Friday, April 30, 2010

Social Identity and Self-Categorization Theories and 1 Corinthians

Often I mention social identity in my posts; so I thought I'd offer a brief overview of my theoretical framework with regard to Paul's discourse of identity formation in 1 Corinthians. The social identity theory of Tajfel and Turner (1979: 33-47) provides a theoretical framework from which to understand the ingroup/outgroup relations evident in a text (de Fina, Schiffrin, and Bamberg 2006: 9). Individuals form identity within the nexus of discourse, relationships, and various group memberships. The ensuing contrast in values between the discourse and the identity provides the impetus for negotiation (Cerulo 1997: 385-409). Individuals look to groups for behavioral norms and identity salience (Hogg and Mullin 1999: 249-79). Social identity theory seeks to explain how this interaction occurs. Self-categorization theory, developed by Turner (Turner, et. al 1987), argues that identity salience is contextually determined based, primarily on the available social comparison groups. When an individual attains salient identity then self-stereotyping occurs and the sense of homogeneity with the ingroup increases (Hewstone Rubin, and Willis 2002: 578-9). This self-stereotyping is discursive and may change its level of salience based on the change of outgroups. Texts and other forms of discourse are influential in this social evaluation and the ensuing distancing between one ingroup and another outgroup which may occur. Thus discursive forms of communication may contextualize similarity and difference and thus provide a new conceptual framework from which to evaluate oneself and an outgroup (Hogg 2001: 63-66; Marques, et. al 2001: 402). These two theories intersect when it comes to explaining the perceived characteristics of the outgroup. Ingroup identity is made more salient through a critique of the outgroup, especially if the outgroup is a super-ordinate group and one by which the ingroup feels threatened (Hogg and Mullin 1999: xx; Sherif 2001: 64-70). This external threat increases the likelihood of self-stereotyping and thus distancing from the super-ordinate group. The various outgroups may but do not need to exist in an overtly threatening relationship.

To understand better the nature of Paul’s mission rhetorics it is important to reflect on the nature of group formation and its impact on identity (Brown 2000; Hinkle and Brown 1990: 48-70; Horrell 2000; Esler 2000; Campbell 1991). Paul was ultimately involved in forming groups of individuals and providing them direction on how to re-orient their lives under the new realization of who they were “in Christ.” This identity was one in which a number of nested-identities existed within the population of Roman Corinth in the mid-first century C.E. The category of “in Christ” is ultimately a category which derives its meaning from a Jewish context, even though there is evidence for a Greco-Roman provenance of the concept (Garland 2003: 29; Son 2001: 27). Identity is no longer understood as a stable concept – it is one in which individuals are constantly shifting their self-understanding based on both written and spoken discourse (Hall 1997: 24; Lieu 2004: 12). Negotiated identity occurs within the nexus of written and spoken discourse and ingroup and outgroup interaction and definition. Paul’s rhetoric in the Corinthian correspondence was intended to address the transitional nature of the Corinthians’ identity in Roman Corinth which, if left uncontested, would ultimately hinder his gentile mission in that important colony.

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