I came across this paragraph in a newspaper. "He explains the significance of these diverse realities: 'An occupational identity, where people identify as farmers, is emerging in States of the first kind, such as M.P., Maharashtra and Gujarat. In States such as U.P. and Bihar, while agriculture is central to rural life, caste and religion remain dominant identity markers in the absence of strong market linkages of agriculture. In Rajasthan, in the near absence of agriculture as a key rural vocation, identity markers are still tied to caste.'"

Can the phrase "where people identify as farmers" be replaced, without changing its meaning, with " where people identify themselves as farmers"? If not, why? If yes, in what cases?

  • What made you doubt that? What research have you done, what conclusion did you reach and why? Of course "people identify as" can be replaced, with "people identify themselves as…" Obviously, context is all - and what contexts did you have in mind? – Robbie Goodwin Dec 8 '18 at 22:23
  • @RobbieGoodwin I am not aware that "people identify as" can be used in the first place. I consider "people identify themselves as" to be a better (and appropriate) usage. I doubt my assertion because this paragraph has been sourced from a very reputed English daily of India (thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/a-tale-of-two-states/…). So, at the same time, I am quite certain that "people identify as" is also an acceptable usage. What I really wish to know, is the usage and the differences therein. – Utkarsh Singh Dec 9 '18 at 17:13

"where people identify as farmers" means an internal feeling of being a farmer.

"where people identify themselves as farmers" means an external action of declaring themselves to be farmers, like saying they are farmers to someone else.

Here's another example.

"He identified as a police officer." This means he feels like he is a police officer, or he considers himself to be a police officer. For example, a soldier who performs law enforcement duties in a war-torn region may identify as a police officer (consider himself a police officer), even though he is not officially a police officer.

"He identified himself as a police officer." This means he said "I am a police officer!" or he showed his badge to someone.


Here's an example from The Free Dictionary

identify as
identify someone as someone

  1. to determine that someone is a certain person.

    Can you identify Fred as the perpetrator?
    Fred was identified as the thief.

  2. to reveal one's identity or name.

    Will you identify the man as Tom?
    The stranger identified himself as a meter reader from the gas company.

Notice in both examples there is an object.

"Can you identify Fred as the perpetrator?" 'You' the subject identifies 'Fred' the object as the perpetrator.

"The stranger identified himself as the meter reader." 'The stranger' the subject identified 'himself' the object as the meter reader.

Both of these statements describe external actions.

The sentence the OP has a question about does not have an object.

"An occupational identity where people identify as farmers is emerging..."

There's no object between 'identify' and 'as farmers', therefore that sentence fits most closely with the usual use of the phrase 'identify as'.

As mentioned in Robbie's comment, the use of the phrase 'identify as' is recent, and it's meant to describe a person's internal self-knowledge of his or her gender, regardless of the person's biological sex, or a person's internal self-knowledge of his or her race, regardless of their biological heritage. I'm sure there are other examples in the study of intersectional issues.

So, as I stated, 'identify as' means internal self-knowledge, and 'identify himself as' means an external action declaring one's identity to another. I looked for some kind of reference so I could either confirm or change my answer, but I wasn't able to find one, one way or the other. I think the reason is because this use of the phrase 'identify as' without an object is very recent and it started for the social/political purpose of discussing identity politics.

It's up to you, OP. In my opinion, the writer of the article shouldn't have used 'identify as' in that sentence. He should've used a phrase like 'think of themselves as' (internal self-knowledge) or 'identify themselves as' (external action, people declaring their occupations as farmers to researchers or whomever). The last sentence of the article, "...identity markers are still tied to caste." suggests that internal self-knowledge, what people think of themselves as, is what the writer is discussing.

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  • Most commonly - which also happens to be only recently - endless numbers of people specifically "identify as" rather than "identify themselves as" being of any given sexual persuasion. I do think that perfectly bears out TheLeopard's thoughts; I don't claim it's evidence to justify an Answer. – Robbie Goodwin Dec 10 '18 at 18:05
  • Before the recent popularization of the phrase "identify as", which, as Robbie pointed out, serves a particular social and political purpose, the appropriate phrase would've been "considers himself", meaning what a person thinks of himself as. – TheLeopard Dec 10 '18 at 18:14
  • So long as you're not comparing "identify…" with "considers…" – Robbie Goodwin Dec 10 '18 at 20:48

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