M, most recently played by Judi Dench in the 007™ franchise, is often referred to as James Bond’s mentor. What purpose does a mentor serve? He/she often guides the development of another person, via his/her experience and knowledge. One of the first mentors to appear in literature was Athena, who urged Telemachus to search for his missing father, Odysseus. Glinda the Good Witch is another mentor, who provided Dorothy with the ruby slippers and guided her to take the Yellow Brick Road in order to reach home.
In identity research, an identity agent is equivalent to a mentor. Identity agents are the individuals and/or institutions who intentionally take part in the identity formation of others. Common identity agents include parents, teachers, and therapists. Anyone may serve as an identity agent, even someone who may have different values, interests, and backgrounds. This is because identity agents expand our exploration of who we are, via the larger world in which they care to show and guide us.
It is often assumed that identity agents are older than their protégés, but adolescents can certainly serve as peer agents. For example, one research study with Japanese college students revealed that during interviews, students expressed thanks to other students for waking them up to different viewpoints. Regardless of an identity agent’s age though, their willingness to mentor a willing protégé is an act of generosity. So, this Thanksgiving holiday, you might want to think about all the people who have acted as your personal M, and thank them.
And I thank all of you who email me and share your thoughts on this blog. If you are interested in more discussion of identity agents, such as if and how they are changed by mentoring others, what happens when the agent’s protégé begins to grow beyond the mentor, what the precursors and outcomes are for individuals who seek identity agents compared to those who do not, etc., don’t hesitate to post a comment. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!
Harrell-Levy, M. & Kerpelman, J. L. (2010). Identity process and transformative pedagogy: Teachers as agents of identity formation. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 10, 76-91.
Schachter, E. P. & Marshall, S. K. (2010). Identity agents: A focus on those purposefully involved in the identity of others. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 10, 71-75.
Schachter, E. P. & Marshall, S. K. (2010). Identity agents: Suggested directions for further theory and research. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 10, 138-140.
Sugimura, K. & Shimizu, N. (2010). The role of peers as agents of identity formation in Japanese first-year university students. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 10, 106-121.