Identity and the self

In modern thought people are separate, coherent individuals—or ‘selves’—who think and act independently of all other individuals. While this idea seems obvious and natural to those of us enculturated and educated in the Western European system, it is a construct.

In postmodern thought, this construct is being called into question. Read more about postmodernism.

In the everyday world, the modern idea of individuality was replaced long ago. People have more than one way of being, and they have relationships and connections with one another. They are also made up of many, often conflicting, parts. As they move in and out of different contexts, cultures, and sets of ideas (and/or between the different parts of themselves), they think differently, and behave differently in relation to others. They know that there are different rules of conduct in different contexts, that they are constructed—and can construct themselves—differently in these different contexts, and that they perform better in some contexts than in others.

The postmodern person is thus a hybrid. They have, not one core, permanent self, but many selves. Their self—and their identity—are not fixed, but continually in process, as the boundaries between themselves and others, and between the different parts of themselves are negotiated.

However, in educational contexts we assume—and continue to try to develop—the separate, coherent ‘cogito’—or subject—of modern knowledge. Twenty-first century schools need to take account of—not resist—the developments of postmodernism. They need to help young people grow, explore, develop and use their multiple identities for a successful life in the 21st century.

Click on the link to read more about some of the theories behind the shift to 21st century learning, or click one of the specific theories below.