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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The construction of identity in early adulthood Gooblar, Michael S.


Researchers and theoreticians consider identity to be a particularly salient feature in the lives of young adults. A large body of literature on identity in young adults addresses issues from a positivist perspective and does not consider the role of individual volition. The constructivist orientation of the present study takes the view that individuals are active in their construction of identity through making meaning of their experience. The purpose of this study was to examine the processes through which identity is constructed by young adults. Because young adults live in society, the cultural construction of identity was also accessed. Six volunteers between the ages of 19 and 21 participated in two individual interviews. In the first interview, the participants were asked to describe the person he or she is at present and to tell the story of how he or she came to be that person. They were requested to bring personally significant photographs to this interview in order to aid in the telling of the story. In the follow-up interview, participants critically reviewed a summary of the first interview prepared by the researcher. Both interviews were audio recorded. The narratives were transcribed and then analyzed using a phenomenological method (Giorgi, 1975). Individual elements of each story, called meaning units (Giorgi, 1975), were identified and reduced to one or two words that described the core meaning. Common core meanings were grouped together and edited resulting in seven themes which described the young adults' experience: The experience of self awareness, the experiences of closeness and separateness, the experience of place, the experience of tension between opposing forces, the experiences of change and continuity, the experiences of receiving and passing on knowledge and experience and, the experience of considering the future. The narratives were then reread in light of the identified themes. One question was asked of each meaning unit: "What role does this experience hold in the context of the identified theme and in the young adult's construction of identity?" This study shows that by taking a constructivist approach, the researcher was able to address issues of identity in young adults as they are experienced by the individual. Additionally, the experiences of young adults can be employed to ascertain the individual and cultural constructions of identity. The findings illustrate constructions of identity by young adults and the processes through which young adults construct identity. Support is given to constructs suggested by ego psychology, developmental, family systems, and cognitive models of identity. Questions are raised regarding gender differences in young adults' future projections. The study illustrates the need for practitioners to attend to the meanings that young adults make of their experience rather than approaching young adults with counselling agendas and preconceived notions based on theories that may not accurately reflect the young adults' experience. While research theories and therapeutic orientations can assist the practitioner, they should emerge in response to the communicated experience of the client rather than attempt to predict them.

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