You are here: Resources > FIDIS Deliverables > Identity of Identity > D2.1: Inventory of Topics and Clusters > 

D2.1: Inventory of Topics and Clusters

The (self-) Identity concept  Title:
 The Identification Concept


The I, the Implicit Me, and the Explicit Me

Without having to go too deep into the psychological realm, it may be useful to make a rudimentary distinction between: 

  1. The I
    the indeterminate first person perspective

  2. The implicit me
    how a person perceives herself

  3. The explicit me
    how this person is perceived and represented (what is the image that this person provides to her environment).

These aspects establish the link between the living person, and her relation to the external environment (the explicit me), the two being modulated by the (un)conscious perceptions a person has of herself (the implicit me) (Rost, 2003). 



Figure : The I, the Implicit Me and the Explicit Me
(schema from (ICPP, 2003), with the permission of Marit Hansen)


This categorisation is important because it helps to raise and address several issues: 

Acknowledging and addressing the Imperfection of the representation: 

Firstly it demonstrates that the access and representation of a person is only imperfect (incorrect) and partial since it is always a reduction of the person to objectifiable attributes.  

As mentioned before, much care should be taken to acknowledge this. Indeed, conflicts and problems typically arise in the case of dissonance between the way a person perceives herself to be and the identity attributed to her. In real world situations, addressing this issue not always means just questioning the correctness of the information and providing some mechanisms for assessment, adjustment and correction, but also acknowledging that the objectified identity is never congruent with the living person. As to the correction of redundant or false information, European law imposes holders of personal information databases to explicitly provide some mechanisms allowing a person to rectify incorrect information. 

The question of the Control: 

The second issue is related to the control of this information: a person really only controls a limited part of her identity information. A large part of this information is externally controlled: by governments or institutions (the tax office, the healthcare organisms), by companies (for instance by the company employing this individual or by her bank), by commercial entities (such as marketing firms), or by the “public opinion” (such as newspapers or informal networks). Finding better ways to restrict an external entity from storing, manipulating and exploiting personal information may help address this issue. For instance, some mechanisms (legal, technical, etc.) can be used to enforce good practices when an entity (governmental, commercial, …) manages personal information, such as defining what kind of information a certain category of entity is entitled to store (for example, companies may be forbidden to store medical information), what kind of operation can be conducted on the personal data file (for example, the police may be forbidden to access medical information), and how this information can be exploited (the commerce of some customer lists could be forbidden). Diverse (legal, technical, educational, etc) mechanisms (or a combination of mechanisms) could be used for this purpose. In the domain of law, it is important to note that the US and Europe have adopted different approaches on this issue, the US leaving the regulation of such matters, to a large extent, to private business enterprises (developing codes of conduct, good practices etc.), while Europe has tried to legislate on this issue (Agre and Rotenberg, 2001; Lessig, 1999).  

True Identity, Assigned Identity, Abstracted Identity

A second categorisation of identity is as presented in the Three Tiers of Identity (Durand, 2002). 

In this model, Andre Durand distinguishes three categories (or tiers) of identities:

  1. T1: The personal identity. (the inner and timeless identity)
    This is the true personal identity that is owned and controlled entirely by the person.

  2. T2: The corporate identity. (the assigned identity)
    This identity relates to a particular context (for instance a business relationship) and represents a temporary assigned or issued characteristic for the person such as: a job title, phone number, etc.

  3. T3: The marketing identity. (the abstracted or aggregated identity)
    This identity is more diffuse, and corresponds to some result of profiling. The person is not really considered as an individual (this person does not have a name), but as the result of filtering performed on a given set of characteristics. An example could be: “the customer belonging to the ‘upper-level’ social category, middle-aged, having a car more than three years old, playing golf, and living in one of the cities on the East-coast”, who is contacted by a salesperson.

While this model may appear too simplistic to capture all the complexity of the Identity concept, it introduces several proprieties to Identity: its temporality, its conditionality, and its concreteness. 

What is the impact of this model on the way we capture the Identity related issues? 

Temporality & Conditionality

The Personal Identity represents an inherent property of the person and is both timeless and unconditional. The Corporate Identity is, on the contrary, conditional and temporary, and exists in a given context. This later identity can also be considered as attached to a person, rather than being part of the person. These concepts have some similarity with the Ipse and Idem identity of Paul Ricoeur, mentioned previously. 

