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Beyond "Identity"

Author(s): Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 1-47
Published by: Springer
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Beyond "identity"

University of California, Los Angeles; University of Michigan

"Theworst thing one can do with words,"wrote George Orwella half

a century ago, "is to surrenderto them." If language is to be "an
instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing
thought,"he continued, one must "let the meaning choose the word,
and not the other way about."' The argument of this article is that
the social sciences and humanities have surrenderedto the word
"identity";that this has both intellectualand political costs; and that
we can do better."Identity,"we argue, tends to mean too much (when
understood in a strong sense), too little (when understoodin a weak
sense), or nothing at all (becauseof its sheerambiguity).We take stock
of the conceptualand theoreticalwork "identity"is supposedto do and
suggestthat this work might be done betterby other terms,less ambig-
uous, and unencumberedby the reifyingconnotationsof "identity."

We argue that the prevailingconstructiviststance on identity - the

attemptto "soften"the term, to acquitit of the chargeof "essentialism"
by stipulating that identities are constructed, fluid, and multiple -
leaves us without a rationale for talking about "identities"at all and
ill-equippedto examinethe "hard"dynamicsand essentialistclaims of
contemporaryidentity politics. "Soft"constructivismallows putative
"identities"to proliferate.But as they proliferate,the term loses its
analytical purchase. If identity is everywhere,it is nowhere. If it is
fluid, how can we understandthe ways in which self-understandings
may harden,congeal, and crystallize?If it is constructed,how can we
understandthe sometimescoerciveforce of externalidentifications?If
it is multiple, how do we understandthe terrible singularitythat is
often strivenfor - and sometimesrealized - by politicians seeking to
transformmere categoriesinto unitaryand exclusivegroups?How can
we understandthe powerand pathos of identitypolitics?

Theory and Society 29: 1-47, 2000.

? 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

"Identity"is a key term in the vernacular idiom of contemporary

politics, and social analysis must take account of this fact. But this
does not requireus to use "identity"as a category of analysis or to
conceptualize"identities"as somethingthat all people have, seek, con-
struct, and negotiate.Conceptualizingall affinitiesand affiliations,all
formsof belonging,all experiencesof commonality,connectedness,and
cohesion,all self-understandings and self-identificationsin the idiom of
"identity" saddles us with a blunt,flat, undifferentiatedvocabulary.

We do not aim here to contributeto the ongoing debate on identity

politics.2We focus instead on identityas an analyticalcategory.This
is not a "merelysemantic"or terminologicalissue. The use and abuse
of "identity,"we suggest, affectsnot only the languageof social anal-
ysis but also - inseparably- its substance.Social analysis- including
the analysisof identitypolitics - requiresrelativelyunambiguousana-
lytical categories.Whateverits suggestiveness,whateverits indispens-
ability in certain practical contexts,"identity"is too ambiguous,too
torn between"hard"and "soft"meanings,essentialistconnotationsand
constructivistqualifiers,to servewell the demandsof social analysis.

The "identity"crisis in the social sciences

"Identity"and cognate terms in other languageshave a long history as

technical terms in Western philosophy, from the ancient Greeks
throughcontemporaryanalyticalphilosophy.They have been used to
address the perennialphilosophical problemsof permanenceamidst
manifest change, and of unity amidst manifest diversity.3Widespread
vernacularand social-analyticaluse of "identity"and its cognates,
however,is of much more recent vintage and more localized prove-

The introductionof "identity"into social analysisand its initial diffu-

sion in the social sciences and public discourseoccurredin the United
States in the 1960s (with some anticipationsin the second half of the
1950s).4 The most important and best-known trajectory involved the
appropriation and popularization of the work of Erik Erikson (who
was responsible, among other things, for coining the term "identity
crisis").5 But as Philip Gleason has shown,6 there were other paths
of diffusion as well. The notion of identification was pried from its
original, specifically psychoanalytic context (where the term had been
initially introduced by Freud) and linked to ethnicity on the one hand

