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Course: Advanced Topic 2

August 12, 2014


Sushant Kishore

Dated

Literature Review: Theorizing Identity Part 1


Topic: Theorizing Identity in the context of time (History), space (location) and
religion.
Objective of the review:
The purpose of the Literature Review is to establish current knowledge in the
discourse of Identity. The review aims to identify the problems in the discourse, the
attempts to overcome these problems and their consequent success or failure
thereby.
Introduction
The problem of identity carries the weight of generations history, culture, religion,
location, ethnicity, race, class, gender and sexuality. In different times, different
contexts and different perspectives, Identity bears different meanings and often the
confluence of these meanings invokes an inherent crisis. There has been a need to
solve these conflicts, at least on a national level, in order to establish a
homogenized identity for the country, avoid civil unrest or discord and create a
sense of naturalized harmony. Theorists have tried to explain identity in their own
preferences. While some have assumed identity to be fixed and innate, inherited
from their common ancestry other faction claim identity to be strictly individual
based upon and shaped by personal political and ideological choices. Some
theorists describe identity crisis as a crisis of overproduction and consequent
devaluation of meaning and suggest doing away with the term completely with all
its ambiguities and reifying connotations and to replace them with newer terms
with fixed meanings. (Brubaker, Cooper 1)
In the context of India, various social and political actors have tried to persuade the
people that they are all identical, have common ancestry, history and cultural
heritage and therefore share a common identity. The discourse around religion and
religious scriptures has played a significant role in the identity politics of India. The
Europeans denunciation of Indian History in 18 th century has been seen as attempts
to dissociate the national identity from its historicity and associate to the alternative
provided by European conquest and colonization. In response to this the Indian
intelligentsia has tried to reclaim Indias history through the texts available the
Vedas and Upanishads. The politics of literary writing in pre-independence and postindependence India is largely aimed at recreate a national identity in the larger
narrative of cultural and religious history.

A narrative of identity is a necessary condition for the existence of any


notion of agency and subjectivity.(Spivak 79)
Since my research topic explores the role of the discourse around religious
scriptures in the construction of social, cultural, political and national identities it is
important to understand the processes and the influence of identity formation for
individuals as well as group of individuals.
Body
Stuart Hall, in his essay Cultural Identity and Diaspora, proposes that instead of
considering identity as an established, pre-formulated social fact we should consider
it as a work in progress, a continuing process, as a production which is never
complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside,
representation (392). This approach is problematic because it challenges the
established authoritative claims of cultural and historical identity as we know it. But
it is relevant because in the face of globalization and cross-continental interactions
societies have evolved, cultures have hybridized and as a result identities have
morphed too. If identity does not proceed, in a straight unbroken line, from some
fixed origin, how are we to understand its formation? (395). Hall responds with a
model of Caribbean identity that are framed by two axes or vectors,
simultaneously operative: the vector of similarity or continuity [the first model of
identity]; and the vector of difference and rupture (395). Halls suggests that these
two axes exist in a dialogic relationship (395): the coerced migration from their
native lands to the plantations unified these people in spite of their differences and
simultaneously created a rift between their past and present. India and Africa are
not homogenous entities and have an inherent history of differences. Even in their
relationship with the colonizing metropolitan there is a huge difference but they had
an identical shared history of colonization. Hall concludes that, Difference,
therefore, persists--in and alongside continuity (396). Hall takes up the task to
describe this play of difference within identity (396).
Identities cannot be analyzed as monolithic, homogenized and static. To impose an
ancestral identity that goes back into millennia is inappropriate. Identity therefore
should be as constantly evolving.

Conclusion
Works Cited
Brubaker, Rogers, and Frederick Cooper. "Beyond 'Identity'". Theory and Society.
New York: Springer, 2000. Print.

Hall, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial
Theory. Ed. Williams, Patrick & Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1994. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakraborti. Can the Subaltern Speak. Colonial Discourse and
Postcolonial Theory. Ed. Williams, Patrick & Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1994. Print.

Notes

A selective listing of major social theorists and social scientists whose main work
lies outside the traditional homelands of identity theorizing yet who have
nonetheless written explicitly on identity in recent years includes Zygmnunt
Bauman, Pierre Bourdieu, Fernand Braudel, Craig Calhoun, S.N. Einstadt, Anthony
Giddens, Bernard Giesen, Jurgen Habermas, David Laitin, Claude Levi-Strauss, Paul
Ricoeur, Amrtya Sen, Margaret Somers, Charles Taylor, Charles Tilly and Harrison
White.