These properties of temporality and conditionality are important in the context of the management of the Identity because it allows a distinction between two facets that may be managed differently. 

The first one is very important to the person and should therefore be controlled as much as possible by the person herself (or by very trustworthy third entities) and strongly protected. Indeed threats on this “pervasive” identity (it intervenes in the many facets of life of a person) will have some more serious consequences for this person since it can potentially impact many parts of her life and for a long time. For instance, the thief of personal identity (done in the purpose of conducting illegal actions) has some impact in the reputation of the victim, who may suffer some consequences on her work (forbidding access to some jobs), her social life (isolating the person in society) or her personal life (destroying trust inside the family or in the circle of friends). 

The second Identity is more linked to the role of the person in a given situation and can be more subject to control by a third party. Besides, the critical aspect of protecting the individual with the management of this identity may be oriented towards transparency and accountability rather than the privacy dimension. This could be relevant for mitigating the responsibility of the individual, for instance in the case of actions done as a representative of an organisation, and for isolating the representation of this identity in a specific area. 


It is also interesting to note that an identity may not have a formal existence, and can, in particular, be abstract. For instance, the marketing identity does not explicitly represent the identity of an individual person, but an abstraction to which the person can a posteriori identify herself or be identified. Another abstract identity relates to the group or organisational identification: a person belongs to a group or an organisation not because of some formal and official status (explicit affiliation or contract), but via an implicit identification. A person believes she is part of a group or an organisation because she shares the same (assumed) attributes that characterises this group or this organisation (Dutton, Dukerich, & Harquail, 1994), or via a process whereby an individual’s beliefs about an organisation become self-referential or self-defining” (Pratt, 1998: 175).

The abstract nature of this identity (marketing or organisational) does not prevent some very concrete consequences in the real life of the person: First, by becoming the target of direct-marketing campaigns (spamming) or psychological manipulation (advertising). Second, because this profiling (extraction of identity and categorisation) may reinforce the social structural rigidity, and may prevent people from gaining access to some resources (such as getting a loan to buy a house, or accessing jobs of high social status) because of belonging to some social categories. The management of identity should therefore be careful and put limits (given the performance of the technology, such as data-mining for profiling) on the uses that do not contribute to the well being of the person. On the more theoretical side, it may also support the transition between the social statuses of identities (Korotov, 2004).

Another emerging consideration is the possibility given by technology to “concretise” this implicit identity, with the advent of a whole range of applications enabled by technology. For instance, social computing services (Li, 2004) that explicitly represent and exploit the social network of a person are now proposed to help manage identity information that until now was only implicit and hidden. This is not without raising some serious new issues, such as the invasion of the “social private life” (Kahney, 2004) that identity systems will have to address, or the risks associated to a wrong perception or the real and substantive social position identity, and the biased social identity projected via the new information media (blogs, social networks, personal web pages). For instance, in the later case, this may mean displaying an “arranged identity” not really reflecting the reality, even unconsciously (for instance, people tend to identify themselves with organisations or groups with high social status or socially desirable features). 


Virtual Person

So far, we have seen different aspects of persons and identities which however do not address some  problems. In order to motivate this section, consider the following simple examples:

“Who closed the door?”
A simple question an observer might ask, which will usually be answered by a name. Yet there is also the possibility that something else is the actor in this action, for example the wind, a cat, some robot, etc.

“Who’s the administrator of this website?”
Usually, there is a human administrator, say John Doe, which can be named, yet often, there is a whole set of persons which “hide” behind the term of administrator, eventually there might even be a computer program in charge, consider for example a chat room on the Internet where a program is ejecting people depending on some “bad” key words.

“Who reads this email?”
A typical situation, you sent an email to some address and the email may be read by some computer program replying to you that John Doe is out of office. Or John’s secretary will read his mail.

What is in common in these examples? The actual observer does not know the very person which is being characterised; he might in fact in some cases even not be interested in knowing him or possibly even never really be able to know. Yet the three examples show that each question is a characterization of “something”, maybe a physical person, a set of persons, a program, an animal, etc. This characterization is typically done by one of the four characteristics (cf. sect. ). But in these examples, we cannot speak of identities neither of “explicit me” as for example the wind or several people might “hide” behind the mask.

