Sexual identity development and dynamic systems theory
Parker, Blaise Astra
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Sexual identity development has been described in a number of psychological models (e.g., Cass, 1979). Most previous models, however, are limited in that they attempt to describe the phenomenon but do not try to discern the underlying developmental processes. This research employed a theoretical framework informed by postmodernism, queer theory, feminism, and dynamic systems theory. Instead of creating a generalized teleological model of sexual identity development (wherein sexual identity is seen as the outward expression of an inwardly essential sexual orientation), I attempted to explain development as contextualized and idiographic. I collected sexual narratives from six participants and carefully analyzed each. In this narrative analysis, I applied structural (e.g., Labov & Waletzky, 1967/1997) and content (e.g., Alexander, 1988) analyses in order to inform my understanding of developmental processes. Finally, using suggestions from Lewis and Ferrari (2001), I applied a dynamic systems framework to each in order to explain the underlying developmental processes that occurred. I found that traditional developmental models (e.g., Cass, 1979) could be utilized to explain development, but that they did so at a cost. A dynamic systems approach allowed for a more nuanced understanding of developmental processes and was able to account for contextual factors such as multiple identity vectors (e.g., race, class) and idiosyncrasies in life experiences. I recommend that further research in this area would help to better explain identity development processes, and that the discipline psychology would benefit from more process-based theorizing and research.