More on the nomenclature of identity/personality

Back on 26th July I wrote about this issue. I was at the time sticking out for using the term “identity” to refer to that complex of personal qualities and attributes associated with particular contexts, groups of people, roles, etc., and having strong implications for personal values.

I’ve recently changed my mind, and reflected that in my LEAP 2.0 work. (Translators of) Jung used the term “persona”, just like Nicole Harris. I had some problems with that. One of them is that “persona” is too close to the very frequently used term “person”. But what about the term “personality”?

Personality has plenty of common language meaning. Comparing the relevant Wikipedia entries for identity and personality, I’d say that personality as a term has a lot going for it. Though I wouldn’t want to base terminology on pathology, “multiple personality disorder” does seem to display the right kind of exaggeration of what I’m trying to get at, while the terms “multiple identity” and “multiple personality” seem to be used together quite often in the same context.

Development is a very important concept for me. “Identity development” seems to be used in a sense which implies one identity per human being (leaving aside the pathologies above). “Personality development” lives less with psychology and more with life coaching – not very far, I suspect, from the “personal development” that is better known to us.

But I like the greater scope for plurality in “personality development”. It sounds, to me, more like something that can be put on at will. It leaves nicely open the options, firstly to accept or cultivate several personalities suited to different situations, and secondly to work towards an integrated personality. The very fact that people talk and write about “well-integrated personality” or “fully integrated personality” implies that one can have something that is not fully integrated. If it is not integrated, there must be disparate parts.

I also particularly like the connection with personality inventories and such like. Whereas the assumption seems to be that we have just one “personality”, I think this is an idealisation. More likely, one’s responses to several personality inventory questions would be affected by the situation of the test, or the situation in which one is asked to imagine oneself when taking such a test.

Values in the workplace

Dave Snowden has this appealing habit of making provocative points in his blog – I’m sure he appreciates that! Anyway, in his latest he writes (emphasis original) “Good leadership does not attempt to control values, it lives them.

I’ll willingly pick up a role I have already tried out, that of Dave’s extender (though not too much like a mediaeval rack, I hope). There is an ambiguity between one’s own values and the values of others which needs to be drawn out. The only values one can live out are one’s own, but the values Dave is noting the control of are the values of others.

What could better be said, in my opinion, is that good leadership develops the values of others, and develops (probably only) one of their identities. That process of development of values should be the natural follow-on to more prosaic personal or professional development, which at the prosaic end deals with skills and competence.

Developing values involves reflection. It can be the classic “can I look at myself in the mirror” scenario – that is, am I comfortable with my self-image as a person who does that kind of thing I am reflecting on. Ideally it involves rooting out hypocrisy – if I espouse one value in one context, I shouldn’t be doing something different in another context. To me, that’s a major moral imperative.

If hypocrisy is tolerated, the danger is that the substitute process can take place of moulding one’s ethical behaviour in a certain situation just to match the prevailing values practiced in that situation, or indeed to match the values of the people responsible for one’s promotion – which is what Dave is rightly complaining about.

To relate this to work (and JISC CETIS) I could point out that values include educational values, which are vital to learners’ engagement in educational processes.

LSE SSIT 7 workshop, 2007-03-19

The LSE’s SSIT 7 workshop “Identity in the Information Society: Security, Privacy, The Future” took place 2007-03-19 and 20 (Monday and Tuesday).Well, it was certainly a change for me to attend an event where there is no one who I have met before, and where my badge, declaring “JISC CETIS Portfolio SIG” drew curiosity but no recognition. The usual suspects were absent. And it’s refreshing to be reminded that there are a whole lot of people out there interested in identity coming from different starting points.

One of the starting points, relating to the venue at LSE, was the political slant. Human rights good, government interference bad; social workers good, information systems – well, if not entirely bad, then certainly highly suspect of being tools in the hands of an oppressive government. Confronted with what seemed to me like ancient lefty attitudes, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just throw in a couple of questions into the pot. I tried the last, but to little effect I think.

