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Cultural Studies: Representation and Identity

Concept of Identity and Difference

General Introduction
Lawrence Grossberg's  article

Outline by Claire Chen; source

A. Identity(P.9)

          1. is marked out by difference (which is underpinned by exclusion)

          2. is marked out through symbols (ex. Cigarettes)

          3. the construction of identity is both symbolic and social.

          4. identities are not unified (may be contractions)

          5. is not fixed

 National Identity:

          1.      Its construction gendered

          2.      the assertion of national identity is historically specific (particular time and space)

          3.      the recovery of the past is part of the process of constructing identity (may be producing new identity).

 Identity: Essentialist approach

          1. there is one clear, authentic set of characteristics which share by people and which do not alter across time.

 Identity: Non-essentialist Approach

          1.      focus on difference as well as shared characteristics between different ethnic groups

          2.      also pay attention about how definition has changed across the centuries

B. Representation  -- >  Identity   (P. 14)

          1.      Representation includes the signifying practices and symbolic systems through which meanings are produced and
                  which position us as subjects.

          2.      Representation as a cultural process establishes individual and collective identities and symbolic systems

          3.      Discourses and systems of representation construct places from which individuals can position themselves and from
                  which they can speak. (ex. Soap opera, marketing promotions, media, advertisement.)

          4.      The production of meaning and the identities positioned within and by representational systems are closely

 Identification: the process of identifying with others, conscious or unconscious (ex. Freud's Oedipal stage)

 Power: all signifying practices that produce meaning involve relations of power, including the power to define who is included and who is excluded.

C. Identity Crisis (P16) Why identity matters?

 Globalization Threatens our sense of identity: Economic vs.  cultural

          1. Capitalism: production - consumption

          2.      Migration  a. impact on countries of origin and destination

                                      b.produces plural identities , also contested identities (in a process of inequalities)

                                       c. disapora

 Political upheavals:

          1.      break up of the USSR, Eastern European bloc

          2.      communism

          3.      Post-colonial Europe and the United States -- multiculturalism

Global changes  --? struggle to assert and maintain national and ethnic identities

Identities as  Imagined communities

 Histories (P.19)

1.      histories are contested

2.      Stuart Hall: "Cultural identity and diaspora"

           a.   doesn't deny that identity has a past, but acknowledges that in laying claim to it we reconstruct it and that the past
                  undergoes constant transformation. (past as part of an imagined community)

           b.    argues for the recognition of difference, but not fixed in the rigidity of binary opposition (meaning, while being constructed through difference, is not fixed.)

 Social Changes (P21)

          1.      Global/national changes have impact on local/personal changes

          2.      dislocation

          3.      a multiplicity of centers: Laclua argues that there is no longer one determining force which shapes all social relations

          4.      The social context can engage us in different social meanings.:

                     a.  tension/conflict (mother/paid worker)

                     b.  other conflicts arise out of tensions between social expectations and norms

           (mothers as heterosexual, different identities may be constructed as "other")

          5.      sense of fragmentation in individual

 New social movement: the personal is political

1.      identity politics: involves claiming one's identity as a member of an oppressed or marginalized group as a political

           a.       involves celebration of a group's uniqueness

           b.      analysis of its particular oppression

           c.       ex. feminism, black civil rights, sexual politics

2.      essentialist claims: the celebration of the group's uniqueness:

           a.    defining "uniqueness": through biological, history, kinship

3.      adopt a non-essentialist position: stress that identities are fluid, having different elements which can be reconstructed in new
        cultural conditions, and that they are not fixed

           a.       ex. Black woman: resist the assumption of a womens movement based on one category of women(white)

           b.      question the essentialism of identity and its fixity as "natural"

D. Classificatory systems (p. 29) applies a principle of difference to a population in such a way as to be able to divide the, and all their characteristics into at least two opposing groups.

1.      Identity are forged through the marking of difference

2.      marking of difference: through

           a.       symbolic systems of representation

           b.      b. forms of social exclusion

3.      In social relations, these forms of symbolic and social difference are established through the operation of classificatory system

4.      a classificatory system applies a principle of difference to a population to divide them into at least two opposing groups

5.      Durkheim argued that it is through the organization and the ordering of things into classificatory systems that meaning is


           a.       constructed as the exclusion and marginalization

           b.      celebrated as a source of diversity, heterogeneity and hybridity

           c.       dualism/ binary opposition

           d.      Derrida: question the binary opposition: dichotomy has been a means of fixing meaning through which thought has secured
                  relations of power. (Contingency rather than fixity)

E. Identity and Subjectivity 39

1.      Subjectivity: includes our sense of self. It involves the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions which constitute our
        sense of "who we are" and the feelings which are brought to different positions within culture.

2.      Identities: the position which we take up and identify with

3.      Interpellation: (Althusser) explain the way in which subjects are recruited into subject positions through recognizing themselves.


Woodward, Kathryn ed. Identity and Difference. London: Sage, 1997.