The Concept of Identity
To answer this question, it is important to first understand what is meant by identity. Identity concerns both self-identity and social identity. It is best understood not as an entity but as an emotionally charged description of ourselves. It is about the personal and the social as well as about us and the relations of others. It has been argued that identity is wholly cultural in character and does not exist outside of its representation in cultural discourse. Identity is ultimately not a fixed ‘thing’ but a becoming. As Hall (1990, 1996a) pointed out, it is a strategic ‘cut’ or temporary stabilization in language and practice. For the purpose of this essay, I will ...view middle of the document...
Max Weber is well-known for his work on a theory proposing that stratification is based on three factors that have become known as the three p's of stratification: property, prestige and power. The German sociologist claimed that social stratification is a result of the interaction of wealth, prestige and power. Whereas Karl Marx theorized class stratification constructed through the relations between human beings and their means of production. Class division within this system was constructed in relation to the separation of the class in a struggle against forces of domination and subordination. While both Marx and Weber spoke about class and social stratification which bears some elements to the concept of identity, their ideas and designs are of an over-simplification and unified identity in terms of its biological and cultural essence. The modern take on identity adopts a different paradigm of understanding because of the multiplicity of formations and process of identifications.
Note that Marx’s work has however become a basis of identity politics. Identity politics are often seen in Marxist understanding as a diversion from the central problem of capitalism. In neo-Marxist approach (Miles, 1982, 1989) the category of races an ideological construct in service of world capitalism. Throughout this essay, I will explore in better detail, this different paradigm of interpretations of identity through the notions of ethnicity, race, nationalism and globalization in the contemporary world compared to the classical eras.
Race and Ethnicity
Ethnicity is a cultural concept centered on the sharing of norms, values belief, cultural symbols and practices. The formation of ‘ethnic groups’ relies on shared cultural signifiers that have developed under specific historical, social and political context. It is the process by which ‘their’ difference is used to enhance the sense of purpose of organization or identification. Whereas race bears the traces of its origins in the biological discourses of social Darwinism that stress ‘lines of decent’ and ‘types of people’. Here, the concept of race is refers to alleged biological and physical characteristics. Race and ethnicity are both understood as a contemporary invention of identity and a social construct (Barth and Waltman, 1978).
From what I understand, race and ethnicity requires comparison between two social actors within same social boundaries. From what I can observe, the classical theorist from the colonial period failed to compare, explore and study the relations between two social actors: ‘us’ and ‘them’ within the same homogenous boundary system (Ibid). For the sake of argument, let’s consider the work of Durkheim on the Australian Aborigines. Why didn’t Durkheim ever notice the concept of identity? In my opinion, this is mainly because the Aborigines were so alien to Durkheim that he developed a different frame of mind and thinking towards them. Durkheim had imagined the Aborigines to be what he...