribe but I am clear my self is separate from them. I may have even have a similar subjective view of the world to others whom I identify with but I am still very clear that the I inside of me is who I am.
Interesting example I saw recently of art that explores identity is Hans Eikelboom’s street photography. At the Strange and Familiar show at the Barbican he had edited the images together in a video sequence and it was spell binding. More here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/23/hans-eijkelboom-street-photography-tribes-people-twenty-first-century
Ananthaswamy, A. (2016). What is consciousness?. New Scientist, 231(3089), p.31.
Baggini, J. (2011). The ego trick. London: Granta.
Pedritis, A. (2014) Same but Different: Hans Eijkelboom’s tribal street photography https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/23/hans-eijkelboom-street-photography-tribes-people-twenty-first-century