What did puzzle and disappoint was that this workshop seemed to be put together on the premise that people wanted to get together to join in criticism for anything that could remotely be associated with surveillance and control, and in particular identity cards and databases with personal information, but neither to accept any positive reasons why these things should be put forward in the first place, nor to offer any constructive alternatives. The spectre of Orwell’s 1984 still seems to have the power to deprive people of many of their critical faculties, despite times having moved on. Why don’t people bother at least to suggest ways in which the feared technology could be kept more under control?

Bruce Schneier seemed to fit well into this mould. I felt there was an element of scaremongering, and I couldn’t discern much by way of serious analysis. I look forward to having a look at his newsletter, “Crypto-Gram“, to find the constructive and valuable things that I didn’t get from this presentation. A serious point of criticism I have relates to his view of law. If we want protection, we must have laws that enact that protection, he seemed to be suggesting. But since when have criminals, and particularly organised criminals, respected laws? Laws do “change the dynamic” for law-abiding citizens, but I’d say that law-abiding citizens aren’t the main problem.

Bruce thought that the idea of the “death of privacy” was overrated. But what exactly, I started to wonder, is this “privacy” that people champion? Do people want to interact with the information society by withholding all information about themselves, and being asked every time for their permission to access every smallest piece of it? That would seem pretty shortsighted and timewasting to me: the thought wasn’t mentioned in any case.

The next speakers were at least very stimulating and entertaining. Simon Davies and Gus Hosein (of Privacy International as well as visiting fellows of LSE) seem to have made a bit of a career out of challenging the government specifically about the Identity Card proposals. Nice to see some material reported that could have come out of Private Eye.

The highlight of the day for me came in the afternoon, when I was about to give up hope of anything solidly interesting. Prof Brian Collins is the Department of Transport’s Chief Scientific Advisor, with a distinguished earlier career. He gave a thoroughly professional presentation on some of the technical pitfalls and challenges associated with Identity Management. He sees no reason why people should not use multiple identities, allied to an assumption of minimum disclosure. I hope his slides become available to prompt more recall.

The following morning we were back to old themes for a while. Terri Dowty, the Director of Action on Rights for Children, did give a useful catalogue of the different databases on which personal information about children may appear, now or planned. But this was all in a sinister-toned presentation which, for example, almost portrayed the Connexions service as an agent of repression. How about, I asked, proposing something positive, rather than just criticising the negative aspects of current and planned databases? What would she suggest? More front-line workers like social and youth workers; more money to help families … you probably get the picture, though she didn’t say “tax the fat cats”. What I rescued with my other question was that parents and children are in principle allowed to see records on “ContactPoint” (used to be called “information sharing index”) which is where much of this information is brought together. Perhaps that is what we ought to be advising people to do: at least to know what is there, and correct if needed.

Terri seemed to have a pretty rosy picture of the world in which only about one in 500 children need any urgent intervention. She portrayed a society where the constant intrusion into children’s private lives accentuates their dependency and interferes with the development of their sense of self. I couldn’t see it, personally. What is credible is that people won’t use a service if they suspect the information may be passed on to others. I think that lesson has been taken on board in the e-portfolio community already. What it does highlight for me is the need to elaborate ideas on ethical development.

Another positive highlight followed: Ross Anderson of Cambridge University talked about “Identity Privacy and Safety in e-Health” (though e-health is not a term he likes). This was a brilliant and committed expose of the pitfalls of large government IT projects, and hence the risks inherent in the NHS IT project. Interestingly for us, he sees the way forward as being with standards-based interoperability, and an open market in IT systems development. This is how Sweden manages to have a system that works.

For me, privacy needs a model different from the one implicit at this workshop. I’d say, better and more constructive to stop focusing on what one doesn’t want others to see, and start focusing on just what one does want different groups to see – or conversely, who is allowed to see any particular piece of information. It seems to me that here is another lesson that has already been learned, a while ago, by the e-portfolio community. Perhaps when one’s focus is on systems controlled by others, it is easy to focus on the dangers, not the opportunities given by systems if under the control of the individual. Clear lesson: let’s make sure that we continue to clearly advocate the user-centric design and development of user-controlled systems.

