Identity as a Variable (2001)

This initiative has concluded its research.

The concept of identity has taken an increasingly prominent place in the social sciences of late. Analysis of the development of social identities themselves has become an important focus of scholarly research and scholars using social identities as the building blocks of social, political, and economic life, have attempted to account for a number of discrete outcomes by treating identities as independent variables. The dominant implication of the vast literature on identity is that social identities are among the most important social facts of the world in which we live.

After taking stock of what had been learned—and re-learned—from a generation of identity scholarship, the project team identified two sets of problems with social identity scholarship, namely conceptual issues and coordination gaps. The conceptual problems included the issue of how to compare and differentiate types of identities as well as the issue of how to take advantage of theoretical advancements in operationalizing identity as a variable. A second important weakness in identity scholarship concerns what the team termed "coordination" problems. These include a lack of consistency and clarity in defining and measuring identities, a lack of cross-disciplinary and cross-subfield coordination of identity research, and missed opportunities to take advantage of possible methodological options.

This project brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines and subdisciplines in order to consider the conceptual and methodological issues associated with treating identity as a variable, and explicitly seeking to solve some of the coordination problems that had thus far impeded progress in identity scholarship.

Principal Investigators

Rawi E. Abdelal

Faculty Associate. Professor of Business Administration, Business, Government, and the International Economy Unit, Harvard Business School.

Yoshiko Margaret Herrera

Former Faculty Associate.

Alastair Iain Johnston

Executive Committee; Steering Committee; Faculty Associate. Governor James Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs, Department of Government, Harvard University.

Rose McDermott

University of California, Santa Barbara.