Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview
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Introduction

Gary Taylor and Steve Spencer

The question of 'identity' is being vigorously debated in social theory. In essence, the argument is that the old identities which stabilized the social world for so long are in decline, giving rise to new identities and fragmenting the modern individual as a unified subject. This so-called 'crisis of identity' is seen as part of a wider process of change which is dislocating the central structures and processes of modern societies and undermining the frameworks which gave individuals stable anchorage in the social world. (Hall, 1992:274)

Identity has a unique and contentious place in social and political theory. On the one hand it is a concept which embodies our sense of uniqueness as individual beings and as members of groups sharing values and beliefs. On the other it is an intensely political field in which the expansion of critical theory has allowed the emergence of competing voices demanding space for recognition of fragile and previously often fugitive and unspoken subjectivities. As the above quote suggests, challenges to the grand narratives of modernity have begun to detach identity from the moorings of a stable social consensus, drifting to new, ambiguous, and hybrid forms. Bauman quite rightly suggests that 'identity' is an uneasy concept, that we examine when confronted with uncertainty and that one '…thinks of identity when one is unsure where one belongs' (Bauman, in Hall & Du Gay, 1996:18). Recent interventions question the attempts of dominant groups in society to impose single definitions on such domains as sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, disability, and class. It could indeed be argued that to study identity is to recognise the troubled nature of the individual.


Understanding identity

In order to understand the nature of identity, a number of questions must be raised. Is there a single unitary self, or a collection of social selves? We each possess a number of social identities: father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter, employee/employer, friend/lover, British citizen/Australian citizen, football team supporter and so on. Yet is there not simultaneously a self who oversees the faces we present and choreographs these different roles

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