Anthropology Identity Politics
by
Vasiliki Neofotistos
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0106

Introduction

Identity politics, also commonly referred to as the politics of identity or identity-based politics, is a phrase that is widely used in the social sciences and humanities to describe the deployment of the category of identity as a tool to frame political claims, promote political ideologies, or stimulate and orientate social and political action, usually in a larger context of inequality or injustice and with the aim of asserting group distinctiveness and belonging and gaining power and recognition. Additionally, identity politics refers to tensions and struggles over the right to map and define the contours and fixed “essence” of specific groups. The phrase has become increasingly common in political anthropology since the second half of the 20th century with the emergence of a wide diversity of social movements, including the women’s movement, the African American civil rights movement, and the gay and lesbian movement, as well as nationalist and postcolonial movements. Central to the practice of identity politics are the notions of sameness and difference, and thus the anthropological study of identity politics involves the study of the politics of difference.

General Overviews

The monographs and edited volumes in this section offer a wide range of perspectives, and cover a wide breadth of issues, pertinent to the study of identity politics. Gledhill 1994 offers a general overview of the politics of identity in everyday life. Hall and du Gay 1996, Martin Alcoff and Mendieta 2003, and Martin Alcoff, et al. 2006 open up fruitful lines of inquiry and reflection. Sociologist Craig Calhoun (Calhoun 1994) helps to build a bridge between the fields of identity politics and social theory and is frequently cited by anthropologists writing about the politics of identity. Gupta and Ferguson 1997 traces the distinctive interconnections between place-making, subject formation, and practices of resistance. Rutherford 1998 explores the opportunities and challenges, which are presented by the ever-growing diversity of communities, cultures, and identities, for a new radical democratic politics. Cohen 2000 underscores the significance of boundaries in the politics of identity. Mach 1993 addresses the symbolic aspects of identity formation.

  • Calhoun, Craig, ed. 1994. Social theory and the politics of identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

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    An important volume, consisting of eleven chapters. Its aims include addressing the need to conceptualize identity struggles from the perspective of contemporary social theory.

  • Cohen, Anthony, ed. 2000. Signifying identities: Anthropological perspectives on boundaries and contested values. New York: Routledge.

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    The contributors to this volume explore how relationships between groups are informed and underpinned by understandings group members have regarding their own distinctive identities and the nature of the boundaries dividing them from other group members. Topics include, among others, the political construction and (re)appropriation of aboriginality by colonists and indigenous peoples.

  • Gledhill, John. 1994. Power and its disguises: Anthropological perspectives on politics. London: Pluto.

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    Uses case studies from around the world, including Guatemala, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. Explores issues of domination and resistance, local-level politics, and the politicization of gender, among others. Suggests that anthropology relate the local to the global in a more radical way than ever before.

  • Gupta, Akhil, and James Ferguson, eds. 1997. Culture, power, place: Explorations in critical anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The essays in this collection emphasize that the so-called structures of feeling that connect people, in ways that are meaningful to them, to particular locales, and the formation of locality, involve the delineation of “self” and “other” through the process of identification with larger collectivities.

  • Hall, Stuart, and Paul du Gay, eds. 1996. Questions of cultural identity. London: SAGE.

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    A collection of ten influential essays by leading scholars, including one anthropologist. Explores various issues pertaining to identity politics, such as the question of identification, the European context of Turkish cultural transformation, negotiations of cultural difference, and the aesthetics of popular music.

  • Mach, Zdzislaw. 1993. Symbols, conflict, and identity: Essays in political anthropology. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    Explores the role of symbols, such as the national and symbolic forms or rituals and myths, in the process of group identity formation and maintenance and in the definition and legitimation of the social order. Discusses the deployment of symbols to signify exclusion in a system of unequal power relations between social groups.

  • Martin Alcoff, Linda, Michael Hames-Garcia, Satya P. Mohanty, and Paula M. L. Moya, eds. 2006. Identity politics reconsidered. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    A collection of essays by contributors from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, including anthropology. Published in the Future of Minority Studies Research Project book series. Assesses anew the viability of identity politics for identity-based social movements, research programs, pedagogy, and democratic politics.

  • Martin Alcoff, Linda, and Eduardo Mendieta, eds. 2003. Identities: Race, class, gender, and nationality. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    Provides selections from the work of influential theorists, including, but not limited to, Hegel, Marx, Beauvoir, Fanon, Hall, Wittig, and Said. Presents analyses of key categories of identity politics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nationality.

  • Rutherford, Jonathan, ed. 1998. Identity: Community, culture, difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

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    A collection of eleven essays, focusing on the emergence of social movements and new political actors that do not fit the traditional Left/Right dichotomy. Explores a variety of related issues, including the articulation of identities in the context of black feminism, the politics of identity in the age of AIDS, and multiculturalism.

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