Identity politics and the politics of identity

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Focusing on the lecture on identity politics and the politics of identity and on the ContraPoints video on Baltimore, how does the construction of the black individual identity relate to Baltimore’s case? (no quote allowed)

Assignment on identity politics and the politics of identity

Video link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1dzjH8-ilwB0_tXEWYou1YvZuRBGbq6x8

  • Authors in this lecture:
  • Charles Tilly
  • Liah Greenfeld
  • Richard Jenkins
  • Judith Howard
  • Iris Young
  • Vicki Ruiz
  • Frederick Barth
  • Identity is tied to nationalism and political issues. It highlights ties and boundaries. As such, identities “center on boundaries separating us from them.” (Tilly, Identity, Boundaries and Social Ties, p7).
  • To have a great mass of people to comply and agree with a few people’s decision on the directions the community should take, one has to create a tie to the people, be of the people, or have some significant connection to the people.
  • It answer the questions:
  • Who am I?
  • Who are you?
  • Who are we?
  • Who are they?
  • Tilly identified several dimensions of identity (pp 8-9):
  • Identities reside in relation with others: you-me and us-them
  • Strictly speaking, every individual, group, or social site has as many identities as it has relations with other individuals, groups, or social ties
  • The same individuals, groups, and social sites shift from identity to identity as they shift relations
  • Every political process includes assertions of identity, including definitions of relevant us-them boundaries
  • Such assertions almost always involve claims about inequality – our superiority, our subordination, their unjust advantages, and so on
  • Tilly, continued
  • Nevertheless, profound social processes affect which identities become salient, which ones remain subordinate, and how frequently different identities come into play
  • Political institutions incorporate certain identities (for example, ‘citizen’ or ‘woman) and reinforce the relation on which those identities build
  • Struggles over and within political identities have public standing, who has rights or obligations to assert those identities, and what rights or obligations attach to any particular identity
  • Of course, all such processes have phenomenological components and effects, but give and take among individuals, groups, and social ties – including political contention – create the regularities in identity expression that prevail in any particular population
  • How do we create identity? How do we identify ourselves? Why are we ascribed and achieve characteristics thus creating and changing our identities?

The Social Construction of Identity

Identity demands us to critically examine

Essentialist ideas

and mythologies surrounding individual choice

  • Essentialism
  • Sees identity as an essence, an inherent quality or characteristic of the individual
  • Sees identity as unchanging, fixed, given, primordial
  • Sees identity as independent of context, and outside of history
  • Essentialism
  • Sometimes mapped onto biological or observable physical features, “naturalizing” or “biologizing”
  • Related concept ‘determinism,’ or the notion that physical facts of nature or biology cause human behavior; i.e. Africans (in race), women and GLBTQ (in gender).
  • The limits of choice

Individuals choose within a larger context:

That context includes cultural notions of what is normal and desirable or valued –

As well as what is abnormal, stigmatized, undesirable

  • Rhetoric of choice

Renders a group invisible

People’s unequal access to all kinds of resources, is taking into account

Who has and who lacks the Power to define “normal”

  • concepts
  • Michel Foucault’s concepts of ‘discipline’ and ‘power’
  • Embodiment
  • Inscription
  • Relational
  • The social construction of identity
  • Sees identity not as something inside the individual but as a social relationship – this is the relational aspect of identity
  • Fredrik Barth defined ethnicity as “the social organization of cultural difference.”
  • Ethnicity places individuals within a group based on shared cultural practices, language, and often national origin; the shared ethnicity creates a fictitious tie between people of the same ethnicity that will be recalled at a moment when the group is challenged based on their ethnicity.
  • “Mental reality … [is] the meaning people assign to their actions” (Liah Greenfeld, quoted Tilly, p3).
  • “Nationalism, for Greenfeld, exists when people subject to a common political authority share consciousness of belonging to a distinctive sovereign community” (Tilly, p4).
  • National identification leads to “a shared sense of dignity, efficacy, and relative equality among the nation’s members, hence a new willingness to undertake economic beliefs” (Tilly, p4).
  • Inclusion and belonging
  • Imply exclusion
  • Us/them
  • We define ourselves in relation to the Other
  • Cultural, linguistic, religious, etc. differences are often mapped onto or mobilized in relation to inequality, conflict over resources, etc.
  • Conflict and identity
  • Notions of “tribal warfare” and “ethnic violence” imply that difference naturally gives rise to conflict
  • Yet what we find in many situations where conflict has erupted is that under many circumstances people intermarried, traded with each other, lived side by side, etc.
  • Difference does not produce conflict
  • Differences may themselves be produced by conflict
  • Polarization of us/them, either/or relationships can replace more fluid ambiguous and cross-cutting ties or multiple memberships and
  • Concept
  • Marked and unmarked categories
  • Those who define what normal is- are unremarkable, define the other
  • What makes identity interesting
  • Tensions between individual and larger communities
  • Tensions between individual agency/”choice” and social context
  • Identity is neither innate within us, nor something totally imposed from outside, its is a dynamic interaction between internal and external influences on a particular context.
  • Boundaries and borders
  • Immigrants in the US highlight the many boundaries, both physical and psychological, that the immigrant must cross in order to participate in the American society
  • This focus on seeing boundaries as expressed in the many obstacles within US soil.
  • This is what Vicki Ruiz calls of “internal migration,” which refers to the process of “creating, accommodating, resisting, and transforming the physical and psychological environs of their new lives in the US” (From Out of the Shadows, 1998, xv)
  • This is an ongoing process of psychological, social, and cultural accommodation undertaken by immigrants and their children
  • Internal migration and border crossing
  • Crossing physical borders provides differential access to transportation, jobs, services, and housing.
  • Crossing psychological borders implies leaving the home country with a set of cultural values and norms, and with a specific understanding of self and nation. The immigrant brings within an identity developed within these cultural contexts.
  • In the process of adapting to the new country, the immigrant engage in an accommodation process and they will slowly (or rapidly in case of children) that they belong to a small group, to the minority, that is bounded by a larger group, or white dominated majority.
  • “Racism and xenophobia shape both the meaning and social value attributed to [their] ethnic identities and to their lived experience of national belonging in the contemporary US society,” (Suzanne Oboler, “It must be a fake! Racial ideologies, identities, and the question of rights” in Hispanics/Latinos in the United States: Ethnicity, race, and rights, 2000, pg.127)
  • For Latinos the adaptation process is complicated by US’s long history of discrimination against and exclusion of their community.
  • The word Latino tends to group together a diverse cultural group. It is an artificially constructed group and the term itself implies an erasure of this diversity, and homogenizes creating an illusion of unity, common history, language, ideologies, and practices. It implies that Latinos are a social group that originated in Latin America.
  • Iris Young defines social groups as “a collective of persons differentiated from others by cultural forms, practices, special needs or capacities, structure of power, or privilege… [This is] less some set of attributes its members share than the relation in which they stand to others,” (“Structure, difference and Hispanic/Latino claims of justice,” in Hispanics/Latinos in the United States, 2000, pg. 153)

