- Treating Identity as a Variable
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- by Johnston, Alastair Iain; Abdelal, Rawi E.; Herrera, Yoshiko Margaret
- This paper outlines our initial thoughts on treating identity as a variable. It is part of a longer-term project
to develop conceptualizations of identity and, more importantly, to develop technologies for observing
identity and identity change that will have wide application in the social sciences. Heretofore the usual
techniques for analyzing identity have consisted of non-replicable discourse analysis or lengthy individual
interviews, at one extreme, or the use of large-N surveys at the other. Yet, much social science research
relies on historical and contemporaneous texts. Specifically we hope to develop computer-aided
quantitative and qualitative methods for analyzing a large number of textual sources in order to determine
the content, intensity, and contestation of individual and collective identities at any particular point in time
and space. These methods will allow researchers to use identity in a more rigorous and replicable way as an
independent (and dependent) variable in a wide variety of research projects. They will also allow more
rigorous testing among identity-based hypotheses—such as those drawing on social identity theory, role
theory, or cognitive theories—along with other variables in explaining behavior. Researchers may also be
able to develop early warning indicators that might be used to track growing intensity of out-group
differentiation, a development which makes subjected groups more susceptible to identity-based
mobilization for conflict. Perhaps most important, scholars will, using these methods, be able to observe
more systematically the contestation and construction of identity over time.
- Publication Type: WCFIA Working Paper
- Published Date: August 17, 2001
- Field of Interest: Global Issues
- Johnston, Alastair Iain, Rawi Abdelal, Yoshiko M. Herrera, and Terry Martin. "Treating Identity as a Variable." Working Paper 2008-0067, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, August 17, 2001.
- Paper prepared for presentation at APSA, August 30–September 2, 2001, San Francisco.