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The Politics of Identity Author(s): Kwame Anthony Appiah Source: Daedalus, Vol. 135, No.

4, On Identity (Fall, 2006), pp. 15-22 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20028068 . Accessed: 18/08/2013 23:23
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Kwame Anthony Appiah The politics of identity

1 am never quite sure what people mean when they talk about 'identity politics.' com though, they bring it up to Usually, plain about political politics. else. One's own are preoccupations just, well, is what other Identity politics someone

to do with the government.' nothing You might wonder how someone who said that could think that civil marriage should not be open to gays. Isn't that

straight identity politics ?

I think that what Sir John so Harrington sagely said of treason : it is largely true of identity politics never seems to prosper it only because has largely won the political stage. But I think there is away of explain ing why identity matters. 'Identity' may for bringing roles together the gender, class, race, so on and nationality, play in our lives, but it is the one we use. One problem : it can with 'identity' suggest that ev eryone

In short,

people do. Here's one

someone example: When in France suggested gay marriage was a com good idea, many French people was in that this another plained just of American-style identity poli tics. (In France, as you know, 'Ameri en effet a synonym is for 'bad.') can-style' on 'Why should lesgays insist special stance

not be the best word

So the French legislature the Pacte Civil de Solidarit? (PACs), whose point is exactly that mar 'Much riage is open to any two citizens. those said. better,' people 'Sexuality has treatment?' created Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Fellow of theAmer
ican Academy since 1995, is Laurance S. Rocke

of a certain
sense idem,

i.e., the

is in some
same, when,

feller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Centerfor Human Values at Prince ton University. His publications include "Asser tion and Conditionals" (1985), "In My Fath House : er's in the Africa Philosophy of Culture" (1992), "TheEthics of Identity" (2005), and, most recently, "Cosmopolitanism :Ethics in a World of Strangers" (2006). ? 2006 by the American & Sciences Academy of Arts

internally quite each of us heterogeneous, partly because has many identities. The right response to this problem is just to be aware of the risk. difficulty with social iden is the that very diversity of that list tity can leave you all whether wondering identities have anything interest common. in mean What did it when ing I added 'and so on' just now to a list that ran from Well, gender to nationality?1
i I'm reminded of Jorge Luis famous Borges's to have claimed in found

in fact, most



But another



of a list he

dalus Fall 2006


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Anthony Appiah on identity

you can only answer that sort of ques a tion by proposing theory of identity. own account of social identities IVJLy I explain how the is nominalist because identities work by talking about the la bels the names for them. Take some X. My proposal arbitrary identity-label X will have criteria of ascription is : ; some as X's ; some will people identify as X's ;and X people will treat others will have norms of identification. : Ascription The criteria of ascription on the basis of for X are the properties into those we do which we sort people and those we don't call X's. These crite ria need not be the same for everyone. Indeed, people lywhich properties is scope for one kind of identity politics Are F-to-M transgender people men? Are Muslims will on exact rarely agree must X's have. Here :

of herself

identifies times feels like or acts as an X. For exam : is in Rome. He sees a ple Joe Kansas one of lost-looking couple and hears them say, with an American accent, 'Gee, honey, the Capitol.' Iwish I knew

as an X in the relevant way, she as an X, which means she some

the route to Since Joe's just come from there, he goes up to them and tells them the way. Why? Because he's an Ameri can and so are to they. In other words, an Xis to in feel like respond affectively on your away that as depends identity an X. You may feel a fel proud of Mary, low Englishwoman, say, who has just scaled Everest. Politicians mobilize this sort of feeling all the time, when they can - more scope then for a politiciza tion of identities. Treatment: Finally, to treat someone as an X is to do to her because something she is an X. When Joe tells those lost tour ists the way to the Capitol, he's helping them, in part, 'because they're Ameri cans.' Kindness of this sort is a common form of treatment directed toward fel is low in-group members. Unkindness an treatment form of equally frequent directed toward out-group members. once more, as Here is room for politics, use en to to the government people try their likes and dislikes. And the can be very serious :think of politics in South the struggle against apartheid force Africa. Norms useful, an someone we can often identity to make predictions about her behavior that basis. This :Identities are of identification in part, because once we ascribe on