There’s one other principle I’d like to float, and it is about the visibility of traces of accessing information. My intuition is that if one could reasonably guarantee that all accesses of personal information were both properly logged and available to the “data subject”, then we would be much less unhappy about our information being on the databases in the first place. Is such technology feasible? What would it take?

About identity

Found a very nice PDF file called “A Sociological Approach to Self and Identity“. I’m heartened that, despite my knowing next to nothing about this literature, many of the points here seem to echo things Anna and I said in our paper on “Ethical Portfolios: Supporting Identities and Values“, which I’ve also mentioned in previous blog posts.

As far as I can see, there is a common idea that people’s (several) identities are bound up with the roles they play and the groups they interact with. It’s a short step to introduce values (which the cited paper does, though not centrally) associated both with the groups and with the roles people play when interacting with those groups of people. Because we all interact in various different groups, playing various different roles, everyone has several different identities.

Going beyond the paper first mentioned, the challenge for personal ethical development is to develop a set of core values which permeate one’s behaviour across one’s whole life, without leading to rigidity and the inability to play the various roles one chooses to play effectively. It’s relatively easy to see examples of people who don’t seem to have developed a decent, good set of core values; but much more challenging to examine oneself critically in this regard.

Maybe one could see this as a kind of Holy Grail, or Philosopher’s Stone, of personal development. I hope that, if we (CRA, JISC CETIS) do manage to go ahead with a conference on identity later this year, we can include this developmental side of identity issues.

Evolution v growth everywhere (not just learning technology)

Stephen Downes’s whiteboard (in op cit) shows what purports to be an evolution from groups to networks. This strikes me as far too much about global evolution (as in “we’re onto the next big thing”). It is really, in my opinion, about personal growth and development. People grow from needing the security of what are characterised as “groups” to being able to function in the relatively unprotected area of what are called “networks”. But one should not be dogmatic about this kind of thing. There will always be people (of all ages) who function better within the confines of the “group”. “Networks” aren’t better, they are just a different way of doing things.

Thus in educational technology, we shouldn’t be following this kind of thing as the way we ought to be developing new tools (whether it is called “e-learning 2.0″ or whatever) but we should be developing technology to support people where they are and ideally to help prepare them for moving on to ever greater personal (ethical) development, freedom, integrity – you name your favourite positive value.

Why people believe things: associated values

Reading Stephen Downes’s article, Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge, October 16, 2006

Insight: people’s views about things are often really reflections of their values, rather than statements of beliefs about fact. People believe things because of the connotations; because of the other people that believe them; because of the values that they perceive to be associated with them.

But (and here is the big “but” ) discussion and argument rapidly become fruitless and futile on this model. You can’t argue against values through “mere” facts.

Solution: surface the values. Help people to make their values explicit, so that they don’t have to use beliefs about things as proxies. That way, if we have congruent values, we can work together even though we may differ in our beliefs.

transfer of learning and identity

Scott Wilson just drew our attention to this report.

It deals with what I would call the (lack of) transfer of learning from formal to informal settings, but today I see it in a different light – it is about people’s identity as learners. Anna and my paper for ePortfolio 2006 says that we develop several identities as we grow up, and that these separate identities go along with different values. Integration of those values comes only later, if at all. So, if “learning” (or however one wants to express this as a value) is only positively valued in formal learning situations, clearly the person’s identity as a learner won’t be complete.

So how do we get that that identity as learner transferred? It’s not easy. But through the process which we call “ethical development”, perhaps supported by e-portfolio tools if we’re lucky enough to get good ones one day, people can be led through the process of recognising their different identity-related contexts, and comparing their roles and values in each one. Perhaps then the process of transfer of educational values can be made easier.