Lecture 2: Identity

-Introduce historical and contemporary conceptions of identity
-Introduce Foucault’s ‘discourse’ methodology
-Place and critique contemporary practice within these frameworks
-Consider their validity
-Consider ‘postmodern’ theories of identity as ‘fluid’ and ‘constructed’
-Consider identity today (especially in the digital domain

Theories of Identity;
-ESSENTIALISM (traditional approach)
-Our biological make up makes us who we are.
-We all have inner essence that makes us who we are
-Post-modern theorists are ANTI-ESSENTIALISTS

Physiognomy is the assessment of a person’s character or personality from his outer appearance, particularly the shape of the face

Phrenology is primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. (the notion that criminal tendencies are inherited)


Pre modern identity
-Personal identity is stable – defined by long standing roles

Modern identity
-Modern societies begin to offer a wider range of social roles, with the possibility to start ‘choosing’ your identity, rather than simply being born into it. People start to ‘worry’ about who they are

Post-modern identity
-Accepts a ‘fragmented ‘self’. Identity is constructed

Pre-modern Identity
-Accepted institutions within society determined ‘secure’ identities, from which it was difficult to break free, for example Marriage, The Church, monarchy, Government, the State, Work.

Modern Identity
19th and early 20th centuries

-Trickle down theory
-The ‘Mask’ of fashion

‘The feeling of isolation is rarely as decisive and intense when one actually finds oneself physically alone, as one is a stranger without relations, among many physically close persons, at a party, on the train, or in the traffic of a large city’

Simmel suggests that;
‘because of the speed and mutability of modernity, individuals withdraw into themselves to find peace.’
he describes this as…
‘the separation of the subjective from the objective life’

Discourse Analysis
-Identity is constructed out of the discourses available to us

Discourse= ‘a set of recurring statements that define a particular cultural ‘object’ (e.g, madness, criminality, sexuality) and provide concepts and terms through which such an object can be studied and discussed.’ –Cavallaro (2001)

Possible discourses; Age, Class, Gender, Nationality, Race/ethnicity, Sexual orientation, Education, Income…

Post modern theory -Identity is constructed through our social experience

“The typical cultural spectator of post modernity is viewed as a largely home centred and increasingly solitary player who, via various forms of ‘telemediation’ revels in a domesticated ‘world at a distance’” –Darley (2000) Visual digital culture


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