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Identity and Differences
Stuart Hall, "Introduction: Who Needs 'Identity'?" in Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, eds: p. 4: ...[I]dentities are never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices, and positions. They are subject to a radical historicization, and are constantly in the process of change and transformation.... Identities are therefore constituted within, not outside representation....
Precisely because identities are constructed within, not outside, discourse, we need to understand them as produced in specific historical and institutional sites within specific discursive formations and practices, by specific enunciative strategies. Moreover, they emerge within the play of specific modalities of power, and thus are more the product of the marking of difference and exclusion, than they are the sign of identical, naturally-constituted unity -- and 'identity' in its traditional meaning (that is, an all-inclusive sameness, seamless, without internal differentiation).
Above all, and directly contrary to the form in which they are constantly invoked, identities are constructed through, not outside, difference. This entails the radically disturbing recognition that it is only through the relation to the Other, the relation to what it is not, to precisely what it lacks, to what has been called its constitutive outside that the 'positive' meaning of any term --and thus its 'identity'-- can be /p. 5 constructed. Throughout their careers, identities can function as points of identification and attachment only because of their capacity to exclude, to leave out, to render 'outside', abjected. Every identity has at its 'margin', an excess, something more. The unity, the internal homogeneity, which the term identity treats a foundational is not a natural, but a constructed form of closure, every identity naming as its necessary, even if silenced and unspoken other, that which it 'lacks'....
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 31: The difficulty with theories of essentialism and exclusiveness, or with barriers and sides, is that they give rise to polarizations that absolve and forgive ignorance and demagogy more than they enable knowledge. Even the most cursory look at the recent fortunes of theories about race, the modern state, modern nationalism itself verifies this sad truth. If you know in advance that the African or Iranian or Chinese or Jewish or German experience is fundamentally integral, coherent, separate, and therefore comprehensible only to Africans, Iranians, Chinese, Jews, or Germans, you first of all posit as essential something which, I believe, is both historically created and the result of interpretation --namely the existence of Africanness, Jewishness, or Germanness, or for that matter Orientalism and Occidentalism. And second, you are likely as a consequence to defend the essence or experience itself rather than promote full knowledge of it and its entanglements and dependencies on other knowledges. As a result, you will demote the different experience of others to a lesser status.
If at the outset we acknowledge the massively knotted and complex histories of special but nevertheless overlapping and interconnected experiences --of women, of Westerners, of Blacks, of national states and cultures -- there is no particular intellectual reason for granting each and all of them an ideal and essentially separate status.
p.330 The major task, then, is to match the new economic and socio-political dislocations and configurations of our time with the startling realities of human interdependence on a world scale. If the Japanese, East European, Islamic, and Western instances express anything in common, it is that a new critical consciousness is needed, and this can be achieved only by revised attitudes to education. Merely to urge students to insist on one's own identity, history, tradition, uniqueness may initially get them to name their basic requirements for democracy and for the right to an assured, decently humane existence. But we need to go on and to situate these in a geography of other identities, peoples, cultures, and then to study how, despite their differences, they have always overlapped one another, through unhierarchical influence, crossing, incorporation, recollection, deliberate forgetfulness, and, of course, conflict. We are nowhere near "the end of history," but we are still far from monopolizing attitudes toward it. These have not been much good in the past --notwithstanding the rallying cries of the politics of separatist identity, multiculturalism, minority discourse-- and the quicker we teach ourselves to find alternatives, the better and safer. The fact is, we are mixed in with one another in ways that most national systems of education have not dreamed of. To match knowledge in the arts and sciences with these integrative realities is, I believe, the intellectual and cultural challenge of the moment.
Edward Said, p. 336: No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot's phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the "other echoes [that] inhabit the garden." It is more rewarding --and more difficult-- to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about "us." But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how "our" culture or country is number one ( or not number one, for that matter). For the intellectual there is quite enough of value to do without that.