(throughGordon Allport's influential1954 book The Natureof Preju-

dice) and to sociological role theory and referencegrouptheory on the
other (through figures such as Nelson Foote and Robert Merton).
Symbolicinteractionistsociology,concernedfrom the outset with "the
self," came increasingly to speak of "identity,"in part through the
influence of Anselm Strauss.7More influential in popularizing the
notion of identity, however, were Erving Goffman, working on the
peripheryof the symbolic interactionisttradition, and Peter Berger,
workingin social constructionistand phenomenologicaltraditions.8

For a varietyof reasons,the termidentityprovedhighlyresonantin the

1960s,9diffusingquicklyacross disciplinaryand national boundaries,
establishingitself in the journalistic as well as the academic lexicon,
and permeatingthe language of social and political practice as well
as that of social and political analysis. In the American context, the
prevalentindividualistethos and idiom gave a particularsalience and
resonance to "identity"concerns, particularlyin the contexts of the
1950sthematizationof the "masssociety"problemand the 1960sgen-
erational rebellions.And from the late 1960s on, with the rise of the
Black Power movement, and subsequentlyother ethnic movements
for which it served as a template, concerns with and assertions of
individual identity, already linked by Erikson to "communal cul-
ture,"'0 were readily, if facilely, transposed to the group level. The
proliferationof identitarianclaim-makingwas facilitatedby the com-
parativeinstitutionalweakness of leftist politics in the United States
and by the concomitantweakness of class-basedidioms of social and
political analysis.As numerousanalystshave observed,class can itself
be understoodas an identity."1 Our point here is simply that the weak-
ness of class politics in the United States (vis-a-vis Western Europe)
left the field particularlywide open for the profusionof identityclaims.

Alreadyin the mid-1970s,W.J. M. Mackenziecould characterizeiden-

tity as a word "drivenout of its wits by over-use,"and Robert Coles
could remarkthat the notions of identityand identitycrisishad become
"the purestof cliches."2But that was only the beginning.In the 1980s,
with the rise of race, class, and gender as the "holy trinity"of literary
criticism and culturalstudies,13the humanitiesjoined the fray in full
force. And "identitytalk" - inside and outside academia - continues
to proliferatetoday.14The "identity"crisis - a crisis of overproduction
and consequentdevaluationof meaning- shows no sign of abating.15

Qualitative as well as quantitativeindicators signal the centrality -

indeedthe inescapability- of "identity"as a topos. In recentyears,two
new interdisciplinaryjournals devoted to the subject, complete with
star-studdededitorial boards, have been launched.16 And quite apart
fromthe pervasiveconcernwith"identity"in workon gender,sexuality,
race, religion, ethnicity,nationalism, immigration,new social move-
ments, culture,and "identitypolitics,"even those whose work has not
been concernedprimarilywith these topics have felt obligedto address
the questionof identity.A selectivelistingof majorsocial theoristsand
social scientistswhose main work lies outsidethe traditional"home-
lands"of identitytheorizingyet who have nonethelesswritten explic-
itly on "identity"in recent years includes Zygmunt Bauman, Pierre
Bourdieu,FernandBraudel,CraigCalhoun,S. N. Eisenstadt,Anthony
Giddens, BernhardGiesen, Jurgen Habermas,David Laitin, Claude
Levi-Strauss,Paul Ricoeur, Amartya Sen, MargaretSomers, Charles
Taylor,CharlesTilly,and HarrisonWhite.'7

Categoriesof practice and categories of analysis

Many key terms in the interpretativesocial sciences and history -

"race," "nation," "ethnicity,""citizenship,""democracy,""class,"
"community,"and "tradition,"for example - are at once categories
of social and political practice and categories of social and political
analysis. By "categoriesof practice,"following Bourdieu, we mean
somethingakin to what others have called "native"or "folk"or "lay"
categories.These are categories of everydaysocial experience,devel-
oped and deployed by ordinary social actors, as distinguishedfrom
the experience-distantcategoriesused by social analysts.18We prefer
the expression"categoryof practice"to the alternatives,for while the
latterimply a relativelysharpdistinctionbetween"native"or "folk"or
"lay"categories on the one hand and "scientific"categories on the
other, such concepts as "race,""ethnicity,"or "nation"are markedby
close reciprocalconnection and mutual influenceamong their practi-
cal and analyticaluses.19

