Essay On Identity

On this account, identity is neither something we possess nor something that defines us but is instead an linguistic process of becoming.

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“That’s so you,” a helpful friend appraises as the shopper steps out of the dressing room.

An “identity crisis” is a rather than an “identity opportunity” because personal identity demands proper and unimpeded expression. This sense of identity as ours implies an immutable essence unchanged by physical development or external circumstances.

This “politics of recognition” expanded the kinds of rights claims that were earlier associated with progressive demands for the redistribution of social goods.

As Charles Taylor (1992, 25) influentially put it, “a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a conflicting or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves.” At the same time, identity politics articulated coalitional strategies for linking those social identities to one another and to a range of struggles for justice, equity, and rights.

Some theorists suggest that what we need is the subversion of identity, not its recognition. One answer has been that we use identity categories only strategically, refusing to treat them as if they referenced an independent or transcendent reality.

This is what is meant by the often-repeated injunction to be “strategically essentialist” in one’s thinking about and practice of identity (Spivak 1990).

Personal identity is often assumed to mediate between social identities and make sense of them.

Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from one to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or “who we are”—our constant.

Accepting that there is no “there there” and that identity is a “regulatory fiction” does not necessarily lead people away from a identity, however much identity may be constructed, illusory, and unstable.

One of the tasks of American studies and cultural studies will be to explain that persistence, to trace its workings, and to offer suggestions for how to make contradictions enabling and liberatory.


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