Dick Hebdige, "A Report on the Western Front: Postmodernism and the 'Politics' of Style," repr. in Art in Modern Culture: an Anthology of Critical Texts, pp. 339-340: In some declensions of the Post, the unitary subject as the principal target of radical modernist avant-garde practice has been revealed as a straw man in the late twentieth century because capitalism these days has absolutely no stake whatsoever in the idea of individuals being tied to fixed and stable identities. The Ideal Consumer of the late 1990s is a bundle of contradictions: monstrous, brindled, hybrid. The Ideal Consumer as deduced from contemporary advertisements is not a 'he' or a 'she' but an 'it'. At the moment (November 1985) it is a young but powerful (i.e. solvent) Porsche-owning gender bender who wears Katherine Hamnet skirts and Gucci loafers, watches Dallas on air and Eastenders on videa, drinks, lager, white wine or Grolsch and Cointreau, uses tampons, smokes St. Bruno pipe tobacco, and uses Glintz hair colour, cooks nouvelle cuisine and eats out at Mc Donald's, is an international jetsetter who holidays in the Caribbean and lives in a mock-Georgrian mansion in Milton Keynes with an MFI self-assembled kitchen unit, an Amstrad computer and a custom-built jacuzzi. The ideal consumer is not the ideal productive worker of an earlier epoch --a sexually repressed nobody, alienated from sensual pleasure, subjected to the turgid, life-denying disciplines of the working week and the nuclear family. Instead the Ideal Consumer --It: enemy of the personal pronouns-- si a complete social and psychological mess. The Ideal Consumer as extrapolated from the barrage of contradictory interpellations from advertising billboards to magazine spreads to television commercials is a bundle of conflicting drives, desires, fantasies, appetites. What advertising conceived as a system offers is not a sanctuary from conflict and necessity, not a 'magical' refuge from the quotidian grind. It does not address or constitute a subject so much as promise an infinite series of potentially inhabitable (and just as easily relinquished) subject positions. What capitalism these days wants is a world full of loaded drunken boats --bâteaux ivres loaded down with loot. The subject of advertising is not the rational sovereign subject of Descartes, the subject of 'consumer sovereignty'. Nor is it the manipulated dupe of some 'critical' analyses of advertising signs: the malleable wax to the thumbprint of either commerce or the Law. Rather it is Deleuze and Guattari's 'body without organs' --the absolute decentered subject, the irresponsible, unanchored subject: the psychotic consumer, the schizophrenic consumer.
John Tagg, Grounds of Dispute, p. 20: It was in 1984 that Adrienne Rich called for such a 'politics of location', beginning with 'the geography closest in --the body', more exactly, my body: my place to see from (and be seen), my place to ask my questions (and to listen), my point of multiple perspectives (and my part in the problem), my place of comparing, beginning to discern patterns, undoing bonds and building alliances. But if my body is a locus, it is not the centre of a discourse; and if it is located, it is at once 'a place in history' and a site of 'more than one identity'. In this sense, my body is never one place: it is always elsewhere, dispersed in meaning and differentiation, given over to the unequal exchanges of discipline and desire....
Stuart Hall, "Ethnicity:
Identity and Difference," Radical America:
p. 9: I'm concerned with
what is sometimes called the "return of the question of identity,"
--not that the question of identity ever went away, but it has come back with
a particular kind of force. That return has something to do with the fact that
the question of identity focuses on that point where a whole series of different
developments in society and a set of related / p. 10 discourses intersect. Identity
emerges as a kind of unsettled space, or an unresolved question in that space,
between a number of intersecting discourses. My purpose is to mark some of those
points of intersection, especially around questions of cultural identity, and
to explore them in relation to the subject of enthnicity in politics....
The logic of the discourse
of identity assumes a stable subject, i.e., we've assumed that there is something
which we can call our identity which, in a rapidly shifting world, has the great
advantage of staying still. Identities are a kind of guarantee that the world
isn't falling apart quite as rapidly as it sometimes seems to be. It's a kind
of fixed point of thought and being, a ground of action, a still point in the
turning world. That's the kind of ultimate guarantee that identity seems to
provide us with.
The logic of identity is
the logic of something like a "true self." And the language of identity
has often been related to the search for a kind of authenticity to one's experience,
something that tells me where I come from. The logic and language of identity
is the logic of depth --in here, deep inside me, is my Self which I can reflect
upon. It is an element of continuity. I think most of us do recognize that our
identities have changed over time, but we have the hope or nostalgia that they
change at the rate of a glacier. So, while we're not the fledglings that we
were when we were one year old, we are the same sort of person.
