The theme of Week 4 is ‘The Self & Identity’, giving form to your story. This theme excited me as soon as I read it. We touched on this topic in Week 1, introducing ourselves through our answers to Who? What? Where? and Why? However this week’s content delves much deeper into the components that make up our identities, and how we live our lives, culminating with the production of an artefact that visually conveys our identity.
Guest Lecture: Martin Hosken
Critical Theory lecturer Martin Hosken discussed the concept of ‘the self’ in this week’s guest lecture. Hosken explains how humans share much more than our individualistic nature likes to acknowledge. We all breathe, eat, drink, sleep, and exist in communities bound by love, attachment, empathy and the possibilities of our imagination. He mentions a key point, that at times it can feel like humanity can cast a long shadow. I interpreted this as mankind’s destructive and selfish tendencies. As individuals, humanity’s ‘long shadow’ can be extremely daunting, and leave us feeling helpless. In terms of identity, activism and campaigning against destruction and unfairness is an important part of the identities of the individuals who partake, showing their morals and what they care about most. How we act and choose (or not) to bring light into our own lives says a lot for our identities.
A concept that stuck out to me in Hosken’s lecture was that of Choice Architecture, also known as Nudge Theory. This theory uses a prompt to alter behaviour in a predictable way, without imposing a mandate. With my marketing background, I instantly thought of how advertising and product placement can be used to manipulate our behaviours, cause impulse buying, and over time develop purchasing habits. An example that comes to mind is the convenient placement of shiny confectionary packets and chocolate bars at supermarket tills. Bored children queuing with their parents will beg for these items, and they’ll often be on special offer, too – who could say no?! Adults are not immune either, and can be persuaded to buy products they do not necessarily need due to nudge tactics.
Whilst Choice Architecture can be beneficial to us, like in Hosken’s example of encouraging healthy eating without banning junk food items, on the other hand it can also be destructive and manipulative. This is particularly evident within social media, as it continues to expand and almost take over our lives. Social media apps will send notifications to our devices even if there is no new activity relating to us, just prompting us to check what everyone else is sharing that we are missing whilst offline. Hosken notes how our technological self can seem to override our immediate selves and our surroundings. It is no longer enough to take a photograph, we have to take one with ourselves and the subject (a selfie) to prove to social media that we were there.
The lack of attention to ourselves in the physical environment is the price we pay for investing in ourselves in the digital environment.”Martin hosken
Social media’s power over us and impact on our identities and self-esteem led me to remembering the Netflix film, The Social Dilemma (2020), which looks at how our attitudes, behaviours, and ultimately our identities can be hugely influenced by content we see online. Often, these content items are positioned right where we will be most likely to see and interact with them, by the social media platform and its advertisers. As Hosken said in this week’s lecture, our digital selves can often seem to override our physical selves. I think it is really important to recognise the power that these platforms have, and take time away from them to reconnect with ourselves and communities offline. We’ve looked at how beneficial the digital world can be for collaboration and connections, but it is also easy to lose yourself when faced with a feed of highlights and filters.
This week’s challenge was to create a single visual expression that conveys me. To start with, selecting 20 words demonstrating understanding of my practice and my character, then selecting 5 of these to move forward with.
As quite a self-conscious person, I personally found it quite challenging to describe myself, and decided to collect some input from those who know me best. My anxious nature often leaves me plagued with thoughts of not being good enough, and criticisms of my own character, so to hear such positive things from those around me was really beneficial in better understanding how I come across to others. I ended up finding this part of the challenge to be really interesting and enlightening.
I quickly realised that some of my words may seem contradictory; for example being ‘ambitious’ and ‘optimistic’ yet anxious, shy and insecure. I thought it was important to not sugar-coat my character in this exercise, and appreciate how multi-faceted we all are as individuals. Whilst I am outwardly positive, extremely studious and with big goals, I also enjoy time alone and am easily overwhelmed by self-doubt. It is important to me that my final artefact conveys both sides of me, and how although they may seem to be incompatible qualities, that they have made me creative, empathetic and humble.
In planning my visual expression, I knew I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, confronting my ‘Anxious’ word, and showing my ‘Ambitious’ one. I’ve experimented with animating objects before but never to much avail, however was determined to bring an ‘alive’ element to this week’s challenge.
My final visual expression incorporates my 5 words in a manner very typical of my design style. Some are perhaps more obvious than others, but I believe that all five values are represented within. My Shy mood board showed a girl hiding behind her hands, an action fairly synonymous with the notion of being shy. Knowing I am very guilty of sitting completely absorbed in a book, I realised that the type of books I particularly love are ones I can make notes in and take away lessons for life, highlighting my Ambitious nature. The clouds surrounding my character’s head are also a nod to the expression ‘head in the clouds’, indicating my big dreams. My mood board for the word Anxious contained imagery illustrating anxious thoughts as squiggles floating around one’s head. I thought about the chaotic nature of anxious and intrusive thoughts, and how an element could move around my character. Whilst I am most definitely a worrier, I am also generally Optimistic, and chose to highlight this with a positive message of reassurance. My thoughts still race, but I am able to keep them in check, and my mental health no longer controls me. Finally, we have Illustrative; a still fairly new hobby of mine, quickly becoming a passion. I drew my body shape using Procreate and personalised the character with an outfit typical of my style, and a colour palette to match.
I believe that creating elements that represent multiple words at once highlights the different sides we all have to us. Although our qualities and values may not seem like the most perfectly-matched set, they all come together to make us who we are, and that is more than enough.
The Trajectory of the Self
This week’s reading delved deeper into the concept of ‘the self’. The author frequently references the work of Jeanette Rainwater, particularly within her book, Self-Therapy. Rainwater’s perspective is that whilst therapy with another person (therapist, counsellor etc) is important, therapy can only be successful when it involves the individual’s own reflexivity, and a process of self-realisation. I believe therapy to be an instrumental experience in beginning to understand ourselves. My own personal experience with this supports the author’s, and Rainwater’s, theory. Prior to my experience, I perhaps would have believed therapy to be more black and white; talking followed by a set plan of action. In reality, however, therapy does involve a lot of work on the individual’s part to be successful, and is much more than talking. It is true across many areas of our lives that we will not have any significant success without hard work.
Later, the author dedicates a section to The Body & Self-Actualisation. They describe the body as being a simple notion, especially so in comparison to the extremely broad concepts of ‘the self’ and ‘self-identity’.
The body is an object in which we are all privileged, or doomed, to dwell, the source of feelings of well-being and pleasure, but also the site of illnesses and strains.(Giddens, 1991. p. 99)
This section really spoke to me, as a chronically ill individual. Reading this section of Giddens’ work almost left me feeling completely ignorant in my work this week up to this point. I had completely disregarded my physical being in my thoughts and reflections upon my self and identity. Crohn’s Disease has been a huge part of my life, and I have suffered with it for over 12 years now. When asked to talk about myself, I do not tend to mention the descriptors I selected in my 20 and 5 Words. Instead I would mention my nationality, my job, and likely that I have Crohn’s Disease.
Later, the author explores exactly why this may have been the case. ‘Individuals adjust both appearance and demeanour somewhat according to the perceived demands of
the particular setting. This has led some authors to suppose that the self becomes broken up – that individuals tend to develop multiple selves in which there is no inner core of self-identity’ (Giddens, 1991. p. 100). This provides some clarity for me on why perhaps I may have compartmentalised elements of my ‘self’. There is one self that refuses to let my condition define me, whilst another recognises the huge impact it has had on my life.
Giddens, A., (1991). The Trajectory of the Self . Cambridge: Polity Press.