Thursday, 13 December 2012




To introduce historical conceptions of identity
To introduce Foucault’s ‘discourse’ methodology
To place and critique contemporary practice within these frameworks, and to consider their validity
To consider ‘postmodern’ theories of identity as ‘fluid’ and ‘constructed’ (in particular Zygmunt Bauman)
To consider identity today, especially in the digital domain 


ESSENTIALISM (traditional approach)
• Our biological make up makes us who we are.
• We all have an inner essence that makes us who we are.
• Post-Modern theorists are ANTI- ESSENTIALIST (more of this later ...) 

Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909) – Founder of Positivist Criminology – the notion that criminal tendencies are inherited 
Historical phases of Identity Douglas Kellner – Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and
Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern, 1992

pre modern identity – personal identity is stable – defined
by long standing roles

Modern identity – modern societies begin to offer a wider range of social roles. Possibility to start ‘choosing’ your identity, rather than simply being born into it. People start to ‘worry’ about who they are
Post-modern identity – accepts a ‘fragmented ‘self’. Identity is constructed 

Pre-Modern Identity
Institutions determined identity
Marriage, The Church, monarchy, Government, the State, Work
Pre-Modern Identity ‘Secure’ identities
related institutional agency with vested interest
Farm-worker .......... 
The Soldier ....... 
The Factory Worker... 
The Housewife...... 
The Gentleman.... 
Husband-Wife (family).....
landed gentry The state
Industrial capitalism patriarchy
patriarchy Marriage/church

Modern identity
19th and early 20th centuries

Charles Baudelaire – The Painter of Modern Life (1863) Thorstein Veblen – Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) Georg Simmel – The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903)

Modern identity
19th and early 20th centuries

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94), Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876 

Baudelaire – introduces concept of the ‘flaneur’ (gentleman-stroller)
Veblen – ‘Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure’ 

Modern identity
19th and early 20th centuries 

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94), Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877 

Edvard Munch, Evening on Karl Johan, Oil on Canvas, 1892 
Simmel suggests that:
because of the speed and mutability of modernity, individuals withdraw into themselves to find peace

He describes this as
‘the separation of the subjective from the objective life’ 

Post-modern identity....
‘Discourse Analysis’
• Identity is constructed out of the discourses culturally available to us.
What is a discourse ?
‘... a set of recurring statements that define a particular cultural ‘object’ (e.g., madness, criminality, sexuality) and provide concepts and terms through which such an object can be studied and discussed.’ Cavallaro, (2001)

Michel Foucault 
Possible Discourses

• Age
• Class
• Gender
• Nationality
• Race/ethnicity
• Sexual orientation
• Education
• Income

Discourses to be considered
• Class
• Nationality

Humphrey Spender/Mass Observation, Worktown project, 1937   
Martin Parr, New Brighton, Merseyside, from The Last Resort, 1983 - 86    
Martin Parr, Ascot, 2003 
‘ “Society” ...reminds one of a particularly shrewd, cunning and pokerfaced player in the game of life, cheating if given a chance, flouting rules whenever possible’
Bauman (2004), Identity, page 52 

‘Much of the press coverage centred around accusations of misogyny because of the imagery of semi-naked, staggering and brutalized women, in conjunction with the word “rape” in the title. But McQueen claimed that the rape was of Scotland, not the individual models, as the theme of the show was the Jacobite rebellion’. 

Gillian Wearing, from Signs that say what you want them to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, 1992 - 3 

Edmund Bergler, an American psychoanalyst
writing in the 1950s, went much further, both in
condemning the ugliness of fashion and in relating
it to sex. He recognised that the fashion industry
is the work not of women, but of men. Its
monstrosities, he argued, were a “gigantic
unconscious hoax” perpetrated on women by the
arch villains of the Cold War –male homosexuals
(for he made the vulgar assumption that all dress
designers are “queers”). Having first, in the 1920s,
tried to turn women into boys, they had latterly
expressed their secret hatred of women by forcing
them into exaggerated, ridiculous, hideous clothes’ 

The Postmodern condition: Liquid Modernity and Liquid Love 

Post modern theory
• Identity is constructed through our social experience.
• Erving Goffman The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)
• Goffman saw life as ‘theatre’, made up of ‘encounters’ and ‘performances’
• For Goffman the self is a series of facades 

Zygmunt Bauman    
Identity (2004)
Liquid Modernity
Liquid Love (2003)

‘Yes, indeed, “identity” is revealed to us only as something to be invented rather than discovered; as a target of an effort, “an objective”’ 
Postmodern Identity
Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), Enlightenment Philosopher:
‘I think therefore I am’ (Discourse on Method, 1637) 
Barbara Kruger, I shop therefore I am, 1987 
“The typical cultural spectator of
postmodernity is viewed as a largely home
centred and increasingly solitary player who,
via various forms of ‘telemediation’ (stereos, game consoles, videos and televisions), revels in a domesticated (i.e. private and tamed) ‘world at a distance’”
Darley (2000), Visual Digital Culture, p.187 

“If I put up a flattering picture of myself with a list of my favourite things, I can construct an artificial representation of who I am in order to get sex or approval. (‘I like Facebook,’ said another friend. ‘I got a shag out of it’)”
Tom Hodgkinson (2008), ‘With friends like these ...’, Guardian, 14/01/08 

“The notion ‘you are who you pretend to be’ has a mythic resonance. The Pygmalion story endures because it speaks to a powerful fantasy: that we are not limited by our histories, that we can be recreated or can recreate ourselves... Virtual worlds provide environments for experiences that may be hard to come by in the real”
Sherry Turkle (1994), Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality
‘In the brave new world of fleeting chances and frail securities, the old-style stiff and non-negotiable identities simply won’t do’
Bauman (2004), Identity, page 27 

‘Fun they may be, these virtual communities, but they create only an illusion of intimacy and a pretence of community’
Charles Handy (2001), The Elephant and the Flea, Hutchinson, page 204

‘ “Identity” is a hopelessly ambiguous idea and a
double-edged sword. It may be a war-cry of
individuals, or of the communities that wish to be
imagined by them. At one time the edge of identity
is turned against “collective pressures” by individuals who resent conformity and hold dear their own ways of living (which “the group” would decry as prejudices) and their own ways of living (which “the group” would condemn as cases of “deviation” or “silliness”, but at any rate of
abnormality, needing to be cured or punished’ Bauman (2004), Identity, page 76

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