Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 86
  • Published: May 16, 2013
Read full document
Text Preview
University of California, Los Angeles
From the SelectedWorks of Rogers Brubaker

January 2000

Beyond 'Identity'

Contact Author

Start Your Own SelectedWorks

Notify Me of New Work

Available at: http://works.bepress.com/wrb/2

Beyond ``identity''

University of California, Los Angeles; University of Michigan

``The worst thing one can do with words,'' wrote George Orwell a half a century ago, ``is to surrender to them.'' If language is to be ``an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought,'' he continued, one must ``let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.'' 1 The argument of this article is that the social sciences and humanities have surrendered to the word ``identity''; that this has both intellectual and political costs; and that we can do better. ``Identity,'' we argue, tends to mean too much (when understood in a strong sense), too little (when understood in a weak sense), or nothing at all (because of its sheer ambiguity). We take stock of the conceptual and theoretical work ``identity'' is supposed to do and suggest that this work might be done better by other terms, less ambiguous, and unencumbered by the reifying connotations of ``identity.'' We argue that the prevailing constructivist stance on identity ^ the attempt to ``soften'' the term, to acquit it of the charge of ``essentialism'' by stipulating that identities are constructed, £uid, and multiple ^ leaves us without a rationale for talking about ``identities'' at all and ill-equipped to examine the ``hard'' dynamics and essentialist claims of contemporary identity politics. ``Soft'' constructivism allows putative ``identities'' to proliferate. But as they proliferate, the term loses its analytical purchase. If identity is everywhere, it is nowhere. If it is £uid, how can we understand the ways in which self-understandings may harden, congeal, and crystallize? If it is constructed, how can...
tracking img