Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview

3.

Gender

Lorraine Green

This chapter analyses the relationship between identity and gender. The first part of the chapter briefly reviews social science literature on identity and outlines and justifies the theoretical position that will be adopted in relation to gender and identity. Following this, the importance of analysing gender in relation to identity will be elucidated. The ways in which identity is both gendered and linked to issues of power will then be described and evaluated.


Identity: A Contested Concept?

As du Gay et al (2000:1) and Hall (2000:15) have argued, identity has become both a major and a continuously contested theoretical concept within social science over recent years. This has resulted in the once accepted centrality of class as a master identity being increasingly challenged by the development and expansion of new social movements, which have included feminisms and black and ecological pressure and identity groups. The growth of national and sub-cultural identities and identities based upon consumerist principles have also been important. These developments seem to have contributed to the proliferation of theorisation and debate around identity, emanating from a number of different standpoints.

Both structuralist and post-structuralist accounts of identity are problematic when adopted unequivocally and without reference to other perspectives. In structuralist approaches, the individual becomes a product of macro forces, - a cultural 'dope' - an approach which has attracted criticism for presenting the individual as determined by social forces and denying individual agency (see e.g. Wrong, 1979). One example of a critical structuralist theory might be the economic determinism of Marx in his writings on class and class inequalities. Another might be the gendering of individuals being produced in a top down manner, via a process of internal colonisation that operates in and through a monolithic patriarchy (Millett, 1972) or via patriarchal and capitalist forces, as traditionally explicated by radical and dual systems feminists.

Macro structuralist theories can also be criticised on essentialist grounds because they pre-suppose all people in a certain perceived position, e.g. black people, women, the working or upper class, are all subjugated or privileged

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