Discourse and Identity

Discourse and Identity

Discourse and Identity

Discourse and Identity

Synopsis

Identity is a central organizing feature of our social world. Across the social sciences and humanities, it is increasingly treated as something that is actively and publicly accomplished in discourse. This book defines identity in its broadest sense, in terms of how people display who they are to each other. Each chapter examines a different discursive environment in which people do "identity work": everyday conversation, institutional settings, narrative and stories, commodified contexts, spatial locations, and virtual environments. The authors describe and demonstrate a range of discourse and interaction analytic methods as they are put to use in the study of identity, including "performative" analyses, conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, critical discourse analysis, narrative analysis, positioning theory, discursive psychology and politeness theory. The book aims to give readers a clear sense of the coherence (or otherwise) of these different approaches, the practical steps taken in analysis, and their situation within broader critical debates. Through the use of detailed and original "identity" case studies in a variety of spoken and written texts in order, the book offers a practical and accessible insight into what the discursive accomplishment of identity actually looks like, and how to go about analyzing it."

Excerpt

The concept of 'identity', according to Taylor (1989), was unthinkable before the sixteenth century: the pre-modern, feudal era in Europe. Today, it is a heavily theorised, academic concept that is a paradigmatic product of its historical conditions, formulated and reformulated in strategic ways by the period or movement under which it arises and the preoccupations of its theorists. Early formulations of identity were the rarefied preserve of philosophers; more recently the topic has made unprecedented strides into the popular realm, permeating everyday talk and practices, from self-help literature to the pseudo-therapy of television chat shows. At the time of writing, in early 2005, an Internet search on 'identity' reveals a preoccupation with 'identity fraud', 'identity cards' and 'identity theft', all of which point to a common-sense use of the term as something that people own; a personal possession that can be authenticated or falsified.

In this chapter, we survey both diachronic and synchronic developments in identity theorising. We explore some of these introductory themes, and chart broad paradigmatic shifts in identity accounts from the sixteenth century onwards. We move from early treatments of identity as a self-fashioning, agentive, internal project of the self, through more recent understandings of social and collective identity, to postmodern accounts which treat identity as fluid, fragmentary, contingent and, crucially, constituted in discourse. The latter part of the chapter is devoted to explicating discursive accounts of identity. We propose that discursive approaches may reconcile some of the most entrenched dualisms characterising identity research. They are, for example, able to explicate the processes by which people orient to consistency in their accounts of themselves and other people (underpinning the view of identity as 'fixed'), whilst simultaneously showing that identity is contingent on the local conditions of the . . .

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