"Identity,"too, is both a categoryof practiceand a categoryof analy-

sis. As a category of practice,it is used by "lay"actors in some (not
all!) everydaysettingsto make sense of themselves,of their activities,
of what they share with, and how they differ from, others. It is also
used by political entrepreneursto persuade people to understand
themselves,their interests,and their predicamentsin a certainway, to

persuadecertainpeople that they are (for certainpurposes)"identical"

with one another and at the same time differentfrom others, and to
organize and justify collective action along certain lines.20In these
ways the term "identity"is implicated both in everydaylife and in
"identitypolitics"in its variousforms.

Everyday"identitytalk"and "identitypolitics"are real and important

phenomena.But the contemporarysalience of "identity"as a category
of practicedoes not requireits use as a categoryof analysis.Consider
an analogy."Nation"is a widely used categoryof social and political
practice.Appeals and claims made in the name of putative"nations"
- for example, claims to self-determination- have been central to
politics for a hundred-and-fiftyyears. But one does not have to use
"nation"as an analytical category to understand and analyze such
appeals and claims. One does not have to take a category inherentin
thepracticeof nationalism- the realist,reifyingconception of nations
as real communities- and make this categorycentralto the theoryof
nationalism.21Nor does one haveto use "race"as a categoryof analysis
- which risks taking for grantedthat "race"exists - to understandand
analyze social and political practices oriented to the presumed exis-
tence of putative"races."22Just as one can analyze"nation-talk"and
nationalist politics without positing the existence of "nations,"or
"race-talk"and "race"-orientedpolitics withoutpositing the existence
of "races,"so one can analyze "identity-talk"and identity politics
without, as analysts,positing the existenceof "identities."

Reification is a social process, not only an intellectual practice. As

such, it is central to the politics of "ethnicity,""race,""nation,"and
other putative"identities."Analysts of this kind of politics should seek
to accountfor this process of reification.We should seek to explainthe
processes and mechanisms through which what has been called the
"politicalfiction"of the "nation"- or of the "ethnicgroup,""race,"or
other putative "identity"- can crystallize, at certain moments, as a
powerful, compelling reality.23But we should avoid unintentionally
reproducingor reinforcingsuch reification by uncritically adopting
categoriesof practiceas categoriesof analysis.

The mere use of a term as a categoryof practice,to be sure, does not

disqualify it as a category of analysis.24If it did, the vocabularyof
social analysiswould be a greatdeal poorer,and more artificial,than it
is. What is problematicis not that a particularterm is used, but how it
is used. The problem, as Loic Wacquanthas argued with respect to

"race,"lies in the "uncontrolledconflationof social and sociological...

[or]folk and analyticunderstandings."25 The problemis that "nation,"
"race," and "identity"are used analyticallya good deal of the time
more or less as they are used in practice,in an implicitlyor explicitly
reifying manner, in a manner that implies or asserts that "nations,"
"races,"and "identities""exist"and that people "have"a "nationality,"
a "race,"an "identity."

It may be objectedthat this overlooks recent effortsto avoid reifying

"identity"by theorizingidentitiesas multiple,fragmented,and fluid.26
"Essentialism"has indeed been vigorouslycriticized, and constructi-
vist gesturesnow accompanymost discussionsof "identity."27 Yet we
oftenfindan uneasyamalgamof constructivistlanguageand essentialist
argumentation.28 This is not a matterof intellectualsloppiness.Rather,
it reflectsthe dual orientationof many academicidentitariansas both
analysts and protagonistsof identity politics. It reflects the tension
betweenthe constructivistlanguagethat is requiredby academiccor-
rectnessand the foundationalistor essentialistmessagethat is required
if appeals to "identity"are to be effective in practice.29Nor is the
solution to be found in a more consistent constructivism:for it is not
clear why what is routinelycharacterizedas multiple,fragmented,and
fluid shouldbe conceptualizedas "identity"at all.

