UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Identity : formed by acts of attention Green , John Lawrence


This thesis is an investigation of the psycho-social phenomenon of identity. The natter of identity is an important one for contemporary times because of the current fluidity of social customs and institutions that formerly brought a quality of stability to the individual identity project. Because of this social fluidity, identity is less a matter of discovering one's niche but rather more a matter of creating it. Furthermore the thesis suggests that traditional, academic psychology can provide few guidelines for this process of identity creation because its methodological limitations mitigate against the analysis of subjective processes. Therefore, this thesis relies primarily on a methodology of phenomeno-logical analysis. This approach is used to investigate the process by which psychological structures in general, and the structures of identity In particular, come into being. Specifically, the position taken is that psychological structures result from the pattern of attention deployment. That is, attention is depicted as the dyriamic mechanism through which psychological structures are formed and elaborated. Furthermore, there are two modes of attention and they are: 1) Pre-reflective Attention: in this type there is a fusion between awareness and the content of awareness; there is no clear demarcation or boundary between subject and object; phenonenologically speaking, the subject is completely absorbed in the object attended to ... there is no self awareness. The type of mental attitude that facilitates this type of attention has been characterized as "passive volition" or "active surrender". 2) Reflective Attention: in this type there is an awareness of both the subject and object pole of the experience. That is, the individual is reflexively aware of their participation in or contribution to the experience. It is experienced as a mental effort or activity. Furthermore, the exercising of these two modes of attention result in the production of qualitatively different psychological structures. The deployment of pre-reflective awareness results in stable or enduring structures. This thesis suggests that this mode of attention is the only one available to infants thus explaining the enduring quality of psychological structures developed in those early years. The deployment of reflective attention, on the other hand, results in transient psychological structures of the type used in conceptual thinking. The capacity for this type of attention appears later in the developmental sequence. It is this type of attention that allows individuals to consider logical possibilities without acting them out. Therefore, this thesis utilizes a dualistic structural framework with which to organize the material. Thus, the relatively stable structures as a whole are referred to as the dynamic unconscious, or right hemispheric content, or the realm of pre-reflective intentionality. Likewise, the relatively transient structures are classed variously as left hemispheric content, or ego structures, or the realm of reflective consciousness. The construct of identity, in some sense, bridges this structural duality. The bodily felt sense of who we are is contributed by the more enduring structures of the pre-reflective self while our self image or self concept (as a clear and distinct idea of who we are) is contributed by the reflective self. The thesis concludes with the notion that identity change results from the capacity to volitionally deploy both modes of attention in a systematic way. Thus, we use reflective attention in order to detach our awareness from its habitualized pattern of deployment (deautomization). Once this is accomplished we can utilize pre-reflective attention to fuse with objects of consciousness that mutually implicate and elaborate a new identity.

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