Social Identity: Why It’s Not Silly To Be Upset if Pottermore Changed Your House

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Tentatively, I clicked Log In. At every response, I questioned whether this was the true response I wanted to give. I wanted my answers to be right. It wasn’t life and death, for sure. Still, it mattered. It mattered immensely to me. I’ve identified as this for years. Somehow, it became part of my sense of self. I watched the little pinwheel spin as the new Pottermore algorithm worked behind the scenes.

Then, the result. I might have held my breath a bit.

As the air rushed out, I saw the conclusion: You are a Ravenclaw.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

I know this sounds highly dramatic. However, the new Pottermore Sorting Hat test has thrown a solid 60% of my Facebook into a crazy tizzy. Since Pottermore is J.K. Rowling’s website, there is a sense of great officialness to the results. All of her newly released short works on the website are canon. Therefore, despite any other sorting quiz result in the past or future, this one feels like the Most Officially Correct.

What does this really mean? I’m not delusional. I recognize, as do all my friends, that Hogwarts is fictional and that the houses are fictional. However, there’s something particularly compelling about the way the houses are supposed to be chosen based on a person’s truest self. In this sense, the identity that comes with being sorted into a house is more than allegiance to an ideal but more a sense of connecting with the title on a more basic and primal soul level.

Again, right, totally fictional. I get it. However, if we think about how people choose their identities and therefore the cycle of self-identification and stereotype, this makes perfect sense. Social identity theory gives us a really cool explanation as to why this matters.

In a nutshell, social identity theory is the theory that people choose to conform to a set of social rules that match up with a stereotype in order to be a part of that group. Andrew Smiler, in his article “Living the Image”, gives a quick run-down of the research underlying social identity theory:

Starting from his own research on “ingroups” and “outgroups” (Turner, Brown, & Tajfel, 1979), Turner’s social identity theory continued to explore the implications of an individual’s choice to be a member of an ingroup. Here, a group is defined as a collection of individuals who
share a certain set of beliefs and behaviors. This set of beliefs and behaviors functionally defines the group and is codified in the stereotype of that group (Turner, 1999; Yzerbyt & Rocher, 2002). Individuals who want to attain or maintain group membership are expected to conform to the stereotype, and greater conformity has been related to greater adherence to
the stereotype (Castano, Yzerbyt, & Bourguignon, 2003; Taylor & McGarty, 2001; Turner, 1999).

(Smiler 621)

In everyday person words, when you want to belong to a group and feel as though you fit in, you agree to act and say things that match up with the group’s interests and beliefs. Since the group has a stereotype of these beliefs and behaviors, people’s individual choices to belong tend to reinforce the stereotype.

Fair enough. We want others to see us a certain way so we behave in ways that fit a particular identity/stereotype and say that is who we are. It’s basically one big cycle.

When we apply this to the Hogwarts houses, we have to start with the statement that the Harry Potter world is analogous to the real world. In other words, both are a society in which we want to find “our place.” The change from one Hogwarts house to another is upsetting because we’ve cultivated our sense of place in the Harry Potter society based on how these houses are set up. Changing that changes how we see our ability to fit into that world.

Take me, for example. Because, you know, why not? I generally like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent, logical, educated person. I read a lot. I’m always trying to learn new things. I feel that information can often win me over in spite of my own emotions. I generally prefer people who are smart to people who are kind or brave. I am a reader, educator, thinker, and writer. All of those are Ravenclaw qualities.

Therefore, being a Ravenclaw has a very specific meaning to me in terms of how I make sense of my identity within the greater world. I am not, by general nature, a scheming person. I am not willing to fight just for the sake of fighting; in fact, I would rather negotiate my way out of almost any argument. By all accounts, I’m kind to friends but not a touchy-feel lovey person. Therefore, I do not see myself as a Slytherin, Gryffindor, or Hufflepuff.

The shorthand of saying, “I’m a Ravenclaw” is extremely important to me in terms of how I see myself. I fit into that stereotype. I adhere to that stereotype. If I were a particularly self-aware person, I would admit that my desire to be those things that are Ravenclaw drive how I make decisions. I want to be a part of that ingroup. I act like it. I own it. I am proud of it.

For a lot of people, I think this is what causes the identity crisis of the new Pottermore test. For those of us who have come to truly feel a sense of identity from our house designations, the change in house from the new test causes an inner turmoil. Many of my friends were outraged. “I got Gryffindor! But I’m really more of a Ravenclaw.” “How did I get Ravenclaw? I am for sure a Hufflepuff. I always have been.” Looking at the sorting ceremony through the lens of social identity theory explains this outrage. We agree that those descriptions match us. We act to reinforce those descriptions in order to belong to the group. Then the descriptions become further embedded in our collective brain.

By changing the houses we are assigned, The Canon of All Canons creates an identity crisis based on the theory of social identity. If the ingroup does not see us as having the qualities by which they define themselves, we can no longer belong to that group and are pushed (sometimes kicking and screaming) out. The behaviors and beliefs we have adopted in order to define ourselves by belonging to that ingroup no longer have meaning.

In a nutshell, we have worked to belong to a group because we felt that the group had meaning both in terms of how we see ourselves and in terms of how we want others to see us. This is the self-identity, group membership, and stereotype cycle. We took the new test and found that we did not meet the requirements. We no longer belong to the group to which we had worked hard to conform. It’s almost like being told that . It’s creating this sense of abandonment and identity loss precisely because we bought into the House’s behaviors and qualities.

Basically, all of this is to say: being upset about our Hogwarts house sorting isn’t really silly. In fact, it’s really quite important in terms of the role we envision ourselves playing in our society, whether real or fictional. Yes, the world is so much bigger than four small categories. However, the way in which we define ourselves is our choice. The way in which we have sought to cultivate that identity is our choice. When we feel that choice has been stripped from us, we feel lost.

So, here’s what I say: forget what an algorithm tells you. I would bet that Ms. Rowling would tell you what I’m about to tell you: your Hogwarts House lives in your heart and in your soul. So, proudly raise the banner of your house. Proudly wear your House colors.

Because no matter what a computer tells me?

I am now and always have been a Ravenclaw.

Smiler, A. P. (2006). Living the Image: A quantitative approach to delineating masculinities. Sex Roles, 55, 621-632. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-006-9118-8.

And a special thank you to GeekMom Shiri for giving up some time on her Sunday afternoon to let me use her as a sounding board.

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