really French? This form of identity politics involves negotiation (not necessarily by way of the state) of of various groups. At the boundaries the same time, this isn't just amatter of what people say about you, or wheth : itmay affect what re er they're polite sources you have access to. If being a de vout Muslim is inconsistent with being not to go to a able be French, you might state school with your hijab on. : mere classifica By itself, Identification tion does not produce what Imean by 'a a classifica social identity.' What makes tion a relevant social identity is not just that some people are called X's but also that being an X figures in their thoughts, a person thinks and acts. When feelings,

an ancient



It begins

"(a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b)

that are trained, ones, (c) those and ends mermaids,..." (e) (d) suckling pigs, flies from a dis that resemble with "(n) those to add 'and so on' it mean would tance." What embalmed here?

is not just because the criteria of ascription entail that mem bers of the group have, or tend to have, so certain properties. It's also because cial identities of behavior are associated with norms for X's. People don't only do and avoid doing things because they're X's; there are things that, as X's, they

l6 D

dalus Fall 2006

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ought and ought not to do. The 'ought' would call a here iswhat a philosopher the ordinary general practical ought some one. Here special moral ought, not are some the of type of norms examples men I have in mind. Negatively: ought men not to wear dresses ;gay ought not to fall in love with women ;blacks ought not to embarrass the race Muslims ; men ought not to eat pork. Positively: women to for doors ; open gay ought come out; blacks people ought to ought to support affirmative action; Muslims ought to make the Hajj. To say these norms exist isn't to en of a norm dorse them. The existence to A amounts only to its and widely un thought being widely to be thought - that X's ought derstood that X's ought
to A.

'There it is,' Carlyle's better deal with it.' But ifwe're



'We'd identi

The politics of identity

going to ask how large a part ty, it's reasonable these identities should play in our politi in the cal lives, whether we take politics narrow sense of our dealings with the state, or, more broadly, as our dealings, in social lo life, with one another. it helps to not even with

to deal with


that question

begin social

politics, life directly, but with the 'ethical mean life' of individuals. By 'ethics,' I like what whoever put the something label Nichomachean Ethics on that ancient

not with

it proba by it. (Apparently, a Ethics is reflection bly wasn't Aristotle.) on what itmeans for human lives to go well, for us to have eudaimonia. (This is Aristotle's word, perhaps best translated as in this sense, Ethics, 'flourishing.') has important connections with morali me to which Ronald Dworkin ty, taught :Eth as follows from ethics distinguish about ics, he said, "includes convictions which kinds of lives are good or bad for a person to lead, and includes morality a person should about how principles treat other people."2 Each of us has a life to live. We face but they leave us many moral demands, be cruel or many options. We mustn't for example, but we can still dishonest, live in many ways without these vices. Of course, all of us also have constraints of historical and mental circumstances endowments and physical : Iwas born in to be a Yoruba Oba

book meant

at once how wide JL/et me underscore a range of kinds of people fit the gener al rubric I have laid out. This story an : swers the questions what things 'like' are what it class race, ethnicity, ; gender, means to say 'gender, nationality, and so on/ We can now add, for example, pro fessional identities (lawyer, doctor, jour ;vocations nalist, philosopher) (artist, formal ;affiliations, novelist) composer, and informal (Man. U. fan, jazz aficio nado, Conservative, Catholic, Mason); and other more airy labels (dandy, con There are also servative, cosmopolitan). are an obvious exten that relationships sion of the general rubric :you can be X's father and identify as such, or treat as X's dad. Fatherhood someone has norms things dads ought to do. identities are, it appears to be either 'fer' or 'agin' them. Ei silly ther posture calls to mind the full-heart ed avowal of the American transcenden the uni talist Margaret Fuller, " verse ! - and Thomas robust rejoinder, "I accept If this iswhat

to the wrong family and with the wrong body for mother hood; I am too short to be a successful
2 Ronald bridge, 485, fn. that


