Identity politics

Identity politics refers to political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of social minorities, or self-identified social interest groups. Not all members of any given group are necessarily involved in identity politics.

To participate in identity politics, a group may, or may not be marginalized class of people. However, group advocates will often have a self-belief, a self schema or explanatory narrative, that they are in fact a marginalized group. Typically, these group identities are defined in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic or neurological wiring[citation needed].

Minority influence is a central component of identity politics. Minority influence is a form of social influence, which takes place when a majority is being influenced to accept the beliefs or behavior of a minority. Unlike other forms of influence this usually involves a personal shift in private opinion. This personal shift in opinion is called conversion. This type of influence is most likely to take place if the minority is consistent, flexible and appealing to the majority.


[edit] Use of the term

The term identity politics has been used in political and academic discourse in the United States since the 1970s[citation needed]. One aim of identity politics has been to empower the oppressed to articulate their oppression in terms of their own experience–a process of consciousness-raising that distinguishes identity politics from the liberal conception of politics as driven by individual self-interest.

Identity politics is a phenomenon that arose first at the radical margins of liberal democratic societies in which human rights are recognized, and the term is not usually used to refer to dissident movements within single-party or authoritarian states.

Identity politics were first described briefly in an article by L. A. Kauffman, who traced its origins to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization of the civil-rights movement in the early and mid-1960s.[1] Although SNCC invented many of the fundamental practices, and various black power groups extended them, they apparently found no need to apply a term. Rather, the term emerged when others outside the black freedom movements–particularly, the race- and ethnic-specific women's liberation movements, such as Black feminism– began to adopt the practice in the late 1960s.

Perhaps the oldest written example of it can be found in the Combahee River Collective Statement of April 1977, subsequently reprinted in a number of anthologies,[2] and Barbara Smith and the Combahee River Collective have been credited with coining the term; which they defined as "a politics that grew out of our objective material experiences as Black women.[3]

Some groups have combined identity politics and Marxist social class analysis and class consciousness–the most notable example being the Black Panther Party–but this is not necessarily characteristic of the form. Another example is MOVE, who mixed black nationalism with anarcho-primitivism (a radical form of green politics based on the idea that civilization is an instrument of oppression, advocating a return to hunter gatherer society) and the related idea neo-luddism.

[edit] Debates and criticism

[edit] Nature of the movement

The term identity politics has been applied retroactively to varying movements that long predate its coinage. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. discussed identity politics extensively in his book The Disuniting of America. Schlesinger, a strong supporter of liberal conceptions of civil rights, argues that a liberal democracy requires a common basis for culture and society to function.

In his view, basing politics on group marginalization fractures the civil polity, and therefore works against creating real opportunities for ending marginalization. Schlesinger believes that movements for civil rights should aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture, rather than, in his view, perpetuating that marginalization through affirmations of difference.

[edit] LGBT issues

Some LGBT rights activists, in particular, criticize the identity politics approach to gay rights, particularly the approach based around the terms and concepts of queer theory. Other theorists, drawing on the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, describe some forms of identity politics as strategic essentialism that works with hegemonic discourses to achieve collective goals.

Liberal-reformist gay and lesbian activists work for full acceptance of gays and lesbians in the institutions and culture of mainstream society, but queer activists instead make a point of declaring themselves outside of the mainstream and having no desire to be accepted by or join it. The former criticize the latter's approach as counterproductive and as perpetuating discrimination and societal attitudes against LGBT people, while the latter counter that the former seek to subsume LGBT identities in order to capitalize upon other forms of (racial, economic, geographical) privilege.[4][5]

[edit] Homogeneity and essentialism

Others counter that the intolerant homogeneity of mainstream culture is precisely the fact that makes full acceptance impossible, and that social justice movements should aim not toward integration but rather multicultural pluralism, without recourse to the types of oppressive homogeneity now at play. (See the work of Urvashi Vaid for a discussion of the perils of homogeneity.)

Other critics of identity politics claim that it tends toward essentialism, arguing that some of its proponents assume or imply that gender, race, or other group characteristics are fixed or biologically determined traits (or, in the case of gay liberation, based on the Freudian idea that we're all driven by our sexuality), rather than social constructions. Such criticism is most common with regard to groups based on claims of gender or sexual orientation, where the nature of the defining trait is in dispute.

[edit] Shared identity

Still other critics have argued that groups based on shared identity, other than class (e.g.: religious identity or neurological wiring), can divert energy and attention from more fundamental issues, such as class conflict in capitalist societies. Even those who support gay rights, fat acceptance or freedom of religion, for instance, may consider these side issues at best.

Such arguments have been expressed by a number of writers, such as Eric Hobsbawm,[6] Todd Gitlin,[7] Michael Tomasky, Richard Rorty, Sean Wilentz, Robert W. McChesney, Bart Landry, and Jim Sleeper.[8] Hobsbawm, in particular, has criticized nationalisms, and the principle of national self-determination adopted internationally after World War I, since national governments are often merely an expression of a ruling class or power, and their proliferation was a source of the wars of the twentieth century. Hence Hobsbawm argues that identity politics, such as the autism rights movement, queer nationalism, Islamism, Cornish nationalism or Ulster Loyalism are just other versions of bourgeois nationalism.

[edit] Other criticisms

Post-structuralists argue that there are no identities, just superficial differences, although it is somewhat challenging to see how this proposition might make sense if one does not ascribe an identity to the category of post-structuralists.[citation needed]

[edit] Examples of identity politics

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ L. A. Kauffman, "The Anti-Politics of Identity," Socialist Review (Oakland, Calif.) 20, no. 1 (January-March 1990), 67–80.
  2. ^ See, e.g., Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah R. Eisenstein (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978)
  3. ^ Harris, Duchess. From the Kennedy Commission to the Combahee Collective: Black Feminist Organizing, 1960-1980, in Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, eds: Bettye Collier-Thomas, V. P. Franklin, NYU Press, 2001, ISBN 0814716032, p300
  4. ^ 27067
  5. ^ 27052
  6. ^ articles
  7. ^, Thinktank transcript 235
  8. ^

[edit] References

  • Gad Barzilai, Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities University of Michigan Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-472-03079-8
  • Carol Hanisch, "The Personal is Political," in Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003 (first pub. 1970). ISBN 978-0641711688
  • Kimberl Williams Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color," in Kimberl Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, et al., editors, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, New York: The New Press, 1995, p. 357. ISBN 978-1565842717
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Penguin Books, 1989, M.E. Elbert, ed., first published 1903).
  • David Campbell, Writing Security. United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (University of Minnesota Press, Revised Edition, 1998). ISBN 978-0816631445
  • Walker Connor, "Ethnology and the Peace of South Asia," World Politics, Vol. 22, No. 1 (October 1969), pp. 51–86.
  • Gad Barzilai, Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003. ISBN 0-472-11315-1
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991.New York: Pantheon Books, 1994. ISBN 0-394-58575-5
  • Shulamit Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003 (first pub. 1970). ISBN 9780641711688
  • Yash Ghai, Public Participation and Minorities, (London: Minority Rights Group International, 2003)
  • Toni Morrison, "Home," in The House that Race Built (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997) p. 3; see also the other essays in this collection. ISBN 978-0679760689
  • Tzvetan Todorov, On Human Diversity: Nationalism, Racism, and Exoticism in French Thought (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  • Monica Duffy Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003). ISBN 0-691-12383-7

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