The uses of "identity"

What do scholars mean when they talk about "identity?"30What

conceptual and explanatorywork is the term supposed to do? This
depends on the context of its use and the theoretical tradition from
which the use in question derives.The term is richly - indeed for an
analyticalconcept, hopelessly- ambiguous.But one can identifya few
key uses:

1. Understoodas a groundor basis of social or politicalaction, "iden-

tity" is often opposed to "interest"in an effort to highlight and
conceptualize non-instrumentalmodes of social and political ac-
tion.31With a slightly differentanalytical emphasis, it is used to
underscorethe mannerin which action - individualor collective -
may be governed by particularistic self-understandings rather than
by putatively universal self-interest.32 This is probably the most
generaluse of the term; it is frequentlyfound in combinationwith
other uses. It involvesthree relatedbut distinct contrastsin ways of

conceptualizing and explaining action. The first is between self-

understandingand (narrowlyunderstood)self-interest.33 The second
is between particularityand (putative) universality.The third is
between two ways of construingsocial location. Many (thoughnot
all) strandsof identitariantheorizingsee social and political action
as powerfullyshapedby position in social space.34In this they agree
with many (though not all) strandsof universalist,instrumentalist
theorizing. But "social location" means something quite different
in the two cases. For identitariantheorizing, it means position in
a multidimensional space defined by particularistic categorical at-
tributes(race,ethnicity,gender,sexual orientation).For instrumen-
talist theorizing, it means position in a universalisticallyconceived
social structure(for example, position in the market, the occupa-
tional structure,or the mode of production).35

2. Understood as a specificallycollectivephenomenon,"identity"de-
notes a fundamentaland consequentialsameness among members
of a group or category.This may be understood objectively(as a
sameness "in itself") or subjectively(as an experienced, felt, or
perceivedsameness).This samenessis expectedto manifestitself in
solidarity,in shared dispositions or consciousness, or in collective
action. This usage is found especially in the literatureon social
movements;36on gender;37and on race, ethnicity, and national-
ism.38In this usage, the line between "identity"as a category of
analysisand as a categoryof practiceis often blurred.

3. Understoodas a core aspect of (individualor collective)"selfhood"

or as a fundamentalcondition of social being, "identity"is invoked
to point to something allegedly deep, basic, abiding, orfoundational.
This is distinguishedfrom more superficial,accidental,fleeting, or
contingent aspects or attributesof the self, and is understood as
somethingto be valued,cultivated,supported,recognized,and pre-
served.39This usage is characteristicof certain strandsof the psy-
chological (or psychologizing)literature,especiallyas influencedby
Erikson,40though it also appearsin the literatureon race, ethnicity,
and nationalism. Here too the practical and analytical uses of
"identity"are frequentlyconflated.

4. Understood as a product of social or political action, "identity"is

invoked to highlight the processual,interactivedevelopmentof the
kind of collectiveself-understanding,solidarity,or "groupness"that
can make collective action possible. In this usage, found in certain

strandsof the "newsocial movement"literature,"identity"is under-

stood both as a contingentproductof social or political action and
as a groundor basis of furtheraction.41

5. Understood as the evanescentproduct of multiple and competing

discourses,"identity"is invokedto highlightthe unstable,multiple,
fluctuating, andfragmented nature of the contemporary "self." This
usage is found especially in the literatureinfluencedby Foucault,
post-structuralism,and post-modernism.42In somewhat different
form, without the post-structuralisttrappings,it is also found in
certain strands of the literatureon ethnicity - notably in "situa-
tionalist"or "contextualist"accountsof ethnicity.43

Clearly,the term "identity"is made to do a great deal of work. It is

used to highlightnon-instrumentalmodes of action; to focus on self-
understandingratherthan self-interest;to designate sameness across
persons or samenessover time; to captureallegedlycore, foundational
aspects of selfhood;to deny that such core, foundationalaspects exist;
to highlight the processual,interactivedevelopmentof solidarityand
collective self-understanding;and to stress the fragmentedquality of
the contemporaryexperienceof "self,"a self unstablypatchedtogether
throughshards of discourse and contingently"activated"in differing

These usages are not simply heterogeneous;they point in sharply

differingdirections.To be sure, there are affinitiesbetween certain of
them, notably between the second and third, and between the fourth
and fifth. And the first usage is generalenough to be compatiblewith
all of the others. But there are strongtensions as well. The second and
third uses both highlightfundamental sameness - sameness across
persons and samenessover time - while the fourthand fifth uses both
rejectnotions of fundamentalor abidingsameness.