So where does the recent
disruption of identity come from? What is displacing this depth --the autonomous
origin, point of reference, and guaranteed continuity that has been so long
associated with the language of identity? What is itabout the turbulence of
the world we live in that is increasingly mirrored in the vicissitudes of identity?
While, historically, many
things have displaced or decentered the stable sense of identity that I just
described, I want to focus on four great decenterings in intellectual life and
in Western thought that have helped to destabilize the question of identity....
/p. 11 Marx begins the de-centering
of that stable sense of identity by reminding us that there are always conditions
to identity which the subject cannot construct. Men and women make history but
not under conditions of their own making. They are partly made by the histories
that they make. We are always constructed in part by the practices and discourses
that make us, such that we cannot find within ourselves as individual selves
or subjects or identities the point of origin from which discourse or history
or practice originates.... Marx interrupted that notion of the sovereign subject
who opens his or her mouth and speaks, for the first time, the truth. Marx reminds
us that we are always lodged and implicated in the practices and structures
of everybody's else's life.
Secondly, there is the very
profound displacement which begins with Freud's discovery of the unconscious.
If Marx displaced us from the past, Freud displaced us from below. Identity
is itself grounded on the huge unknowns of our psychic lives, and we are unable,
in any simple way, to reach through the barrier of the unconscious into the
psychic life.... Nevertheless, social, cultural and political life cannot be
understood except in relationship to the formations of the unconscious life.
This in itself destabilizes the notion of the self, of identity, as a fully
self-reflective entity. It is not possible for the self to reflect and know
completely its own identity since it is formed not only in the life of the practice
of other structures and discourses, but also in a complex relationship with
Thirdly, we must consider
Saussure and his model of language and linguistics which has so transformed
theoretical work. Saussurian linguistics suggests that speech --discourse, enunciation
itself-- is always placed within the relationships of language. In order to
speak, in order to say anything new, we must first place ourselves within the
existing relations of language. There is no utterance so novel and so creative
that it does not already bear on its the traces of how that language has been
spoken before we opened out mouths. Thus we are always within language. To say
something new is first of all to reaffirm the traces of the past that are inscribed
in the words we use. In part, to say something new is first of all to displace
all the old things that words mean --to fight an entire system of meanings.
For example, think of how profound it has been in our world to say the word
"Black" in a new way. In order to say "Black" in a new way,
we have to fight off everything else that Black has always meant --all its connotations,
all its negative and positive figurations, the entire metaphorical structure
of Christian thought, for example..../p. 12 I'm talking about what happens to
one's conception of identity when one suddenly understands that one is always
inside a system of languages that partly speak us, which we are always positioned
within and against....
However, there's a fourth
force of destabilization.... I want to talk about the de-centering of identity
that arises as a consequence of the end of the notion of truth as having something
directly to do with Western discourses of rationality. This is the great decentering
of identity that is a consequence of the relativization of the Western world
--of the discovery of other worlds, other peoples, other cultures, and other
languages. Western rational thought, despite its imperializing claim to be the
form of universal knowledge, suddenly appears as just another episteme. To use
Foucault's words, just another regime of truth. Ot Nietzsche's, not absolute
Knowledge, not total Truth, just another particular form of knowledge harnassed
to particular forms of historical power. The linkage between knowledge and power
is what made that regime True, what enabled that regime to claim to speak the
truth about identity for everyone else across the globe.
When that installation of
Western rationality begins to go and to be seen not as absolute, disinterested,
objective, neutral, scientific, non-powerful truth, but dirty truth --truth
implicated in the hard game of power-- that is the fourth game that destabilizes
the old logic of identity....
The great social collectivities
which use to stabilize our identities --the great stable collectivities of class,
race, gender, and nation-- have been, in our times, deeply undermined by social
and political developments.
The whole adventure of the
modern world was, for a long time, blocked out in terms of these great collective
identities. As one knew one's class, one knew one's place in the social universe.
As one knew one's race, one knew one's racial position within the great races
of the world in their hierarchical relationship to one another. As one knew
one's gender, one was able to locate oneself in the huge social divisions between
men and women. As one knew one's national identity, one certainly knew about
the pecking order of the universe. These collective identities stabilized and
staged our sense of ourselves. That logic of identity that seemed so /p. 13
confident at the beginning of my talk, was in part held in place by these great
collective social identities....
