In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Identity Processes in Organizations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Positive Social Identity
  • Organizational Behavior and Identity

Management Social Identity Processes in Organizations
Dick de Gilder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0126


Social Identity Theory (SIT) is an elaborate and well-tested social-psychological theory on intergroup and social relations. As such, it therefore focuses on the role of groups rather than the individual and makes a compelling case that social situations and group life have a more profound impact on individuals than is generally assumed in the psychological literature. According to SIT, individuals are members of a number of social groups, and they derive their identity from these group memberships. This social identity or, better, social identities, as well as the level of identification with a social group, in large part determines the attitudes and behavior toward other people, groups, institutions, and society. SIT is founded on an enormous empirical base. As is common in social psychology, a set of laboratory experiments, with the substantial advantage that experimental research can claim to establish causality, constitute a large part of this empirical base. Although SIT was originally developed to understand intergroup relations in general, groups and therefore intergroup relations are abundant in the complex world of organizations. SIT has been successfully applied to the field of organizations since 1989. By now, there is a large body of research, not only supporting the basic assumptions of SIT but also contributing to further development of ideas and theory, as well as offering practical implications for organization and management science. Typical organizational issues such as leadership and communication processes but also relatively modern topics such as gender issues and diversity of the work force have been addressed since the mid-1990s.

General Overviews

The first steps to applying Social Identity Theory (SIT) to the field of organizations were taken in Ashforth and Mael 1989. The most comprehensive overview is Haslam 2004, which starts with a thorough introduction of SIT and then discusses a number of central topics in organizational behavior in which social identity processes play an important role. Hogg and Terry 2000 is a shorter but excellent overview on SIT. Ashforth, et al. 2008 further develops the concept of identification in organizations by relating it to mainstream literature on organizational behavior. Haslam, et al. 2014 provides an overview of SIT research in organizational settings.

  • Ashforth, Blake E., Spencer H. Harrison, and Kevin G. Corley. “Identification in Organizations: An Examination of Four Fundamental Questions.” Journal of Management 34.3 (2008): 325–374.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206308316059

    An important effort to relate SIT as a social-psychological theory to more-mainstream organizational-psychological theories and findings, emphasizing how studying identity processes may enhance our understanding of pivotal organizational processes.

  • Ashforth, Blake E., and Fred Mael. “Social Identity Theory and the Organization.” Academy of Management Review 14.1 (1989): 20–39.

    The first and still-influential theoretical article on the relevance of SIT for studying organizational processes. The authors discuss the value of SIT for organizational socialization, role conflict, and intergroup relations within organizations.

  • Haslam, S. Alexander. Psychology in Organizations: The Social Identity Approach. 2d ed. London: SAGE, 2004.

    This book is essential reading for those not familiar with SIT, since it gives a thorough overview of the development of the theory itself, as well as an equally elaborate overview of both fundamental, experimental social-psychological research and applied research and how both types of research contribute to our understanding of microorganizational processes.

  • Haslam, S. Alexander, and Naomi Ellemers. “Social Identity in Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Concepts, Controversies and Contributions.” In International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Vol. 20. Edited by Gerard P. Hodgkinson and J. Kevin Ford, 39–118. New York: John Wiley, 2005.

    An extensive review chapter on the value of SIT for research on organizational behavior, effectively countering a number of criticisms that have been directed at SIT.

  • Haslam, S. Alexander, Daan van Knippenberg, Michael J. Platow, and Naomi Ellemers, eds. Social Identity at Work: Developing Theory for Organizational Practice. New York: Psychology Press, 2014.

    An edited volume with an overview of the most-important contributions of SIT to the literature on organizational behavior. First published in 2003.

  • Hogg, Michael A., and Deborah J. Terry. “Social Identity and Self-Categorization Processes in Organizational Contexts.” Academy of Management Review 25.1 (2000): 121–140.

    This is a relatively short but very informative and influential review article on SIT in organizations, more grounded in core elements of SIT than is Ashforth and Mael 1989.

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