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Cultural Studies: Representation and Identity

Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?

General Introduction
Katherine Woodward's article
A Summary by Ann Yang

Starting points


Identity and 
the logic of Individuality
Identity and 
the logic of Individuality
Identity and 
the logic of temporality

I. Starting points

A.focus: the relation between cultural studies and the theory and politics of identity and difference, especially the result of the influence of so-called postcolonial theory and critical race theory (87)


1.“the subsumption of identity into a particular set of modernist logics and the assumption that such structures of identity necessarily define the appropriate models and sites of political struggle.” (88)

2.“whether every struggle over power can and should be organized around and understood in terms of issues of identity” (88)


1.“cultural studies needs to move beyond models of oppression, both the ‘colonial model’ of the oppressor and oppressed, and the ‘transgression model’ of the oppression and resistance.” (88)

2.“Cultural studies needs to move towards a model of articulation as ‘transformative practice’” (88)

D.identity as a “modern development” (89)

1.three logics constituted: i) a logic of difference; ii) a logic of individuality; iii) a logic of temporality

2.contest and alternatives: i) a logic of otherness; ii) a logic of productivity; iii) a logic of spatiality

II. Identity and difference in cultural studies

A.Hall’s two forms of struggling over identity (89)

1.a common origin or structure of experience or both

2.relational, incomplete, in process: This denies “the existence of authentic and originary identities based in a universally shared origin or experience.”

?But, Grossberg does not suggest that this second model define a singular theoretical position. (90)

B.Four figures suggested by Grossberg: diff?rance, fragmentation, hybridity, border and diaspora

1.diff?rance: “The figure of diff?rance describes a particular constitutive relation of negativity in which the subordinate term (the marginalized other or subaltern) is necessary and internal force of destablization existing within the identity of the dominant term.” (90)

?diff?rance: always differential and deferred; “meaning on this view is never entirely present within language at a given moment, but is conceived of as a chain of signification that remains incomplete.” (Key Concepts; 116)

2.fragmentation: “emphasizes the multiplicity of identities and positions within any apparent identity.”“Identities are thus always contradictory, made up out of partial fragments.” (91)

3.hybridity: Grossberg uses it to describe three different images of border existences (91)

i)images of a “third space”: “see subaltern identities as unique third terms literally defining an “in-between” place inhabited by the subaltern”

ii)images of liminality: “the subaltern is neither one nor other but is defined by its location in a unique spatial condition which constitutes it as different from either alternative” (subaltern is not the one or one’s other)

iii)border-crossing: “making an image of between-ness”; emphasizes on mobility, uncertainty and multiplicity

4.diaspora: Jim Clifford’s explanation of diaspora, “a signifier not simply of transnationality and movement , but of political struggles to define the local—I would prefer to call it place—as a distinctive community, in historical contexts of displacement.” (92)

?In other words, diaspora emphasizes the historically spatial fluidity and intentionality of identity.” (92)

III. Cultural identity and the logic of difference

A.Grossberg’s argument: those theories are unable to contest the formations of modern power, modern logic—difference, individuality and temporality.

B.theories of difference vs. theories of otherness

1.theories of difference: “the identity or the meaning of a term depends entirely…on its relation to, its difference from, other terms.” (93)

2.theories of otherness: “assume that difference is itself an historically produced economy, imposed in modern structures of power…”; “they do not see such difference as fundamentally constitutive.” (94) In other words, what Grossberg calls theories of otherness accept the notion of difference, but do not take it essentially constitutive.“Rather, they begin with a strong sense of otherness which recognizes that the other exists, in its own place, as what it is, independently of an specific relations.” (94) The other exists in its own specific place, not as a particular Other for something.

C.example—Edward Said and Orientalism

1.“Said describes Orientalism as a ‘style of thought based on an ontological and epistemological distinction’” (95) between the Orient and the Occident.

2.According to Said, Orientalism is a kind of representation of the Orient by the Orientalists, found in the so-called truthful texts, such as history, journals).

3.In other words, the Orient is cultural stereotype other opposite to the Occident.

4.Said is criticized for he does not provide a clear portrait of what a Orient really is.

5.Grossberg declares that there are at least three different positions on the existence of the Orient.

i) “sees it as pure excess or supplement, as the negativity at the heart of the

Occident’s own self-understanding.”It would be other in this position if there were not the Orient.

ii) the two in an unequal relation; each defines itself by being different from each other

iii) The third one is that the Oriental existed independently of the Orientalist.This would seen to have been Said’s—“that Orientalism involves actual material processes traveled to places, travel, exploitation and domination.That is, people traveled to places and cultures that already existed.” (96)

D.Grossberg’s argument

1.Cultural studies should move beyond the opposition of oppression and resistance.Namely, the emphasis on difference would bring as what Nietzsche pointed out: “this logic of difference, in which the other is defined by its negativity, can only rise to a politics of resentment.

2.“This alternative is to begin to construct a theory of otherness which is not essentialist…” (97)

IV. Cultural identity and the logic of individuality

A.the modern “humanistic individual”—three different planes

1.the subject as a position of defining the possibility and the source of experience and…of knowledge

2.the agent as a position of activity

3.the self as the mark of a social identity

B.Grossberg’s contest

1.the paradox—how can the individual be both cause (defining) and effect (mark)?

2.subjectivity as a “contextually produced epistemological value” (98)

?“although everyone exists within the strata of subjectivity, they are also located at particular positions” Each of these positions “enables and constrains the possibilities of experiences, of representing those experiences and of legitimizing those representations.” (99)

3.agency: “In modern terms, the issue to agency raised questions of the freedom of the will, or how people can be responsible for their determined actions.” (99)

?However, in cultural terms, the questions of agency might involve the possibilities of the interventions of power.

V. Cultural identity and the logic of temporality

A.Grossberg’s emphasis on spatial

1.Time and space are two assumptions in modern thought; however, time is considered more fundamental than space.

2.Grossberg agrees that identity is “entirely an historical construction.”Subjectivity, identity and agency are also constructed temporally. (100)

3.But Grossberg argues subjectivity as spatial, for “it involves taking literally the statement that people experience the world from a particular position— recognizing that such positions are in space rather than (or at least as much as in) time.” (100)

4.e.g. contemporary writings on diaspora in this direction: “diaspora is understood as ‘a whole range of phenomena that encourage multi-locale attachments, dwelling and traveling.’” (101) One is “always speaking for and from a specific location.What we have to be careful is not to assume the notion of location either universal or politically neutral.

VI. Culture and the politics of singularity

A.Grossberg’s interest: the implication of the alternative logics of otherness, production and spatiality for a theory of human agency and historical change. (103)

B.Young: the quest “for the singular can be ‘related to the project of constructing a form of knowledge that respects the other without absorbing it into the same” or the different. (103)

C.the final goal: a singular community within mobility

1.As Mercer describes the importance about the politics of race of the 1980s, they actively constructed an elective community of belonging through a variety of practices.”

2.Grossberg at last elaborates Hall’s and Mercer’s arguments: “identity can become a marker of people’s [constancy] in such a singular community, where the community defines [a residence] marking peoples’ ways of belonging within the structured mobilities of contemporary life.” (105)


Grossberg, Lawrence.“Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?” Questions of

Cultural Identity.Eds.Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay.London: Sage, 1996.