Social Identity Theory – Henri Tajfel and John Turner (1979)

This is working towards objective 1.

The Social identity theory was originated from two British social psychologists – Henri Tajfel and John Turner in 1979, and states that “part of a person’s concept of self comes from the groups to which that person belongs”.

After watching the ‘Body Image Secrets’ documentary on BBC as noted on a previous post, I had questions regarding ‘what natural is?’ and how our ‘identities’ allow us to either fit in, or not with a social group and by change our identity we are more likely to be accepted within said group, and society. This was prevalent with the gym enthusiast couple, Millie and Lanon for example., whereby the every move, was tailored to becoming a certain person and looking a certain way for the approval of others and an increased following on social media platforms such as Instagram.

I wanted to look more into the Social Identity Theory as this was only previously touched on lightly beforehand, and made me question how many of us nowadays do change our identities, whether consciously or unconsciously to ‘fit in’, whether this is changing our looks, how we speak, how we act and what we wear, for example. This was highlighted by Eve, the makeup artist spoken to by Anne Robinson in the BBC ‘Body Image Secrets’ documentary, whereby she noted that she sees images of ‘plumped lips’ and knows that she needs hers done, but is not sure why. This striving to fit in with ideals, celebrities and cultural icons has really made me think about the relevance and the importantance of the Social Identity theory going forward.

Social Identity Theory

“Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory explains that part of a person’s concept of self comes from the groups to which that person belongs. An individual does not just have a personal selfhood, but multiple selves and identities associated with their affiliated groups. A person might act differently in varying social contexts according to the groups they belong to, which might include a sports team they follow, their family, their country of nationality, and the neighborhood they live in, among many other possibilities[1].”
(Turner, J. C., & Tajfel, H. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. Psychology of intergroup relations, 7-24.)

I found the above quote particularly interesting, whilst Turner and Tajfel continue to state that once a person perceives themselves as part of a particular social group, then they are “in-group”, in comparison tho those who do not identify with such groups, therefore becoming “out-groups”, denoting where the “us” and “them” concept comes from in retrospect to this. I found this applicable with much of the research I am currently undertaking, looking at bloggers, vloggers and celebrity icons for example, and how followers become “in-group” changing their identities to certain extents to ‘fit in’, be accepted within the group or community and feel good about their social positioning, where as those who tend not to follow the trends, fads and idealisms of society, form the “out-group” members. Perhaps the “in-groups” feel better positioned as individuals if associated with an identity and a ‘group’ of belonging, following the likes of Kim Kardashian, as Eve noted on the ‘Body Image Secrets’ documentary previously analysed (previous blog post).


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Turner and Tajfel note that there are three main “processes that create this ingroup/outgroup mentality”:

  • Social Categorisation: Recognising people in order to understand and identify them for example, and therefore defining whom we are via groups that we ‘belong to’ or situate ourselves with.
  • Social Identification: Changing our identity to further identify with the people of the group we are longing to be apart of.
  • Social Comparison: Comparing of groups/members of the group via looking at “in-groups” and “out-groups”, which often tends to help with self-esteem and confidence via compliments and encouragements from within the same “in-group”, however also highlights where negativity and poor self-perception issues can arise from.

I feel that the above resonates very heavily with the research carried out regarding social media icons and their following, particularly the comments posted expressing their desire to become “the icon”. I have also posted an example of this below for reference. It also made me realise where the negative comments at times may come from, or the comparison to oneself – social comparison – which may affect self-perfection, self-esteem and confidence and allow for paths to open for identity change in order to feel apart of the “in-group”.

I found the above extremely relevant in regards to identity and social media more than anything, especially in the current climate of use from both the general public and ‘the influencers’, highlighting the differences even more between the “in-groups” and “out-groups” and how this social categorisation has a lasting impact on todays society and cross-cultural communities, leading to social identification changes to begin to take place.

I feel this also links in heavily with the idea of ‘cultural icons’ as noted by Mary F. Rogers in ‘Barbie Culture’ whereby these are the current “in-groups” of todays society, along with models for instance, allowing their followers to be “out-groups” whilst feeling the need to be constantly striving and working towards that standardisation and acceptance amongst a group or community.


This is further supported with the quote noted below by Turner and Tajfel (1986).

“The reconciliation of social status as tempted earlier needs now to be made more explicit. Status is not considered here as a scarce resource or commodity, such as power or wealth; it is the outcome of intergroup comparison”.

I really resonated with this regarding social groups and communities on social media, particularly Instagram in that in-group members flock almost to one member making them the leader, the ideal, and boosts their social status. I also took from this that social status has become the outcome of social media and the relevant social groups – this can be seen by those whom are taken on sponsored brand trips, such as that to Bora Bora by Tarte Cosmetics. These have reached the ultimate final outcome in regards to intergroup comparison whereby this overtime and the subsequent encouragement as caused their iconsim and therefore their identity.


My notes below also depict various topics discussed by Turner and Tajfel (1986).

  • There are two types of people, those who are not affected by their social groups, and those that are.
  • Through intergroup comparison overtime one person in the group, as discussed in further detail above, become the leader for others then to identify with and compare themselves and each other too.
  • “Individuals strive to achieve or to maintain positive social identity” – this is particularly prevalent in social media, whether it be ourselves, friends, family, bloggers, vloggers, brands, celebrities, cultural icons, public figures, etc. Nobody wants to be seen in a negative light, and by selecting what we share we can showcase our identity in a positive and accepting manner within our chosen social groups. This is seen throughout images of bloggers, vloggers and celebrities on my previous research posts. This also makes me think about the self-aware and narcissistic side of social media.
  • If we don’t find in a certain social group, we have the ability to move. This is often seen through career changes on Instagram, from makeup artists to YouTube vloggers, and also by celebrities whom release product lines, participate with endorsements and interviews for example, to tailor the audience they are associated with and the social groups they then perceive themselves in and fit within. This can be seen on Instagram via the use of hashtags, and also can be taken from the interview I had with Samantha Ravndahl. As your career and following grows, it appear that you, your social groups and intersocial communication and comparisons change too.


Turner, J. C., & Tajfel, H. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. Psychology of intergroup relations, 7-24.
Unknown. (2016). Social Identity Theory. Available: Last Accessed: 22nd October 2016
BBC One and Anne Robinson. (2016). Britain’s Secrets with Anne Robinson: Body Image. Available: Last Accessed: 20th October 2016.
Unknown. Social Identity Model Image. Available: Last Accessed:13th November 2016