Dworkin, (Cam Sovereign Virtue : Harvard Press, 2000), University 1. Note that Dworkin's allows definition ethical might should subsume the moral. It


Carlyle's famously "Gad! She'd better!"

might be best to lead a life inwhich you treat

others as they be treated.

dalus Fall 2006


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Anthony Appiah on identity

basketball professional player and insuf a to concert pianist. be ficiently musical even But when we have taken these each human life be things into account, with many possibilities. gins Everybody - a has or, at least, should have great to make in shaping a variety of decisions liberal, like me, philosophical in the end, believes these choices belong, to the person whose life it is. This means the standard er I'm flourishing I define for myself. at least two things. First, we decide wheth by which life. And a


.based on the individual


and capacities of its members, that each is enabled to participate in the rich col lective resources of the others."3 Liber :re als realize that we need other people an not for is endorse spect individuality ment of individualism. JLou might object that I count too many as social identities. But the fact

is, in part, set by aims I Second, provided give others their moral due, the job of my life ismine. Thoughtful managing friends, benevolent sages, and anxious relatives rightly offer advice as to how to proceed. But it ought to be advice, not is And, just as private coercion it is also when undertak wrong, wrong en in the per interested governments by In other words, fection of their citizens. once I have done my duty, the shaping of me. to is life my up coercion. What John Stuart Mill taught us to is one term for this call individuality our isn't pro task. But individuality duced in a vacuum; rather, the available social forms and, of course, our interac tions with others help shape it. Chapter as one 3 of On Liberty ("On individuality is the of well-being") of the elements of this no classic English formulation as tion of individuality; Mill freely but, own there, his acknowledged thinking had been profound von an essay of Wilhelm ly shaped by in the 1790s, and written Humboldt, known to us now as The Limits of State Action. (It's a good thing that's how we title was actually know it: the German about Ideen zu einem Versuch die Grenzen der In Wirksamkeit des Staats zu bestimmen.) Chapter 2, "Of the individual man, and Hum the highest ends of his existence," that it is "through a social boldt wrote l8 D dalus Fall 2006 these matters

things that my account includes things we don't normally think of as social iden tities is actually an advantage. Because are important, as these other identities the usual ethical social identities lives. Humboldt,

sage I just quoted, gives ("the union ple marriage and then drifts perilously cussing homosexual

are, in our after the pas as his first exam of the sexes"), close to dis

too.4 relationships, one in is those rela of short, 'Spouse,' tional words, like 'father,' that fit the model. And context feature identities to put the social it's important we normally talk about in the

of all these others, because the all from the share, point of they view of ethics, is that people make use of them in seeking eudaimonia. a diverse range Why do we have such of social identities and relations? One answer, an etiological one, speaks to our evolution 3Wilhelm
Action, bridge essay, 1852. ed.

as a social




von Humboldt,
J.W. Burrow

The Limits of State

Press, University in 1891 -1892, though written See the editor's introduction, reason

:Cam (Cambridge Humboldt's 9. 1969), was not

first published

in a fairly complete form until


4 That's the



he didn't

essay himself, to exander publish was that suggesting


it to his

publish brother Al Another

proba so Friedrich with Willhelm, bly wasn't popular of Prussia, of Frederick the Great King nephew come to think of it, liked have who, might the gay part.

posthumously. limits on the


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in search the game of coalition building This is and protection. of food, mates, we have the sort of in-group soli why darities that and out-group antagonisms have been exploring social psychologists for the last half century. But from the point of view of a crea ture with that psychology, there is answer:

a corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral, and aesthetic statures of which their nature is capable.5