[I]t certainly is not true
that, in societies like yours and mine, questions of class --of social structure
and of social inequality that are raised by the notion of class-- have gone
away. But, nevertheless, the way in which class identities were understood and
experienced, the way in which people located themselves in relation to class
identities, the way in which we understood those identities as organized politically
--those stable forms of class identity are much more difficult to find at this
point in the twentieth century than they were 100 years ago.... I think there
is... some relative sense in which the nation-state, the great class formations
of industrial capitalism, certainly the way in which gender was conceptualized,
and, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the way in which the entire population
of the world could be thought of in terms of the great family of races --I do
think there is a way in which these great structuring principles did tie down
the question of our social and cultural identities and that they have been very
considerably fractured, fragmented, undermined, dispersed in the course of the
last fifty years.
Now, this fragmentation
of social identity is very much a part of the modern and, indeed, if you believe
it, the postmodern experience. That sense of fragmentation has a peculiar and
particular shape to it. Specifically, if I may say this metaphorically, the
fragmentation goes local and global at one and the same time, while the great
stable identities in the middle do not seem to hold.
Take "the nation."
The nation-state is increasingly besieged from on top by the interdependence
of the planet --by the interdependency of our ecological life, by the enormous
interpenetration of capital as a global force, by the complex ways in which
world markets ling the economies of backward, developed, and overdeveloped nations.
These enormous systems are increasingly undermining the stability of any national
So on the one hand, the
nation and all the identities that go with it appear to have gone upwards --reabsorbed
into larger communities that overreach and interconnect national identities.
But at the same time there is also movement down below. Peoples and groups and
tribes who were previously harnessed together in the entities called the nation-states
begin to rediscover identities that they had forgotten....
/p. 14 So at one and the
same time people feel part of the world and part of their village. They have
neighborhood identities and they are citizens of the world....
Given this theoretical and
conceptual de-centering that I've spoken about, given the relativization of
the great stable identities that have allowed us to know wh we /p. 15 are --how
can we think about the question of cultural identity?
There is some language for
the notion of doing without identity all together. That is my somewhat unfavorable
reference to the extreme version of postmodernism. The argument is that the
Self is simply a kind of perpetual signifier ever wandering the earth in search
of a transcendental signified that it can never find.... Yet, while there are
certain conceptual and theoretical ways in which you can try to do without identity,
I'm not yet convinced that you can. I think we have to try to reconceptualize
what identities might mean in this more diverse and pluralized situation....
The story of identity is a cover story. A cover story for making you think you stayed in the same place, though with another bit of your mind you do know that you've moved on.... [I]dentification is not one thing, one moment. We have now to reconceptualize identity as process of identification, and that is a different matter. It is something that happens over time, that is never absolutely stable, that is subject to the play of history and the play of difference....
[E]xperience belies the
notion that identification happens once and for all --life is not like that.
It goes one changing and part of what is changing is not the nucleus of the
"real you" / p. 16 inside, it is history that's changing. History
changes your conception of yourself. This, another critical thing about identity
is that is is partly the relationship between you and the Other. Only when there
is an Other can you know who you are. To discover that fact is to discover and
unlock the whole enormous history of nationalism and racism. Racism is a structure
of discourse and representation that tries to expel the Other symbolically --blot
it out, put it over there in the Third World, at the margin.
The English are racist not
because they hate the Blacks but because they don't know who they are without
the Blacks. They have to know who they are not in order to know who they are....
It is a fantastic moment in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks when he talks of
how the gaze of the Other fixes him in an identity. He knows what it is to be
Black when the white child pulls the hand of her mother and says "Look
momma, a Black man." And he says "I was fixed in that gaze."
That is the gaze of Otherness. And there is no identity that is without the
dialogic relationship to the Other. The Other is not outside, but also inside
the Self, the identity. So identity is a process, identity is split. Identity
is not a fixed point but an ambivalent point, Identity is also the relationship
of the Other to oneself....
[T]he notion that identity is outside representation --that there are our selves and then the language in which we describe ourselves -- is untenable. Identity is within discourse, within representation. It is constituted in part by representation. Identity is a narrative of the self; it's the story we tell about the self in order to know who we are. We impose a structure on it. The most important effect of this reconceptualization of identity is the surreptitious return of difference. Identity is a game that ought to to be played against difference. But now we have to think about identity in relation to difference....