The sociomaterial force theory of identity

Daniel Sullivan, Harrison J. Schmitt, Alexis N. Goad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Foundational theories in social psychology tend to focus on the individual’s phenomenological experience, and to conceive of the environment and the individual as discrete entities. To overcome the ontological and epistemological limitations of such perspectives, we propose a theory rooted in culturally oriented existential philosophy. This sociomaterial force theory of identity emphasizes the reciprocal, historically contingent relationship between broad social and material forces on one hand, and processes of social and individual identity on the other. To concretize the framework, we compare it to current theories (social identity theory and social representations theory) and apply it to a qualitative case study of differences in how religious group members narrate the suffering brought on by natural disaster. We propose the theory can contribute to a more historical, dynamic, and truly interdisciplinary psychology, and would be especially useful for integrating multilevel data on the experience of a particular social group at a specified historical period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-374
Number of pages22
JournalTheory and Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • ecological psychology
  • existentialism
  • identity
  • religion
  • suffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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