Identity politics

Painter and Jeffery start by defining identity as a composite of race, gender, class, and other identities, followed by some unknowns about identity. Is it static or changing? Objective or subjective? An active process or passively expressed? Identity is a complex idea, with many potential definitions, depending on how broadly you consider.They then go on to describe the role of identity in politics and geography, starting with social movements.

A social movement is when a group of people work together to change something social or political. Commonly, people in these groups share some aspect of identity depending on what change they are seeking. Social movements can either operate within the formal institutions of the state, or through non-conventional means like protests and demonstrations like we discussed last week. Non-conventional social movements have very diffuse geographies. Once these movements start, they need discourse and resources to grow. This is were the shared identity of people in the movement is important. If they can all identify with a common past or rally around an important figure, the movement becomes that much stronger.

Arbour and Teigen’s article is a direct study of the effects of identity on politics. The two were looking into a correlation between people who identified themselves as of “American”descent, rather than of some kind of European ancestry and Barack Obama’s performance in the primary and election. They found that, when corrected for other differences, each 1% increase in people identifying as “American” caused a .28% decrease in votes for Barack Obama. This shows that identity is very important in politics, because the actual, physical people did not change, only how they identified themselves, and that had a real measurable impact on the outcome of the elections.

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