Actors operating in a social system acquire an identity that includes a sense of who they are and where they stand in relation to others. Such a (subjective) identity enhances social relations only to the extent that it matches the perceptions of relevant interaction partners1. Unless it is largely confirmed by their actions or communications, the resulting mismatch creates tensions that can be resolved either by an adaptation of subjective identities to prevailing perceptions or by an actor’s endeavours to change the latter. Thus, to remain ‘workable’, an agent’s identity constantly needs to be (re)negotiated with the surrounding social structure (Wendt, 1999, ch. 7). Sometimes, such a ‘negotiation’ may be quite easy. For instance, some agents may have become so insecure about (parts) of their identity that they search for social cues telling them ‘who they really are’. In other cases, however, agents are so firmly convinced of their subjective identity that they simply try to force their social environment to affirm it. Most of the time, however, identities are formed and adjusted in two-way communications, that is, they are reproduced and recognized in an ongoing ‘dialogue’ (Taylor, 1994).
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- Palgrave Macmillan UK