After Identity

After Identity

After Identity

After Identity


Returning to a theme on which the author has written widely, this volume focuses on identity as the means by which individuals struggle to give themselves meaning and representation and analyzes its historic struggles, in particular those against racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Through a series of essays- on individuality, race and asylum, identity and history, masculinity and war, ecological ethics, and ageing- the book explores some of the ethical resources that might help an engagement with the current predicaments of identity. The author argues that society needs a better account of how to define human beings and of the changing dynamic between individuality and society, through which identities are made and remade.


In Michael Collins book The Keepers of Truth (Scribner, 2001), Bill lives a life of uneventful, quiet desperation, alone in a mansion on the edge of a decaying town in the mid West of the US. He works as a journalist on the local paper and is bewitched by a desire to speak the truth. It erupts from him and into print, much to the chagrin of his boss and the consternation of the local citizens. 'I got this tunnel vision, felt suddenly buried under the debris of our dead industrialism. We were occupying one of the gaps in history that go undocumented, that long silent stupefaction before some other means of survival comes along to save civilization.'

Here we are in our own gap in history. Old states of life no longer feel tenable, but what is to come in the future? We live in an afterlife of the postmodern and post-industrial. There is little that is tangible to give us our bearings. Zygmunt Bauman characterises this life as liquid modernity. It is a society of increasingly individualised individuals, which cannot easily hold its shape – it neither fixes nor binds time and space. Fluids flow and yield to the slightest pressure. They drip, flow, gush, swirl, disperse into particles, gather into a flood. When we try and grasp the meaning of society, understanding escapes us like water.

In this liquid modern world our anchor is the culture we can create and which we can share. Bauman argues that we are each instructed to create our own biographical exit from this 'socially concocted mess', but this is an impossible task without recourse to the linguistic tools and cultural artefacts of our interdependency. We need others in order to make narratives which give meaning to our individual selves.

How shall we find the common shared meanings that connect us to others? If they no longer exist, how shall we make them? This predicament is not a new one. At the beginning of the twentieth century Georg Simmel described modernity as a culture of unrest. Individuals are alienated from one another, not by isolation, but because they have become anonymous in . . .

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