The politics of identity

we another, equally persuasive our human use identities to construct lives. For we make our lives as men and as Yanks and as Brits, as Cath olics and as Jews we them as phi ; make as novelists; we make and losophers Iden them as fathers and as daughters. in this pro tities are a central resource cess. Imean what Morality by which we owe to one another - is also part of on which we make that the scaffolding So are various projects construction. : Voltaire's undertake that we voluntarily garden at Ferney shaped the last years of as women, his life. (He really meant what he said at the end of Candide.) Identities are so diverse and extensive in the modern world, people because, an enormous need array of tools in mak a life. The range of options sufficient ing for each of us isn't enough for us all. In deed, people are making up new identi ties all the time : 'gay' is basically four decades old; 'punk' is younger. As Mill said in one of my favorite passages from : On of Chapter 3 Liberty If itwere only that people have diversi ties of taste, that is reason enough for not attempting to shape them all after one model. But different persons also require different conditions for their spiritual de
velopment; and can no more exist health

a X hilosophers have written good deal one way in which social about recently identities have figured in politics, name ly in what 'politics of other people role in shaping is. As Charles Hegelian language The of recognition.' labels the responses a crucial play one

obviously one's sense of who

Taylor points out, this pro cess in intimate life : "On the in begins timate level, we can see how much an original identity needs and is vulnerable or withheld to the recognition given by he others." Relationships, significant cru says, are "crucial because they are cibles of inwardly generated identity."6 But that's identities Our just the beginning. don't depend on interactions

in intimate life alone. Law, school, church, work, and many other institu tions also shape us. However, this fact doesn't play tell us what in the regulation role the state should of such acts of rec

ognition. we live in societies that Unfortunately, have not treated certain individuals with respect because they were, for example, women, homosexuals, blacks, Jews. Be cause our identities are 'dialogically' as it, people shaped, Taylor describes who have these characteristics find them - to central often negatively central 5 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, in The Collected
Works Robson 1963-1991), 6 Charles the Politics (Princeton, of John (Toronto Stuart Mill, vol. : University 270. 18, ed. John M. of Toronto Press,

ily in the same moral, than all the variety of plants can exist in the same physical at and climate. The same things mosphere which are helps to one person towards the cultivation


Multiculturalism ed. Amy

of his higher nature, are

unless there is

of Recognition, :Princeton N.J. Mass.

: Examining Gutmann Press,

University : MIT Press,

to another....

1994), 36. Cf. Axel Honneth, The Strugglefor Rec

ognition (Cambridge, 1995).

dalus Fall 2006


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their identities.

Anthony Appiah on identity

tion starts when

wrong. One those who have seeing sources these

The politics of recogni we grasp that this is form of healing pursued by these identities identities collective involves not as

of contempt may be part of pressions who he or she is, and whose rights of are presumably free expression ground ed, at least in part, in the connection between and self-expres individuality the other, the oppressed indi can whose life best vidual, go only if his or her is consistent with self identity sion. On respect. How, tervene? There if at all, is the state to in

and insult but as valuable parts of who they are. And since amodern ethics of authenticity (which re goes back, roughly, to Romanticism) of limitation we quires us to express who centrally so are, they move, next, to demanding as them homo women, ciety recognize and do sexuals, blacks, and Catholics, to resist the the cultural work necessary to to the insults, stereotypes, challenge lift the restrictions. these old restrictions suggested negative norms of identi substantially a life with fication, constructing dignity norms of entails developing positive an identification instead. For example, American after Stonewall homosexual Since and gay liberation closet, and works, others, to assemble gay norms takes the script of the in community with

are all sorts of undoubtedly that be here : laws done things might or verbal harassment hate against speech state education in the workplace, for tol of the heroes erance, public celebrations to But it's important of the oppressed. see that, while members of groups that have experienced historical exclusion, or contempt, obloquy may indeed need new social in order to flourish, practices are what they seeking is not always recog nition. When United blacks and women in the for the vote, States campaigned so very often as blacks and as did they women. But they weren't asking for rec were ask of their identity; they vote. for the Participation ing, precisely, aminimal of this sort may presuppose sense of recognition, but it entails a good the lesbian when deal more. Similarly, in the United States and gay movement so it does pursues recognition, by asking - to serve in to the military, for rights be that would worth marry having even if they came without recognition. ognition name in the So not all political claims made of a group identity are primarily claims for recognition. In social life, too, it's equally impor tant not to pursue a politics of recogni entails tak tion too far. If recognition ing notice of one's identity in social life, then the development of strong norms can become not liber of identification a kind of is but There ating oppressive. that doesn't just permit identity politics but demands that I treat my skin color or