So consider a new concept, the so-called virtual person. A virtual person might be perceived as a mask hiding what really is behind. In the first example, the corresponding virtual person is characterised by the very sentence “Who closed the door?”, hence the mask is defined by what it does. In the second example, one may think of characterizing the administrator by the persons (or possibly programs) knowing the secret password for accessing the system. So here, the virtual person is defined by something it knows.

In both cases, the virtual person is masking what is behind. In a concrete situation of an identification one might clearly be interested in making a link to some identifiable entity behind the mask. So for instance if closing or slamming the door has made some damage, there will be a process of identification being done for having someone pay the damage. 

Going further, like in the case of connecting physical persons and identities, we can then speak of a virtual identity of a virtual person, which is – in some sort – an extension of the concept of digital partial identity (cf. section , Figure 2) modelling the “explicit us” rather than the “explicit me” (potentially different things/persons hidden by the mask).

This concept of virtual persons helps also to clarify terms like pseudonyms, identification, etc. (cf. Deliverable 2.2). 








Identities and Territories (Identity in Context)

Another approach of presenting the Identity field considers the concepts of “context” and “territory”, which help structure the identity of a person. Territories (or spheres) represent classes of situations which pertain to a certain number of identity issues and involve only a particular subset of the characteristics of the person. In this case, the identity of an individual is no longer considered unique, but is rather constituted as multiple smaller identities that are activated in the context of each situation (see Figure 3). 

For instance, a territory that corresponds to the social context of a person will shape a particular identity of this person (her social identity), involving a particular subset of the characteristics of this person (e.g., her social network) and will only concern some particular identity issues (e.g., reputation). The transaction territory considers this person according to a customer perspective, and is only concerned by the person’s characteristics that are related to the conduct of a set of transactions (such as buying capacity, customer lifestyle, etc.) and associated identity issues (e.g., privacy). 














Figure : Mapping the Identity to the Territories

These different facets and spheres actually overlap with each other, raising a certain number of issues such as: (1) the risks originating from undesired leaking of information of one facet to another (e.g., from private spheres to public spheres); (2) the right of the person to isolate one sphere from another sphere (for instance the family, the work or the transaction sphere) in order to not make them too dependant on one another, preserving some space of freedom for the individual and limiting some forms of the ‘domino effect’.

Mapping the Characteristics of the person into the Territories

The following example is an indication as to how the characteristics of a person can be mapped into a set of scenarios and, more generally, how the identity of this person is defined according to the context into which she is immerged: 

  1. Personal identity (personal sphere)
    (subject, individual, person, patient, creature)

    1. Name, date and location of birth 

    2. Location / geographical
      permanent location or instant location (mobile phone)

    3. Biological and Health identity
      gender, DNA, medical information, alimentation style

    4. Intimate identity (psychological)
      Aspiration, agenda, personality, attitude, motivation, cognitive style, …

    5. Habits, style (dressing, …) 

  2. Social identity (social sphere)
    social life

    1. Family 

    2. Affiliation
      membership, projected image,

    3. Friends, acquaintances, neighbours 

  3. (Leisure) identity 

    1. Interest 

    2. Activities
      Hobbies, sport,

    3. Role playing (persona -“playing a role in a mask“-, avatar) 

  4. Organisational identity (work sphere) 

    1. Employee identity (work and organisational identity)
      Roles, position, formal authority.

    2. Informal roles
      Leadership, power

    3. Business identity

  5. Citizen or townsman identity (society sphere)  

    1. Citizenship, nationality
      voting, becoming a representative, …

    2. Legal identity
      police records, contracts, …

    3. Political preference & orientation 

    4. Military information 

  6. Customer or client identity (the transaction sphere) 

    1. Properties owned 

    2. Social category, life style 

    3. Buying capacity (real or perceived) 

  7.  Learning identity (the personal development sphere)

    1. Knowledge capital (competency, …) 

    2. Certification (diploma, accreditation, etc.) 

    3. Aspirations 

    4. Learning style 



The (self-) Identity concept  fidis-wp2-del2.1_Inventory_of_topics_and_clusters_03.sxw  The Identification Concept
16 / 29