Identity Politics

Identity politics is the idea of what groups and affiliations we have as an individual. Collectively people of a certain identity will group together and form something known as a “social movement”, a group of individuals committed to bringing about social change.  The book mentions that a social movement can very easily become a political party, but more often than not that is not the case. Social movements can be looked at in an objective way, or a subjective way. Objective, basically asking why a social movement formed in the first place; and subjective asking why people joined the group in the first place. The book discusses how social differences lead to the formation of social movements, people band together to fight injustices against their community of individuals. The authors bring up movements as  reactionary, like the Black Panthers being a reactionary movement over the treatment of African Americans in 20th Century America. The treatment of the marginalized group can be called “objective”, while the reasons for people joining can be “subjective”.

In the part of the chapter entitled, “Space, place, scale and social movements” we see very important connections to past concepts. Social Movements are spatial, as an example the authors bring up “places” in Africa or South America still recovering from their colonial legacy, and hence the type of social movements there would be different then a social movement in a place like Ireland where you are more likely to have a movement arise over religion. Another important point from this section is that a social movement might start locally but very quickly grow in scale to encompass a wider spatial area. A labor dispute might start at one school, spread to other schools in a district, before eventually encompassing an entire state. Using space and place is a key way that social movements can expand, at least that is what I am getting.

The authors subsequently use real life case studies of social movements to help better apply the concepts they were discussing. The most interesting is the section on feminism, which is a very good example of a reactionary social movement. Here it could be said the the early writings of women like Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of Rights for Woman, were the objective foundation for the many generations of women’s rights activist to come. Also with Women’s movements a “placial” context can apply, while a woman in a Western Country is fighting for better pay, a woman in a strict muslim country following sharia law might still be fighting for the basic right to drive.  Social movements are the direct result of the context around them, and for such a large movement as feminism this is definitely the case. It is clear to me that a social movement like feminism, that is so large in scope, has had a radical effect at changing the world that we live. In the United States, it changed the politics of being a female citizen from a stay at home mom to an empowered, working citizen in a relatively short time frame.

The social movements that are mentioned in this chapter are very good examples, but to be quite honest I do think there is a bias. I am a politically independent thinker, neither liberal or conservative, yet when I read this chapter I only see liberally minded social movements. There are other social movements that are politically neutral such as anti-war movements, yet I could not help but feel the authors were too busy focusing on the anarchic and narrowly focused “Clown Army” to touch at the greater value of the anti-war movement. There are also a number of conservative political movements such as the pro-life movement that were not mentioned at all. I like to understand all sides of a topic, and I felt the authors missed a chance to engage a number of case studies here that would have been very beneficial for applying the concepts of this chapter. That is just my opinion though, overall the chapter was deeply engaging and will be a good catalyst for class discussion if we get a chance.

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