Monday, January 28, 2008

Significance of Belonging in Young People’s Lives

By Sudipa Sarkar
Belongingness and Identity

In simple terms, belongingness can be defined as a form of relatedness, contributing to a basic human motivation illustrated as a desire to develop social relationships. A positive sense of belongingness is thus resulted from the experience of positive social interactions as considered in social and developmental psychology as a necessity for human being to move forward in life. Belongingness is a phenomenon that is characterized with a central feature called identity – be it a individualized or community based, but identity is the core factor governing the sense of belongingness. Identity attributes the exaggeration of outsider versus insider barriers due to polarization, so is happened with nationalism to the larger extent. Identification with one’s own ethnic group occurs at the cost of estrangement from the larger societal framework. Belongingness as a manifested form of identity influences the fundamental structure of personal identification at its basic level, whereas, at its most complex level, it articulates the complex involvement with other individuals within the social network, featuring a range of potentially contradictory identity factors contributing to adherence such as gender factor, attitudinal factors, sexual orientation factor, ethnicity factors, ethnic preference factor and so on. When the development of the sense of belongingness is deprived, it may result in increased anxiety, stress and emotional distress along with various forms of psychopathology and physiological malfunctioning (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Anderman, 2002).
Need for Belongingness

As stated in Sociometer theory proposed by Leary and Baumeister (2000), there is a strong correlation between one’s relational value and perceived self-esteem. If an individual perceives that his or her relational value is at risk, it may lower his or her self-esteem to quite a further. This threat is central to the need for belongingness that educes reflection about the problematic condition and potential solutions, as described by rumination theory proposed by Martin and Tesser (1996). Hence, if the perceived threat of relational inadequacy is continuing through the human system, the distorted self-esteem may cause the threat to repetitively turn out to be the individual’s focus of awareness by interfering reflection over the barren goal, namely, the satisfaction of the need for belongingness. Aligned to this fact, rumination theory proposes that the perceived threat to the contentment of a basic need is one of the central factors educing and maintaining reflection (Gold & Wegner, 1995).
Forms of Belongingness
In order to develop an understanding about the relationship of belongingness to a young’s life in terms of their living style, historical context of their existing condition, as well as present contextual framework, a thorough approach in considering the forms of belongingness needs to be assessed.
There are essentially two forms of belongingness that influence an individual’s life especially an young individual’s life to quite a greater extent –
Belonging to place, inclusive of nationality and neighbourhood and a blend of these two aspects
Belonging to sexual community.
Belonging to Place
In several times, various researchers conducted studies in order to find out the implication of belongingness in an individual’s life in relation to the social location the individual belong to. It has been found that the sense of belongingness is shaped by the social location in which an individual belonging into (Rutherford, 1990). Hence, the essential contributing factors shaping a young individual’s sense of belongingness include locality, gender, ethnicity, religion and social class.
In such a study called Inventing Adulthood Study (London South Bank University, 2006) conducted to find out the sense of national identity among young individuals suggests that the national identity seems to be invisible with an account of mixed perception of Britishness and Englishness in question. On the other hand, minority group of young individuals do not reveal any willingness to claim the identity of English with a feeling of British as complicated especially when someone is not white. In practice, the process of identification is not a simple one-track route as one cannot simply chose who he or she is. Rather an individual must perceive to feel welcomed, acknowledged, leading to an articulation towards the sense of belongingness. The cultural differences along with the translation of ideas and values contribute to the understanding of the form of belongingness. However, the study also affirms that many of the white English young feel a sense of pride in association with nation with an acquired hostility towards the ‘outsiders’ who are even not belonging to their everyday interaction. Apart from the mentioned factors, the sense of belongingness is also shaped by religious affiliation as well as family tradition.

In the perspective of belongingness within the framework of immediate locality, it can be stated that locality in terms of neighbourhood comes to influence the sense of belongingness. As sociologist Les Back (1996) suggests that white, black and Asian young individuals form the structural form of ‘neighbourhood nationalism’ which is characterized by a preoccupation of racism along with shared form of belongingness. In considering the ideology of working class, white young individuals may express prejudice with regard to unknown others such as Blacks and Asian individuals from neighbouring estate. However, a sense of belongingness within a local community includes a complexity and multiplicity in terms of ‘ambivalence and equivocation’ regarding the places the individual lives into, by expressing a shared feelings of belongingness with a conscious recognition of the disgrace associated with living on large estates (Reay & Lucey, 2000).
Belonging to Sexual Community

