Review Examines the Importance of Individual Freedom within Social Identity - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

Summary of:

Folloni, A. (2021). Individuality over identity: Individual freedom and responsibility within social identity. Contemporary Social Science, 1-11.

Background & Theory:

In the 1970s, Amartya Sen began developing his theories on functionalities and capability as it relates to freedom. One crucial aspect Sen focused on in his research is viewing freedom as individual capability to do what one has reason to value.

For example, if a child wants to go to school, it is not enough to consider if the school is open to everyone or if they are legally allowed to go to the school. In this case, one must also consider whether this child’s family has enough money to pay for school or whether a social situation makes it uncomfortable for the child to be in that particular school environment. In this case, even though the child wants and has the liberty to go to school, they do not have the individual capability and consequently, the freedom to go to school.

This framework views capability as a primary indicator of equality and plays a major role when thinking about social group identification. This article examines Sen’s framework of individual capability as freedom in the context of social identity.


Research was reviewed by André Folloni to answer the following question:

    1. What does social identity look like under that lens of viewing freedom as capability as outlined by Amartya Sen?


The methodology of this article primarily revolves around a review of Amartya Sen’s work on the concept of freedom, with secondary resources commenting on Sen’s work. More specifically, the author examines Sen’s categories of functionings, capability, agency, and freedom and then relates these concepts to the problem of individuality, namely social identity. A total of 22 resources were utilized to create this article.


The scope of this article primarily focuses on Sen’s view on the role of freedom as it relates to social identity or, one’s belonging to a particular social group. It is common for individuals to identify with others in deciding how to fulfill their needs, objectives, and desires. Sometimes, this social group identification can strongly influence and even determine our own ethics and norms. Sen advocates for an approach to viewing social identity that does not underappreciate nor overexaggerate its significance.

It is essential to recognize that social identities are crucial to enhancing individual freedom and social justice. The solidarity these groups encompass often make them stronger together when fighting identity-based oppression, examples of which can be seen throughout history. The author notes that social identity should continue to be utilized for this work and advocate for freedom, as there is plenty of work still left to do.

However, it is equally important to recognize how group identities can restrict the freedom of their members. Members of certain social identities may feel that the need for group-thinking within a particular social identity group is mandated over an individual’s freedom to think differently. Members of these social groups should be able to both weigh their level of belonging to a particular identity and feel able to think differently as an individual within the group. As the author points out, “The comfort one might experience by accepting the beliefs and attitudes of a social identity should not preclude freedom and the responsibility to scrutinise these beliefs and attitudes per se and the consequences they might produce in different contexts” (Folloni, 2021, p. 9).

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insights:

  • It is important to maintain a balance with how we identify with certain social groups. These groups can give us a sense of belonging and help us fight against identity-based oppression, which are obviously valuable. However, it is also important to maintain healthy individuality within these groups and make sure you are allowed the freedom to think differently.
  • If you are a part of a social identity with high groupthink and little accepted deviation from group ideas, it may be beneficial to take on other perspectives. Perspective-taking and reality-testing are key components of conflict resolution that are not always comfortable, but necessary for constructive dialogue.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Consider the role perspective-taking even within social groups can play in widening individual’s horizons. This may be helpful for encouraging healthy group dialogue.

For Everyone: Consider the various social identity groups you belong to and how they influence your thinking. Constructive criticism and healthy skepticism of ideas can be helpful for better understanding why you hold certain beliefs and why others do too.

Noah Shaw

Noah is the Peace Operations Coordinator at Pollack Peacebuilding Systems and holds a Master's in Dispute Resolution from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law.

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