Book by Susan Jones and Elisa Abes
Review by Patrick E. Trujillo
Arts & Sciences Office of Academic Advising
Johns Hopkins University

Student development theories are often critiqued as not being generalizable to the student population as a whole, specific/multiple portions of the population, or application to individuals. Jones and Abes’ (2013) Identity Development in College Students is an engaging discussion of how these two theorists employ “multiple theoretical perspectives in conjunction with one another, even when they contradict” to create a more holistic and generalizable understanding of identity development (p. 260). Common themes throughout this text include an emphasis of the existence of multiple (dimensions) of personalities and the importance of the dynamic relationship between identity and context/environment.

One strength of this book is the accessible manner in which different theoretical perspectives and paradigms are described. It provides the reader with a vocabulary to articulate how different theories and theoretical perspectives can be simultaneously applied.

Jones and Abes introduce each of the four sections with personal anecdotes and accounts of their own individual paths to both identity and theory development/understanding. In their first section, Jones and Abes provide a brief overview of the history of student development theory, especially identity development theory. I found their overview intriguing as Jones and Abes situate each theory in the context of the theorist’s socio-historical period and disciplinary/theoretical perspective.

Jones and Abes then provide a detailed account of their own identity theories, the Model of Multiple Dimiensions of Identity (MMDI) and the Reconceptualized Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity. These expanded accounts, providing more information and discussion than typically possible in journal articles, of the development of theory are informative for young professionals and other prospective theorists in ways to develop, test, and share new theory in an effort to continue expanding the wealth of educational literature.

The third section offers both the greatest strength and weakness of the title. In chapters 6 through 8, Jones and Abes attempt to apply different theoretical perspectives to their own models. I greatly appreciated the detail provided in the attempted merge of the MMDI to Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and Queer Theory. These give credence to the original tenets of each theory while incorporating those of the MMDI to better understand identity development and the shifting roles social identities can play in the core sense of self. However, the complexity of using multiple theoretical perspectives at one time and synthesizing multiple, sometimes competing/contradictory, worldviews is difficult. Although I agree with the premise that practitioners should attempt to consider and occasionally combine multiple perspectives when trying to understand an individual or situation, the definitive nature in which Jones and Abes propose their “blended” models may be a stretch at times.

The book concludes with applying their newly-developed, “blended” Models of Multiple Dimensions of Identity: Intersectional MMDI (I-MMDI), Critical Race Theory MMDI (CRT-MMDI), and Queered MMDI (Q-MMDI) as well as ways in which different renditions of the MMDI are currently being applied within higher education. Jones and Abes agree that identity is so complex that “no one theoretical framework can capture the complexity and present a complete picture” (p. 214). They therefore continue their argument for practitioners within higher education to find new and creative ways to incorporate multiple theories and perspectives into a blended understanding of college student identity development. 

This book provides those involved in Academic Advising the vocabulary to discuss combining multiple theories and perspectives as well as a challenge to understand our advisees in a more holistic manner.  

Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity. (2013). Book by Susan Jones and Elisa Abes. Review by Patrick E. Trujillo. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 352 pp. Price $45.00. ISBN # 978-0-470-94719-7
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