The identity between personal, social and legal perspective

In defining the concept of identity, one cannot limit oneself to a single analysis, but it is possible to examine at least a threefold dimension. On the one hand, the static aspect comes into relief: think of the bone structure, the proportions of the body and so on; on the other, it refers to something not completed, susceptible to change over time and the result of adaptation to the social context. Finally, there is a final dimension: it is the juridical identity which includes, in addition to the civil status, various contracts (work, marriage) regulated by law and influenced by the evolution of the law and social relations.


The analysis of the concept of personal identity makes sense only if it refers to an anthropology; therefore, for the sake of completeness of the argument, it is appropriate to analyze it in its dynamic reality as a result of the three dimensions which, intertwining with each other, end up influencing each other without, however, finding full correspondence to one another. First, personal identity is a concept that summarizes what a person is; this definition – contrary to what may appear – creates more problems than it solves.


In the first place, it is necessary to dwell on the immediately evident aspect, the static one. Without limiting itself to a broad-spectrum definition that takes into account gender, race or skin color, it can be said that a person is, in part, the result of his (physical and biological) appearance, which is relatively static, as subjected to the passage of time which makes it change and alters its characteristics; moreover, the physical aspect is intrinsically linked to the social context of reference with which it shapes and adapts itself from the moment of birth allowing us, at first sight, to trace it back to a specific ethnic group or, at least, to a region of the world. Corporeity is the synthesis of the body and the social environment, Merleau-Ponty said ; in fact, the individual is not limited to his own topos , but extends to the external environment that contributes to its construction. Finally, it finds confirmation in the legal system, crystallizing itself into a document that recognizes and certifies its characteristics (height, hair color, date of birth, distinctive signs).


In the simplest hypothesis there will be convergence between  the reference context  (nation and culture of origin),  static aspect  (characteristics attributable to the aforementioned context: skin color, face shape, body structure, etc.) and  legal identity  (citizenship) . It can happen, however, and modernity constitutes an incentive factor, that situations arise in which there are starting differences, so that individuals will be “the theater of a competition between potentially conflicting identity factors, having to mediate between multiple belonging and loyalty that are not always harmonious “. In this case, the result will be the synthesis of the various factors in which one of them, even temporarily and involuntarily, will eventually prevail over the others.


Moving on to the analysis of the  legal dimension , the need for a codification of identity became necessary when otherness was known. The discovery of the other made it necessary to create geographical boundaries and the normatization of spheres of belonging, identifying at the moment of birth the impulse, starting from which the person becomes an individual who is entitled to the ownership of guaranteed rights towards of others. The evolution of the social context has influenced the extension of the sphere of law; initially it was the privilege of the pater familias, since the woman could not be a subject of law, and subsequently gradually extended to the latter and to the children. Today the discussion has shifted to the possibility of building a concept of identity that is independent of gender (in the case of  transgender). From a constitutional point of view, identity can be conceived as the “right to be oneself”, understood as respect for one’s own image qualified by the complex of ideas, religious, ideological and moral convictions that forge the individual. The right to personal identity is included in the rank of fundamental rights, so that, regardless of one’s economic or social condition, or one’s beliefs, “the right to have one’s personality be preserved” must be recognized. More precisely, the Court of Cassation says that “each person has an interest, generally considered worthy of legal protection, to be represented, in the life of a relationship, with his true identity, as well as this in the social, general and particular reality,


Citizenship is not a quality of the individual, but is strongly linked with “co-citizenship”, finding explanation in the reference to the peculiarities of the social context and the shared common space; only in this way can you define your own person. We could not speak of citizenship in a self-referential sense as the indispensable factor for it to be talked about is the presence of a plurality of them differentiated by culture, history and territory.


Last, but not least, is identity as a  representation of oneself in society . In this case, the interaction involves personal identity and social identity: imagining our “self as a structure, a mental representation in which individual information contributes to the formation of the” heart “of the representation, while information of character social and cultural aspects constitute its increasingly external aspects ». A more dramaturgical view of the question is given by  Erving Goffman; speaking of representation, he affirms that this is nothing other than the multiple activities that an individual performs during a period of continuous stay “in front of a particular group of observers and such as to have a certain influence on them”. Social identity is, therefore, known and accepted by the individual who actively participates in the construction of this definition. The difficulties in the crystallization of the concept derive from the change in social condition: those who climb the social ladder may be challenged by painful aspects of their past; on the contrary, instead, in the opposite path, one will have to deal with the emotions of loss and with the mental representation of those who knew him in better times.


In conclusion, the assumption according to which identity is a purely personal choice must be partially denied, that is, “one is not born this or that but one becomes one according to one’s choices”. From birth, our identities are inextricably linked to the “background that constitutes the framework of the construction of the ego”, but this link, contrary to common opinion, is not binding, it is a default rule  changeable with free will choices. Belonging to a people or an ethnic group must not be a determining criterion for one’s identity; it can influence us in part, almost unconsciously, or it can “identify” us in the eyes of others, but no one can ever force us to feel it as our own, at least until our conscience considers it as such, that is, until we have accepted or wanted it be. Consequently, regardless of the dynamism of the law in following cultural and social changes, identity will be the result “of a game of negotiations between what we create that is original and our history, the community to which we belong, tradition, in short, everything we they left behind the “other suppliers of meaning”.


Leave a Comment