a series of positive This new of identification. recodes being a faggot as conception requires, among oth being gay, which er things, declining to stay in the closet. But if one is to be out of the closet in a of society that deprives homosexuals one then and respect, equal dignity must constantly deal with assaults on one's dignity. Thus, the right to live as an 'open' homosexual It is not enough. is not even enough to be treated with equal dignity despite being homosexual, that be for that would mean accepting some to counts homosexual degree ing Instead, one must against one's dignity. as gay. ask to be respected that others could ac This is a demand cede to as individuals tion to calling sort a kind of micropolitics. But what can itmean for the state ? On one side ex lies the individual oppressor whose 20 D dalus Fall 2006 :I have no objec social negotiations of this

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my sexuality as central to my social life. Even though my 'race' or my sexuality of my individuality, may be elements someone who insists that I organize my life around these things is not an ally of are con Because identities individuality. norms in of identifica stituted part by tion and by treatment, there is no clear line between and a new kind recognition of oppression. V^ne reasonable criticism of identity out then, in pointing of than recognition - at stake when people resembles criticism ones the that

and probably George Bush hasn't done in changing the law on won't do much issues of so-called social that the many Christians might be thought evangelical to care about: stopping abortions, refus to lesbian and rela gay ing recognize tionships mentions George in any way, and getting lots of for God in public life. So what Bush

The politics of identity

and says about abortion even to them draws him, homosexuality someone if should else though they pick rather cared about than iden they policy tity.

consists, politics that there's more ten much more

This kind of politics is actually a deep

democratic life. We a and with parties for identify people of includ reasons, variety psychological of this prepolitical ing identifications feature of modern sort, and then we're rather inclined to support all the policies of that person or party. This is, in part, because sensi work ble people have better things to do than what the out, all by themselves, balance be should between, proper say, VAT and income taxes, but it's also be cause like you may people sufficiently actually pick policies, when they do think about them, that you would pick, if you had the time. So here, as inmany places in life, it is sensible to practice a of labor. That used to cognitive division work by creating political identities left, right, small-1 liberal, Labour, Tory, big-1 Liberal, Democrat, Republican, Christian Democrat, In and Marxist. many of the advanced democracies, par are less strong than ty affiliations they are bear used to be, and other identities more But in that's ing political weight. because of the older part many party af were filiations and social class-based, class as defined clined by one's work has de in significance in people's iden tifications. In that very profound way a the declining social salience of class, has on the rise since the 1960s.

This ask to be recognized. standard old-style Marxist identities

other than class-based in the of seeing where our real way get interests lie. (There's some truth to this, as a though good liberal, I don't think our real interests are our economic just But is not just that the here ones.) point matters. In isn't all that recognition our deed, because our identities shape aims and our aims help fix our interests, we can have real so-to-speak identity in terests as well. in the United States Many people voted for George Bush in part because someone who was, like they wanted in the them, an evangelical Christian, White House. They voted as evangeli cals, but this, at best, is very obliquely a point about a recognition. Getting wave from the White House may count as state I suppose, but most recognition, sensibly don't hang their on that rather peg. self-respect wobbly Now I think that for many of them that vote was amistake, since George Bush's are bad for many of the actual policies to them - health things that matter most evangelicals tax policy, not care, pension provision, sons and their in for losing daughters And though he is, I be eign adventures. lieve, a sincere evangelical Christian,

new kind of identity politics, based in






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X count

Anthony Appiah on identity

seven different ways in which I've said that you might speak of 'iden are con There (1) tity politics.' political out. flicts about who's in and who's can mobilize identities. (2) Politicians (3) States can treat people of distinct identities differently. (4) People can pur sue a (5) There politics of recognition. can be a social micropolitics enforcing norms of identification. And (6) There are

inherently political identities like party

(7) social groups can to respond collectively to all of mobilize the above. Maybe it's not so surprising then that, as I said at the start, I'm never quite sure what people mean when they talk about identity politics. identifications.

22 D




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