Social Sciences: The Big Issues

By Kath Woodward | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

You and me, us and them

Issues of identity

Introduction

One of the key debates within the social sciences which was identified in Chapter 1 was the relationship between the personal and the individual, on the one hand, and the social, on the other. What links are there between individuals and the societies in which they live? How does the one influence the other? Is it possible to distinguish between one and the other? This issue has been addressed within the social sciences through the concept of identity. Identity offers a means of thinking about and of understanding how the personal and the social are connected.

Having an identity is one of the ways in which we fit into the social world and are marked as having distinctive membership of one group rather than another within society. Identity is also a word with which we are familiar in the contemporary world on the global as well as the personal scale. It is quite a fashionable word, for example in the media we may read of 'identity crises', new identities and the need to secure our identities, such as national identities, for instance as British or English or as European. What does it mean to be English at a time when Welsh, Scottish and Irish identities are reclaimed and there is a devolution of power in the UK? Identity is not only in common use as a contemporary buzz word, it has deep and often very powerful meanings. What does it mean to be British, French or German at a time of large-scale migration across the boundaries of nation states, for example by refugees and those seeking asylum from repressive regimes and economic deprivation as well as the movement of skilled labour that is required by global capital. What meanings are attached to the identities of US citizens in the aftermath of September 11 2001? Conflict in the global arena is often described in terms of competing or conflicting identities: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians, Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda. These conflicts can be between ethnic groups or between explicitly religious groups such as Catholics and Protestants or Muslims and Jews. The assertion of collective identities can lead to conflict and even violent hostilities. The September 11 attacks on Washington and New York were described in the most polarized of terms, as an extreme conflict between 'us' and 'them' which, in some of the political rhetoric, divided the world into the 'free world' and terrorism. These attacks on 9/11, as the occasion has come to be known, were

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Social Sciences: The Big Issues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - You and Me, Us and Them 19
  • Chapter 3 - Citizenship 51
  • Chapter 4 - Buying and Selling 77
  • Chapter 5 - Where Do You Come From? 103
  • Chapter 6 - Globalization 131
  • Chapter 7 - Conclusion 157
  • Glossary 169
  • Further Reading 175
  • Bibliography 177
  • Index 183
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