Identity & Subjectivity

15 11 2004

The distinction between identity and subjectivity is quite blurry,
and the concepts are often used interchangeably in discussions on gender, normality
or disability studies. If we also add the distinction between identit/y/ies and
subjectivit/y/ies it gets even more problematic. We not only have the
distinction between subjectivity and identity but also of singularity and multiplicity.
At a recent seminar
on masculinity
in Helsinki Ann
Phoenix
tried to untangle the concepts in a short 20-minute lecture. The
distinction between the concepts according to her is a distinction of different
schools of thought.

According to Phoenix the identity concept has its root in a modernist
discourse where the core of an individual was seen as stable, and is founded
on a discourse on developmental psychology and identity crisis where our reflexive
center is developed during adolescence. Identity originally stressed
the need for continuity and unity, but it is, in the current discourse, often
used in the plural, due to the advent of the subjectivities concept and its
focus on multiple cores. Phoenix referenced Stuart Hall (1996) and Mercer (1990)
as users of the identity concept.

Subjectivit/y/ies on the other hand is founded on a postmodern and
post structuralist discourse and focuses the making of the subject, this include
the taking of subject positions and stresses the reflexive dimension. (Cf.
Althusser’s concept interpellation). Phoenix pointed to Judith Holloway
et al.’s (1984/98) Changing the Subject as further reading.

So the distinction seems to be not only a historical one, but also a difference
in perspective; one focusing an inner stable core, and the other stressing
the making of identity; one focusing modernist discourse, and the other
focusing post modern discourse. Important distinctions to bear in mind if one
plans to use the concepts.

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