How a group member identify themselves affects the ways in which they relate to larger collectivities, such as their racial group in the US.

Identity then, as Judith Howard defines pertains to “a group [that] is constituted not only when all members share the same characteristics with one another, but also when the members stand in a particular relationship to nonmember,” (“Social Psychology of Identities” in Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000) 367-93).

This is a relational understanding of identity that attempts to bridge the individual level and contextual aspects of identity formation.

It acknowledges the cognitive aspects of identity while also situating identity processes in their social context in order to see people as a whole, and in the process recognizing that our everyday lives and experiences within a particular culture in which we operate shape our senses of who we are and what we can become.

  • For Latinos the sense of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we could become’ is profoundly influenced by the experiences of crossing, and not being able to cross, multiple borders, and we must situate our specific experiences at the intersection of power, collective identities, place, and history.
  • We must focus on structure, agency, and power to understand that the process of accommodation occurs in a stigmatized context, and how the exercise of power is a key aspect of stigma.
  • Stigma is imposed on the individual and differentiates from discrimination in the forms they are experienced:
  • Discrimination refers to denial of benefits, concrete negative experiences
  • Stigma refers to imposed characterizations, based on real or imagined attributes that convey a social identity and which is devalued in a particular social context. Stigmas are often based on essentialist ideas of behavior.
  • Power is key in stigmatization.
  • “Stigmatization is entirely contingent on access to social, economic and political power that allows the identification of differentness, the construction of stereotypes, the separation of labeled persons into distinct categories, and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion, and discrimination,” (Link and Phelan, “Conceptualizing Stigma” Annual Review of Sociology27 (2001), pg. 367).
  • Identity Politics and the Politics of Identity

From: “Identity Politics and the Politics of Identities,” by Jonathan D. Hill and Thomas M. Wilson, editors, in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, volume 10, number 1, January-March 2003

  • Identity politics refers to “how culture and identity, variously perceived to be traditional, modern, radical , local, regional, religious, gender, class, and ethnic, are articulated, constructed, invented and commodified as the means to achieve political ends” (2).
  • “…Discourse and action within public arenas of political and civil society, wherein culture is used to subvert, support, protect, and attack, and where identity cannot be understood without some recourse to wider theorizing and comparisons of the institutions, practices, and ideologies of national states, governments, political parties, transnational corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and international and supranational organizations like the United Nations and the European Union” (2).
  • Identity Politics“refers mainly to the top-down processes whereby various political, economic, and other social entities attempt to mold collective identities based on ethnicity, race, language, and place into relatively fixed and ‘naturalized’ frames for understanding political action and the body politic” (2)
  • Politics of identity refers to “issues of personal and group power, found within and across all social and political institutions and collectivities, where people sometimes choose, and sometimes are forced, to interact to each other in part on the basis of their shared, or divergent, notions of their identities” (2).
  • “…Can take place in any social setting, and are often best and first recognized in domains of the private, subaltern, the subversive, where culture may be the best way or means to express one’s loss or triumph, whereas identity politics, depend on a great deal on institutions and application of economic and political power, within and sometimes across generally accepted administrative boundaries” (2).
  • Politics of identity speaks of “bottom up process through which local people challenge, subvert, or negotiate culture and identity and contest structures of power and wealth that constrain their social lives” (2).
  • Identity politics: “formal, structural, and public politics, practiced by governments, parties, and corporate institutions, in the political arenas of cities, regions, and states” (2).
  • Politics of identity: “political practices and values that are based on subscription or ascription to various and often overlapping social and political identities” (3).
  • Latino, Hispanic, Spanish
  • Unifying or erasing identity?
  • Spanish refers to a language brought by the Spaniards, those born in Spain and first colonizers of this land. It is unifying in terms of colonial and European roots and identity, but the variants that came from the European arrival and encounter with the natives, generating terms such as Criollo, Latino, Mestizo to signify a specific lineage (whether you are linked to Europe, and economic privilege and access, or not).
  • These markers classified each group according to their past histories vertically. The hybrid individual carries within themselves a marker, the stigma that subjugated an entire group qualifying and quantifying in terms of a few practices, starting with language.
  • Spanish restaurants, television, radio, music, language, people… these are identifiers, or identity markers in the larger US cultural context and ascribed to the entire group of people who originated in Latin American and US Southwest.

Contemporary Philosophical Engagement with Identity Politics

Population at risk: Illegal Immigrants

Last Updated on July 19, 2020 by Essay Pro