A broad perspective on identity development as Hongkongers

Since 1997, Hongkongers face changes in many aspects in this city.  Many people asked me about the concept of identity and the issue of identity development when they think about what their fellow Hongkongers are facing.  What is identity?  How can we conceptualise identity development of a human being across one’s life span? As we name Hong Kong as our hometown, we may think the identity of being Hongkongers may be defined by our sharing of a specific culture or of a unique narrative.  Some people worry that the realised changes and the foreseeable changes in this city may have an impact on the identity development of Hongkongers in different life stages.  In fact, the possible changes in this special identity of Hongkongers are still uncertain.  If we look into the conceptualisation of identity development in a broader sense, we may realise that there are a lot of possible individual differences in identity development of any individual.

Apart from our specific culture and unique narrative as Hongkongers, we may also identify ourselves in other ways so that we can have a continuity and sameness in ourselves throughout our lives.  Dan P. McAdams, a professor in psychology and an author, identifies three facets of identity development.  The first facet of our identity development, according to McAdams, is the performance of our traits and roles.  We are all social actors in our environment playing a number of different roles.  For example, a middle-aged person plays the roles of a professional, a parent, a child, and a spouse, etc.  In performing these social roles, we also showcase our unique traits to others.  The middle-aged person may be someone who is conscientious, open-minded and modest.  By performing our social roles and our unique traits, we eventually establish our reputation in our social groups.  We manage our reputations in our environment in order to obtain a status and seek acceptance in our groups.  Though we share a specific culture and unique narrative as Hongkongers, we, as unique individuals, also have our own individuality in our own traits and roles.

The second facet of identity development, as McAdams mentioned, is our goals, values and life projects.  In this facet, we act as an agent to commit to goals and values, so that we live purposefully into the future.  In fact, we may go through different identity statuses throughout our journey of identity development, according to James Marcia, a clinical and developmental psychologist.  For instance, an adolescent may be in the status of moratorium, a stage of exploring different options and not making definite commitment.  This person may develop into the status of identity achievement in his or her 30s and make commitment into a certain specific goals, values and life projects.  However, this status, identity achievement, may not be stable forever.  The person may return to the status of moratorium in his or her mid 40s and resume exploring for different options again.  As Hongkongers, we may move back and forth in searching for our goals, values and life projects in the face of all the realised changes and foreseeable changes in this city.  Different Hongkongers may have different goals, values and life projects.  We need to explore different options when we find the identity that we achieved in the past no longer valid for our current situation.

McAdams identifies the third facet of identity development as our life narrative.  We create a story to describe how we developed into our current self.  Our life story has key scenes and autobiographical episodes shaped by our culture and our beliefs and values.  For example, two different Hongkongers will have different life narratives to describe their key scenes and autobiographical episodes in lives.  As a result, the two Hongkongers have different life stories constituting to ones’ identity development.  In order to have the full expression of narrative identity, a person needs to be capable of lining up events together into an extended narrative.  This extended narrative explain the development of the self overtime.  Each Hongkonger has a unique extended narrative.  In this broader sense, even though we all had gone through the changes in this city, each one of us has different narrative identity as our key scenes and autobiographical episodes are different.

As Hongkongers, we all try to consolidate a sense of sameness and continuity overtime to maintain our identity.  In fact, in a broader sense, our identity development can be defined by our establishment of our social reputation, our life goals and values, as well as our life narrative.  In a dialectical perspective, Hongkongers share specific culture and unique narrative, and at the same time, have different identity development as unique individuals.

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