identity politics

The concept of identity claims the virtue that, unlike 'reductionist' or 'essentialist' notions such as class, it can encompass - equally and without prejudice or privilege - everything from gender to class, from ethnicity or race to sexual preference. The 'politics of identity', then, purports to be both more fine-tuned in its sensitivity to the complexity of human experience and more inclusive in its emancipatory sweep than the old politics of socialism.

The laden phrase “identity politics” has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice by members of certain social groups. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination. (From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) What is crucial about the “identity” of identity politics appears to be the experience of the subject, especially his or her experience of oppression and the possibility of a shared and more authentic or self-determined alternative.

It is easy to see how critics of identity politics, and even some cautious supporters, have feared that it is prone to essentialism, another philosophical term of abuse. Either the defining features one-dimensional, as if being Asian-American, for example, were entirely separable from being a woman, or generalizations made about particular social groups in the context of identity politics may come to have a disciplinary function within the group, not just describing but also dictating the self-understanding that its members should have.

Racism attempts to reduce members of social groups to their racial features, drawing on a complex history of racial stereotypes to do so. Advocates of color-consciousness argue that racism will not disappear without proactive efforts, which require the invocation of race. Thus affirmative action, for example, requires racial identification and categorization, and those working against racism face a paradox familiar in identity politics: the very identity they aim to dispel must be invoked to make their case. Without recourse to the white masculine middle-class ideal, politicized identities would forfeit a good deal of their claims to injury and exclusion, their claims to the political significance of their difference. (Wendy Brown, States of Injury)

For Wendy Brown, following Nietzche, the wounds that underlie the politics of identity lead to ressentiment, a powerless over the past— a past of injury, a past as a hurt will, as a "reason" for the "unendurable pain" of social powerlessness in the present.


"Ornament shapes, straightens and stabilizes the bare arid field on which it is inscribed. Not only does it exist in and of itself, but it also shapes its own environment -- to which it imparts form." (Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, p. 66) For Heinrich Wölfflin, ornament is an epression of an excessive force of form. It is "the blossoming of a force that has nothing more to achieve." (p.181) Antoine Picon echoes this association of ornament with potency. "like orderand proportion, ornament expressed the fundamental regularity of the universe, and, above all, its fecundity. Ornament, in general, gave evidence to the creativity and the beauty of the cosmic order, just as the fruits and flowers that if often imitated were the products and finery of nature." ("Architecture, Science, Technology and the Virtual Realm" in Architecture and the Sciences, p. 298.)

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According to the liberal tradition, the modern individual, at home in its private spaces, regards the public as its outside. The outside is the place proper to politics, where the action of the individual is exposed in the presence of others and there seeks recognition. (This is the notion of the political elaborated by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition, which she calls the space of public appearance 
Public space is civic space. It is the space of civil society, shared by citizens -- individuals who have aquired a public voice and understand themselves to be part of a wider community. 

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