Relational and activity based identities

Basilica of Saint Simeon Stylites

I’m currently reading Teaching, Learning, Literacy in Our High-Risk High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human by James Paul Gee (2017). In it, he talks about two types of identity (at least to the point that I’ve read so far).

First is activity-based identity. These are the identities we have based about activities that we choose. For example, I’m a blogger. I identify as a blogger. This is an activity-based identity. It is based upon something that I do, and more so, something that I choose to do.

Second is relational identities. These are based on categories that are attributed to us. For example, I am Canadian. That is a relational identity. I was born in Canada, and am a citizen of that country.

In the world that I was thrust, I am also a cancer survivor. That is a relational identity. I did not choose to be a cancer survivor, rather, by nature of a diagnosis of cancer I became a cancer survivor.

I chose to use that new identity as cancer survivor to become an ePatient (a patient who is equipped, enabled, empowered, and engaged in healthcare). Being an ePatient is an activity-based identity. I’m not an expert ePatient – not yet anyways, but I am an ePatient. It represents a group of people and culture in which I have chosen to be a part of.

Now, Gee also talks about how sometimes we choose to reclaim relational identities to make them our own. I see this with cancer survivors all the time, trying to figure out what this new identity means, but also finding meaning in it. I chose to use the term cancer survivor, largely because it is something people understand. It isn’t a label that I would have chosen myself, but it does effectively tell people that I am part of the group of people who have experienced cancer as a patient.

On a side note, at one point Gee mentions “Saint Simeon Stylites (A.D. 390–459) was an ascetic who lived for 37 years on a small platform atop a pillar near Aleppo in Syria. He inspired a 6-century-long succession of stylitoe, or pillar hermits (Lent, 2008).” (p.97). I thought I’d share a feature image of what was left of the pillar that Saint Simeon Stylites stood upon. We visited it in December 2008 when we were in Aleppo Syria.

I’m not sure what all this means yet – just that I needed to write about it. I needed to blog about it – because I am a blogger and that is what I do.

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