Identities and Meaning Structures

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2020

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Abstract

Sociologists have for long explored how identities, the labels or categories people employ to define themselves and others, affect a number of processes. In this dissertation, I conduct three studies that deal with different aspects of identity and identity-related processes.

Chapter 2 deals with stigmatization and identity restoration after a wrongdoing. I investigate whether prosociality (i.e., helping others at a cost to oneself) can mitigate negative perceptions of a moral transgressor. I utilize affect control theory and its impression formation principles to derive hypotheses about how perceptions of the moral transgressor will change according to levels of future prosociality and perceptions of the goodness-badness and powerfulness-powerlessness of prosociality beneficiaries. I show prosociality positively can restore positive perceptions of the protagonist, depending on who benefits from prosociality. Benefitting people perceived as good has more of a restorative effect compared to benefitting people perceived as weak. Results suggest prosocial behaviors lead to positive perceptions to the extent that they benefit those seen as deserving the benefit.

Chapter 3 addresses the problem of identity structures by explicitly conceptualizing them as multilayer networks of interrelated identities. Using network analysis techniques, I map identity structures and investigate which (if any) elements lie at the center of the structure. In addition, investigate the claim that values, abstract ideals that guide action, connect identities from different domains. I show country citizenship emerges as the most central node in the between-nations network. Other nodes act as intermediate hubs, connecting domain-specific regions (e.g., family or occupation) with the rest of the network. Values reliably occupy a peripheral position in the observed networks.

Chapter 4 investigates political belief systems and their organization in European countries. I employ Belief Network Analysis (BNA), a recently developed method in the sociology of culture (Boutyline and Vaisey 2017), to identify central elements in political belief systems across Europe. In its first application, BNA showed political ideology lies at the center of a network of political beliefs in the United States. I examine whether a similar pattern is observed in European political belief systems. Contrary to the U.S. case, I do not find political ideology lies at the center of the observed structures. I discuss possible factors driving this finding as well as a number of future directions that could shed light on these contradictory results.

This dissertation aims to improve our understanding of identity structures and processes. The study in Chapter 2 informs how identity processes influence moral judgments and stigmatization. The study in Chapter 3 is an initial step of a research program that leverages the strengths of the networks approach to understand identity structures. The study of political beliefs in Chapter 4 sheds light on identity meanings attached (or not) to the ideological identity across cultural contexts.

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Flor, Ramos Cristina (2020). Identities and Meaning Structures. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20963.

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