Identity Structure Analysis - Academia


About ISA

Identity Structure Analysis (ISA) is the underlying conceptual framework of psychological concepts and process postulates that provide the theoretical foundations of Identity Exploration. The complex psychological processes in which people engage have hither-to-fore lacked sophisticated tools for their scientific analysis. Identity Exploration is concerned with making available analytical and methodological tools grounded in the innovative ISA conceptual framework of psychological concepts and process postulates about identity in their myriad manifestations. University based research projects by postgraduate researchers for MSc and PhD degrees and collaborative research by established academics provide the research bases for ISA and research evidence for the diverse application of ISA in cross-cultural, societal and clinical contexts. Fundamental features of the ISA conceptual framework are operationalised for empirical investigations by way of the facilitative Identity Exploration software - Ipseus

Introduction to Identity Structure Analysis

ISA is a conceptual framework of well-defined psychological concepts and explicit postulates about psychological processes that have a fundamental significance for the person's processing of day-to-day experiences that vary according to the context in which one is engaged. These processes have to do with the person's sense of identity. Community enterprises and organisations depend on the interactions of several, maybe hundreds of, people with various types of skills and at different levels within informal or formal structures. Each person approaches the day with a sense of identity, long-term aspirations and short-term expectations. These involve a desire to be recognised for oneself and to contribute to various enterprises, which may be facilitated or frustrated by others, or by one's own skills or deficiencies. 'Others' might include in various contexts such people as managers, immediate colleagues, subordinates and members of the public, with whom one may have good facilitative kinds of relationships or detrimental and undermining ones. One's own propensities may be productive and supportive of the work of others, or they could be subtly, even overtly, antagonistic and undermining of others.

Different cultures and alternative moral imperatives

With the best of intentions by all concerned, given the diversity of people's identity processes, simple everyday activities involving others may not be harmonious and productive, but instead fraught with all manner of problems that have more to do with matters of self-expression than with the activities themselves. To some extent interpersonal problems may be held in check by people's skills in presenting acceptable personas in the public space. However, when individuals whose cultural backgrounds are very different act according to moral imperatives and expectations that are at odds with each other, the propensity for problematic interactions increases a great deal. This may be partly the outcome of misunderstandings, but could arise in part as the result of genuine disagreements over the acceptability of differing moral imperatives. The resolution of dilemmas arising from alternative expectations and interpretations requires effective assessment of such dilemmas. ISA provides a powerful assessment tool, which is applicable in the workplace and the community at large. It is par excellence a tool for scientific investigations of identity processes in wide-ranging circumstances.

Complexities of identity processes inaccessible to standard psychometric assessment

Standard psychometric procedures may effectively assess a wide range of personality traits, competencies and social skills. However, they cannot ascertain the complexities of processes of identity formation and change subject to the person's biographical experiences in contemporary socio-historical contexts.

What is ISA?

ISA: an open-ended conceptualisation for elucidating complex identity processes

The explicitly defined psychological concepts and process postulates of ISA enable investigation of the complexities of identity structure and process that evolve through people's biographical experiences within contemporary socio-historical contexts. Ethnographic work forms the starting point for the creation of 'identity instruments' that are customised to the participants of a study or project. The open-ended conceptualisation invites the input of the investigator's knowledge of and expertise in specialised fields of study.

How does it operate?

ISA facilitated by the Ipseus computer software

The ISA definitions of psychological concepts are directly translated into algorithms that form the basis of the Ipseus computer software. Ipseus consists of a sophisticated editor for handling the syntax required for creating customised identity instruments, while incorporating the fundamental structural features that enable the assessment of the psychological concepts by which diverse identity processes are elucidated. It provides on screen displays of discourses that can be applied by project participants to appraising self in various social contexts and mood states, other people and agents, and institutions and emblems. Using the algorithms of the ISA concepts, Ipseus' computational procedures provide instantaneous estimates of the various parameters of identity, the output of which is displayed on monitor and can be printed or recorded in PDF format.

What in outline is assessed by ISA?

ISA assesses qualitative and quantitative features of identity that are not readily accessible by traditional methods. Qualitative aspects of identity, such as the manner by which people use discourses when engaging with people and events of relevance to them, are always in evidence. In addition, assessments of quantitative parameters of identity, which incorporate discourses as used by participants, derive from the algorithms of the psychological concepts defined within ISA. The qualitative features are thereby integrated with the quantitative parameters of identity. The following assessments, among others, are available:

Appraisal of the social world

  • The person's extent of identification with other people, agents, institutions, icons, etc.
  • The significance of others to the individual and their attributes, whether facilitative or detrimental - e.g., determination of role ambivalence [ISA parameters: 'ego-involvement with another'; 'evaluation of another'; 'ambivalence']

Conflicted identifications

  • Problematic identification conflicts with such others: being like the other, while wanting to dissociate from some features of the other, such as in role conflict [ISA parameter: 'conflicted identification with another']

Symbolic representations of significant matters

  • The symbolic function that some other person, icon, or emblem might represent within the individual's identity structure; for example, discovering whether some other agent functions for the individual as 'standing in' symbolically for another who had a formidable influence on the individual's biography. [ISA parameter: 'split in appraisal between one agent and another', when no split indicates an identity of appraisal, i.e., the one 'standing in' for the other]

Personalised stress

  • Aspects of stress due to the person's manner of appraising circumstances in a personal way
  • Discovering the issues over which the person is particularly liable to experience stress and uncertainty, and vacillate between alternative stances as in unreliable decision-making or argumentation [ISA parameter: 'structural pressure on a construct' when low, indicating a conflicted evaluative dimension of identity, when 'emotional significance of the construct' is considerable]

Contending with stress

  • The person's preferred modes of contending with stress
  • Determining whether these may or may not be effective [ISA parameter: 'structural pressure on a construct' which when high, indicates a core and rigid dimension of identity]

Progressive and anti-developmental orientations

  • Whether the person's orientation to life is developmentally progressive or anti-developmental, that is,
    • effectively progressing towards aspirations that reflect progressive development, or
    • harking back to an earlier more congenial state of greater childlike certainties [ISA parameter: 'current self-evaluation in a particular context' compared with 'past self-evaluation also in context']

Unstable and vulnerable mood states

  • Contrasting and changeable mood states according to prevailing contexts
  • Detection of vulnerable mood states according to context [ISA parameters: 'self-evaluation' and 'identity diffusion' according to different contexts]

Defensive or over-responsive orientations

  • Defensiveness or openness towards others
  • Determining the balance between ignoring the experience, skills and knowledge of others, and being gullible and over-responsive towards suggestions by others [ISA parameter: 'identity diffusion', defensiveness being indicated by very low diffusion, and over-responsiveness by very high diffusion]
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