IIJTR Founding Editor

From Volume 1, Number 1, 2001

Editor's Note: The Hope and Promise of Identity Theory and Research
James E. Côté


The idea for this journal began to germinate in discussions with members of the Society for Research on Identity Formation at the 1996 Society for Research on Adolescence conference in Boston. Discussions have since been undertaken with key members of the Nordic Youth Research Information Symposium, Research Committee 34 (Sociology of Youth) of the International Sociological Association, the International Society for Self and Identity, and the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania. A series of discussions with many people, who are now on the editorial board, culminated in a prospectus that convinced Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. to take a risk on a journal that aspires to provide leadership in a field that is promising but that because of its international and multidisciplinary nature, lacks the coherence and cohesiveness that normally gives rise to such an enterprise.

The need we identified was for a forum in which researchers from various disciplines could log their ideas and findings regarding the multidimensional phenomenon we call identity. Although identity has become one of the most commonly used terms in the social sciences, it is defined in various ways from various perspectives and, as such, has no widely agreed on meaning. Instead, different disciplines and subdisciplines promote different ideas of what it is and how it should be studied. Typically, disciplinary boundaries create an insularity that separates theorists and researchers who are ostensibly interested in the same phenomena. This insularity can give rise to a dogmatic insistence that each discipline's definition is the right one and that other approaches are misguided. As a result, scholarship in this area is fragmented and scattered into various perspectives or paradigms that can be hostile to intruders and defensive of attempts to critically analyze them.

Theorists and researchers who are attempting to swim against this tide find that they often need to go begging for journal space to publish their work. Given that most established journals are general, the identity field has had a difficult time building itself—in part because each article needs to begin conceptually by assuming an audience that is unfamiliar with the area. Consequently, much of the theoretical literature in the field consists of restatements of the most basic of ideas in the introductions to empirical articles. Others have been dissatisfied with this state of affairs in identity research, as evidenced by the number of journals that have been founded over the last few years, including Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, The Journal of Aging and Identity, Post Identity, and Self and Identity. Our intention is not to compete with these journals in terms of content and perspective but to provide a nonpartisan forum within which the common enterprise of understanding identity can be conducted.


Our hope is that scholars from the various perspectives, paradigms, disciplines, and subdisciplines that utilize the identity concept will take advantage of the forum we are providing to communicate their ideas and findings not only to others who share their viewpoint, but to those who hold alternative viewpoints. In this way, we hope to provide bridges between the disparate areas of theory and research. This building of bridges is not intended as part of an overall project of developing a grand theory of identity, but rather of mapping out the area in terms of terminology; levels of analysis; and fundamental assumptions regarding ontology, epistemology, and methodology. Only when a common language is developed along these dimensions will this field begin to mature and nurture a community with sufficient social capital for cooperative ventures to take place. As it stands, the field is very much in its adolescence—in search of a coherent and consistent identity with which to establish a consensus based on a dialogue among mutually respectful voices.

The enthusiasm for joining this integrative project will likely come from two sources. The first is from those working in established paradigms who have lost their ability to stimulate enthusiasm among young researchers or new ideas among seasoned theorists. The second is from those working in fledgling areas that appear to hold promise in rectifying what are perceived by them to be the errors and sins of the past. When there are enough such people involved and a sufficient intuition that we can do better, the basis of a Zeitgeist should emerge, so long as there are sufficient resources available. We hope that this journal is one such resource in the Zeitgeist that we believe is imminent in identity research in the 21st century. We further hope that young scholars with enthusiastic new ideas—and older scholars with ideas that have not necessarily fit the landscape of existing journals—will exploit the resource we are offering here.


As an identity researcher and theorist myself, I have certain understandings of identity in its various forms, and these are in print for everyone to read. As an editor, however, I see my role as a facilitator of the dissemination of ideas, the integration of established paradigms in which it is appropriate, and the proposal of new ideas. I am quite aware that the roles of writer and editor can constitute a conflict of interest, but I feel myself to be ethically bound to set aside my own mind-set and preferences to provide an impartial assessment of articles submitted to this journal. My judgement of articles will focus on the soundness of argument and method along with the clarity and quality of writing. In passing judgement on material according to these criteria, I will rely on my editorial board members and others who review articles. However, to stimulate the field, I will invite commentaries on controversial articles from those who hold similar and opposing views. These commentaries can also become the basis of further dialogue in subsequent issues. In this way, I hope to get as many definitions and assumptions on the table for everyone to see and discuss among themselves. Sometimes, the fundamental assumptions of a paradigm stay part of an oral culture among key figures and are not readily available to outsiders. When and if these assumptions change, outsiders have no way of knowing.

