FLIP: Identity (1)

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Identity, Celia Davies: Managing identities


Celia Davies: Managing identities

Link to Itslearning


Binary thought


Identity building


As I proceed into this course, my definition of identity, including mine,  is broadening as to include aspects of identity as presented in the readings.

My identity is multifaceted and does not conform to available roles. It’s the result of what ever happened in my life, as emphasized in Cate Watson’s article on Narratives of Practice.

My experience defines my identity beyond the labels readily available to most people. My identity is both fluid and anchored in certain values and traditions that are – however – not easily identifiable by available models such as nationality and professional roles. That is why I prefer an in-flux approach to identity building, one that allows for shades, growth, and reflection. A systemic approach is preferable to a binary, dichotomist and reductionist approach.

I have always seen identity as the ever-changing product of interacting cultural factors. My personal experience with other cultures has informed the construction of my intercultural identity. After reading Watson’s article, however, I now see a different way of understanding identity. Watson sees identity closely linked to and influenced by the context of a professional practice. It reflects the personal narrative that emerges at the interface between one’s history and the context in which one engages in a professional practice. Both factors (the personal history and the external context) contribute to shaping and re-shaping one’s identity, which remains a steadily in-flux work in progress.


She acknowledges the sociological and psychological definitions of identity and recognizes the dichotomy that characterizes these definitions. Such dichotomy (that she calls the product of binary thought) relies on otherization, i.e. the assignment of a specific identity to others based on the identity of the dominant actors.

This is a very important point, as it also pertains to my understanding of the intercultural dimension of identity, and how it has influenced me. Otherization is closely linked to issues of power, stereotyping, and cultural assumptions. It lies at the core of intercultural communication and embraces the concepts of Avowed and Ascribed identities.(see note below)

In another ALGC course we read about von Glaserfeld’s constructivist ideas.

In his article Cognition, construction of knowledge, and teaching, von Glaserfeld talks about a dualistic accommodation that “ascribes perceptual and cognitive capabilities to others based on reciprocity.” (p.7) In intercultural communication literature the concepts of avowed and ascribed identities (see explanatory note at the bottom) have become a source of conflict mainly – in my opinion – due to lack of reciprocity and cultural sensitivity, and therefore due to a lack of a compatible conceptual framework. I believe that the construction of such framework equals what interculturalists have come to call “intercultural competence,” a term that corresponds to a particular capability envelop that would also include culturally sensitive attitudes towards cultural differences. Even if not intended as a contribution to intercultural communication, von Glaserfeld’s article seems to have captured the essence of this important capability by defining reciprocity as its main component.

Davies recognizes the lack of reciprocity perpetuated in professional practices by overarching power structures.


The binary approach to identity is in many cases unavoidable, as the two parties are fulfilling pre-assigned roles that derive directly from society’s rules.

A teacher that tries to escape her institutional role will face resistance both from students and from the school. Students will in fact try to fulfill their part of the educational contract and will find their teacher’s modified role confusing. It is very difficult to create a learning environment that transcends such pre-defined roles. Even when we talk about student-centered education, the dichotomy between the expert providers (teachers) and the clueless recipients (students) stands.

In my role as a teacher I have to be mindful of the above, for such scenario is almost inescapable.

In my hot issue, Davies’ views on identity emerged in the following situations:

1) INSTITUTIONAL/CONTEXTUAL FACTOR: As a teacher I was expected to deal professionally, knowledgeably and effectively;

2) PERSONAL HISTORY: As a former international student, current “immigrant”, and learner of Intercultural Communication, I was in the position to be mindful of my student’s perspective.

The incident occurred at the interface of at least these two perspectives/roles. The challenge presented by the incident was directly related to weave my personal narrative into the institutional context of my current professional practiced.

NOTE ON  Avowed and Ascribed identities

In Cross-cultural communication we find the terms avowed and ascribed identities. In this web page I found the following definition:

Avowed and Ascribed identities: Not only do we have an image of our various identities, we also have an image of the identities of others. One’s avowed identity is the one that one claims (avows) in an interaction. An ascribed identity is one that we give to someone else. A woman might come to the workplace and see herself as a professional. But then if a man makes a harassing comment, he is treating her in her identity as a woman (specifically, a sex object). So also, among people of a given identity, one African American might enact her identity one way, and another might say she is not “Black” enough. This simply means that one person ascribes one Black identity the other person, but the person avows a different Black identity. Competent Communication occurs when the identity we avow to others matches the identity that they claim in an interaction.

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