Friday, 25 October 2013

Lecture 3: Identity

  • 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

Theories of Identity 
Essentialism (traditional approach) - our biological makeup makes us who we are.
-We all have an inner essence that makes us who we are.
Post-Modern Theorists disagree - Post-Modern theorists are anti-essentialist

a. The art of judging human character from facial features.
b. Divination based on facial features.

'Grades of Intelligence'
This suggested that intelligence could be measured by the angle of a persons face. It was supposed that the straighter the angle, the more intelligent a person was.

The detailed study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.

Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909) – Founder of Positivist Criminology – the notion that criminal tendencies are inherited

Physiognomy Legitimising Racism


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.
'Secure' identities
related institutional agency with vested interest

Farmworker -- landed gentry
The Soldier -- The state
The Factory Worker -- Industrial Capitalism
The Housewife -- patriarchy
The Gentleman -- patriarchy
Huband-Wife -- Mariage/church

Modern identity 19th & early 20th centuries
  • Baudelair introduces the concept of the 'flaneur' (gentleman-stroller)
  • Veblen - 'Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure'
Gustave Caillebotte le pont de l'Europe 1876

gustave caillebotte - Paris Street, Rainy Day - 1877

-Trickle-Down Theory - "Veblen theorized that new technologies and consumer goods initially come into the market at a price point that only the elite can afford. Over time, other companies manufacture their own, more affordable versions of such products, and the lower classes begin to purchase them. Over the last century, the trickle-down theory has been picked up by a number of disciplines (among them, political science, sociology, psychology and economics), and one of the first applications of the theory was to fashion." Source:
-The 'Mask' of Fasion

Georg Simmel
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

"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)

Possible Discourses include:
  • age
  • class
  • gender
  • nationality
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • education
  • income
  • etc, etc…
Discourses to be considered 'Otherness':
  • class
  • nationality
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender and sexuality

Humphrey Spender/Mass Observation, Worktown project, 1937
Observing Britain living in Bolton

Martin Parr, New Brighton, Merseyside, from The Last Resort, 1983 - 86   
Mocking, yet almost self-celebratory

Martin Parr - Ascot, 2003
This is slightly mocking towards British culture. Showing a less glamourous image of women at Ascot. 
This image creates a suggestion of class and possibly attempted class.

Cultural stereotyping. Mocking.

Alexander McQueen, Highland Rape collection, Autumn/Winter 1995-6

‘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’. -Evans, C. ‘Desire and Dread: Alexander McQueen and the Contemporary Femme Fatale’ in Entwistle, J. and Wilson, M., (2001), Body Dressing, Oxford, Berg, page 202 

These images show a celebration of Scotland


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
-Asking people to write down what they were thinking or feeling/something about themselves - some images take a humorous nature
‘Hair has been a big issue throughout my life... It often felt that I was 
nothing more than my hair in other peoples’ eyes’ 
Emily Bates, Textile Designer/Artis

Gender & Sexuality

Masquerade and the mask of femininity

The Postmodern condition: Liquid Modernity and Liquid Love
‘Yes, indeed, “identity” is revealed to us only as something to be invented rather than discovered; as a target of an effort, “an objective”’ - Zygmunt Bauman

The Post-Modern Condition:
• 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

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

‘We use art, architecture, literature, and the rest, and advertising as well, to shield ourselves, in advance of experience, from the stark and plain reality in which we are fated to live’.  Theodore Levitt, The Morality (?) of Advertising,1970

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