At the same time, I feel that I can offer some guidance to various identity theorists and researchers because of my interdisciplinary background. I am somewhat versed in various disciplines that deal with identity and am respectful of the various methodologies that can be adopted in studying identity. Because of this, I feel I am in a position to help the literature map out identity at its various levels (e.g., social, personal, and ego) and manifestations (objective and subjective), and develop understandings of identity in terms of differing epistemologies (realist vs. constructivist). For me, theory represents a useful formal tool with which to deduce which aspects of reality need to be further researched; theory is more than speculation—it is a deductive tool for developing propositions that point to concepts and hypotheses to be investigated and measures to be developed.


To make theoretical gains, the field needs research tools with which to test claims—especially competing claims—about the nature of reality. However, these ontological claims can only be arbitrated if we develop a common language and agree on methodologies with which to probe that reality and bring back information to share for analysis and discussion. The variety of methods available to identity researchers are many and span the qualitative–quantitative spectrum. No article will be adversely judged because of the type and uniqueness of methodology. At the same time, the ways in which methodologies are employed need to be sound enough to withstand the scrutiny of other researchers, whether they be those who share one's epistemological assumptions or who disagree with them. Innovative methodologies will help the identity field realize its potential, as will established ones. The key with both is their soundness and ability to sustain the theoretical claims stemming from them.


The journal will be structured to meet the demands of this area by publishing theoretical, empirical, and applied–intervention–policy articles. In addition, brief research reports and book reviews will appear as warranted. We are particularly excited about the opportunity to provide a forum for commentaries and rejoinders—either immediately following an article or in subsequent issues. In the first few volumes, we are especially interested in articles that will help to define the theoretical concerns and research agendas in this expanding field. Accordingly, in addition to regular submissions, we invite theoretical review articles, empirical review articles, and applied–intervention–policy review articles. Submitting authors of review articles should endeavor to outline and define major advances to date, current approaches, and needs for the future. Especially welcome are articles that document disciplinary traditions in the study of identity, written in a way that informs scholars from other disciplines.

To provide a breadth and depth of reviewing expertise, a multitiered editorial system has been established. Regional editorial boards have been carefully assembled to cover the various disciplines, perspectives, and some of the key regions relevant to the study of identity. In addition, the advisory editorial board comprises accomplished and experienced editors and scholars who are important to the identity field in various ways.


This inaugural issue is being launched with a lengthy exposition and analysis of the paradigm that has constituted the most popular approach to identity research in developmental psychology and that represents the main approach in the society sponsoring this journal (the Society for Research on Identity Formation). Seth Schwartz (this issue) lays out for readers the genesis and development of the Eriksonian and neo-Eriksonian traditions that have dominated the identity field in develop- mental psychology for 30 years. The founder of the identity status paradigm, James Marcia (this issue), provides a commentary on Schwartz's article by reflecting on key issues concerning the paradigm and the offshoots from his and Erik Erikson's work. This commentary is followed by three others who represent various critical perspectives in this field and then a rejoinder from Schwartz. We invite this sort of open and productive dialogue of theoretical positions from those with other approaches to identity research.


The success of this journal requires that identity researchers and theorists support it by submitting their work and convincing their libraries to subscribe to it. We are well aware that a number of people are skeptical of attempts to launch new journals. In his introduction to the first issue of the Journal of Adult Development, Demick (1994, pp. 1-2) noted a similar complaint about his initiative ("the last thing the world needs now is another journal"). Well, that journal is alive and well several years later and is serving a growing constituency in a vital area. As noted previously, established generalist journals simply cannot help areas—like the identity field—that have such potential and, therefore, need for a common forum in which to consider in depth issues over a sustained period of time. The future holds much promise but needs to discussed in an open forum, rather than in closed communities that guard the past. Identity is one such forum that will help us move into the future in a considered and thoughtful manner.


Demick, J. (1994). Editor’s Note: The parameters of adult development. Journal of Adult Development, 1, 1-5.