Quite evidently young individuals extend their social network depending on their sexual orientation – be it a heterosexual or homosexual one. This extension of social network primarily developed within the locality or outside of it (McNamee et al., 2003). Instead of increasing transparency, young individuals still experience different awkward situation such as being bullied or intimidated. This is particularly prevalent within the context where ethnic minorities or religious factors play a crucial role. A tendency to identify oneself as a gay is a common pattern that is prevalent among young whites. In that particular case, the young need to learn how to accommodate with changing environments considering various aspects involving gay scenes, hence developing a sense of belongingness is significantly time consuming in practice. In those kinds of conditions, the young individuals are especially treated awkwardly and sometimes quite insensitively within their particular community where he or she belongs originally. The deviation from the normal heterosexual orientation puts an individual’s self identity threatened at initial level of recognition. It is sometimes found through the illustrations of situations encountered by gay individuals that both internally and externally they resist with their dis-identification as opposed to ‘normal’ heterosexual family life. Gradually as he or she becomes exposed with the gay scene, he or she started doing negotiation with his or her identification as being a gay individual in relation to family, social class and nationality. It possibly takes a considerable amount of time for the gay individual to understand own identification in association with a sense of belongingness with both family and community as a whole.
Choice as a Central Factor of Belongingness
There has been a gradual deterioration in the influence of tradition and social institutions in the development of values and identities, a procedure illustrated as detraditionalism (Heelas et al., 1996), individualization (Beck, 1992) and disembedding (Giddens, 1991). These theorists developed their hypothesis on the basis of the idea that in Western cultures, identities and forms of belongingness are becoming liquefied in terms of uncertainty and subject to choice. Previously the identity was considered as a ‘given’ phenomenon, whereas it has increasingly become a ‘chosen’ phenomenon, which may cause in the development of new ethical conceptions and communities (Plummer, 1995; Tronto, 1993; Weeks, 1995).

The idea of postmodernism can be explained as the particular modes and styles of rational culture focused to forms of thinking and representation that give emphasis to disintegration, discontinuities as well as the breakdown of global narratives and grand theories. The moral inconsistency of the postmodernism attributes to the restoration of agents to the flavour of ethical choice and accountability in accordance with deprivation in terms of providing comfort as promised earlier (Bauman, 1992). The craving for belongingness and satisfaction gained from belongingness are two inversely related factors. This correspond with the condition of increasing secularity of Western societies leads to an increasing number of individuals actually getting converted into traditional religions and a propagation of new patterns of belief not actually be in terms of religious all of a certain, but involving a search for implication. This is where the concept ‘belief without belonging’ comes into, as coined by British sociologist Grace Davie (1994), implying the paradoxical procedure by which religious organizations have failed to get a hold on the social structure, whereas faith remains as an essential factor for individual identity. In case of minority ethnics and religious groups, faith acts as a central factor contributing to the development of identity; however ‘choice’ remains as a complicated factor attributing to the continuing process of discrimination.
Promoting a Sense of Belongingness among Young Individuals
A sense of belongingness has essentially internal and external facets in essence of belongingness an individual is within (such as belongingness to family) and belongingness an individual makes out of ‘choice’ (such as belongingness to music community). However, the belongingness entailing an inherent pattern of an individual may include the feature of flexibility that an individual may stay with or may leave. There are specific kinds of identification that can be achieved in essence of an influence by group membership experiencing as independent of choices. Once an identity became blemished, it can further be reclaimed as occurred with the terms like ‘queer’. This essentially makes the sense of belongingness as a complex phenomenon articulating into being intimate, sensitive and emotionally charged.

The sense of belongingness is crucially significant factor for analysing the multiplicity in different levels of belongingness leading to movement along the continuum. It is not necessary that all the identification be positive or could be achieved. At this point, the consideration of the processes of identification, dis-identification and the recognition and the claiming for identification take place. An individual may perceive an excluded sense of belongingness in terms of bullying as in the case considered as informal and explicit or in terms of institutional racism as in the case considered as subtle and embedded. In most of the organizations, young individuals attribute identities as more or less comfortable to live in. in such cases, the sense of belongingness may be attributed to a separated form sometimes in opposition to the background in which young individuals are encountered with. In practice, the initial encounter may be attributed as a sense of dis-identification. As the sense of belongingness is flexible and complex, hence the sense of belongingness can be nurtured through working with young individuals.

Crucial Factors Contributing to the Sense of Belongingness
The sense of belongingness is essentially a universal phenomenon. Belongingness is closely intertwined with the most personal feelings of existence of an individual as an entity and hence disregarding or disrespecting these factors may result in defensiveness. This point is crucially significant to the understanding of the implication of belongingness in the perspective of young individuals and deriving reflections of the belief and assumptions while considering their ideas on this particular aspect. The conscious recognition of own values and forms of belongingness by young individuals may lead to an understanding of their personal reaction as well as identification with the perceived and actual support available, in turn, may lead in developing a sense of belongingness (Turney, 2007). It is assumed that young individuals may experience tattered due to conflict arise in adherence which inevitably leads to an understanding of the dynamism of identities and forms of belongingness. Considering the various aspects relating to religious or nationalist emblem may result in inflexibility or rigidity of identifications and dis-identifications. An active involvement of young individuals in decision making processes shaping the organizations and environments may contribute to the nurturing sense of belongingness. The active participation concerning with everyday decisions affecting young individuals in various institutional as well as neighbourhood context is an important milestone covering the increasing awareness especially in the case of excluded young individuals (Montgomery, 2007). And quite significantly, a sense of commitment needs an understanding to recognize the practical implication of exclusion in terms of inequalities in power and resources at a given period of time. Hence, an understanding to this particular aspect is centrally crucial by virtue of an understanding of group range, primarily either focused in their own self-defined choices or focusing in relation to family and communal identity in general. Thus the sense of belongingness may be considered as a manifestation of multiplicity and is particularly contradictory in nature with an essence of conceptualization of communities in an exploration of forms of belongingness inclusive of religion, nationality, neighbourhood and sexuality.
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