"Identity,"then, bears a multivalent, even contradictorytheoretical

burden. Do we really need this heavily burdened,deeply ambiguous
term?The overwhelmingweight of scholarlyopinion suggeststhat we
do.44 Even the most sophisticated theorists, while readily acknowl-
edging the elusive and problematicnature of "identity,"have argued
that it remainsindispensable.Criticaldiscussionof "identity"has thus
sought not to jettison but to save the term by reformulatingit so as to
make it immune from cetain objections, especially from the dreaded
chargeof "essentialism."Thus StuartHall characterizesidentityas "an

idea whichcannot be thoughtin the old way,but withoutwhichcertain

key questions cannot be thought at all."45What these key questions
are, and why they cannot be addressed without "identity,"remain
obscurein Hall'ssophisticatedbut opaquediscussion.46Hall'scomment
echoes an earlier formulationof Claude Levi-Strauss,characterizing
identityis "a sort of virtualcenter(foyervirtuel)to whichwe must refer
to explaincertainthings, but withoutit ever havinga real existence."47
Lawrence Grossberg, concerned by the narrowingpreoccupationof
culturalstudies with the "theoryand politics of identity,"nonetheless
repeatedly assures the reader that he does "not mean to reject the
concept of identityor its political importancein certain struggles"and
that his "project is not to escape the discourse of identity but to
relocate it, to rearticulateit."48Alberto Melucci, a leading exponent
of identity-orientedanalyses of social movements,acknowledgesthat
"the word identity ... is semantically inseparable from the idea of
permanence and is perhaps, for this very reason, ill-suited to the
processualanalysisfor which I am arguing."49Ill-suitedor not, "iden-
tity"continuesto find a centralplace in Melucci'swriting.

We are not persuadedthat "identity"is indispensable.We sketchbelow

some alternative analytical idioms that can do the necessary work
without the attendantconfusion. Sufficeit to say for the moment that
if one wants to argue that particularisticself-understandingsshape
social and political action in a non-instrumentalmanner, one can
simplysay so. If one wants to trace the process throughwhich persons
sharing some categorical attributecome to share definitionsof their
predicament,understandingsof theirinterest,and a readinessto under-
take collectiveaction, it is best to do so in a mannerthat highlightsthe
contingent and variable relationship between mere categories and
bounded, solidarygroups. If one wants to examine the meaningsand
significancepeople give to constructs such as "race,""ethnicity,"and
"nationality,"one alreadyhas to thread through conceptual thickets,
and it is not clear what one gains by aggregatingthem under the flat-
tening rubricof identity.And if one wants to convey the late modern
sense of a self being constructedand continuouslyreconstructedout of
a varietyof competingdiscourses- and remainingfragile,fluctuating,
and fragmented- it is not obvious why the word identitycapturesthe
meaningbeing conveyed.

"Strong"and "weak"understandingsof "identity"

We suggested at the outset that "identity"tends to mean either too

much or too little. This point can now be elaborated.Our inventory
of the uses of "identity"has revealednot only great heterogeneitybut
a strong antithesis between positions that highlight fundamentalor
abiding sameness and stances that expressly reject notions of basic
sameness. The former can be called strong or hard conceptions of
identity,the latterweak or soft conceptions.

Strongconceptions of "identity"preservethe common-sensemeaning

of the term - the emphasison sameness over time or across persons.
And they accord well with the way the term is used in most forms of
identity politics. But preciselybecause they adopt for analytical pur-
poses a category of everydayexperience and political practice, they
entail a series of deeplyproblematicassumptions:

1. Identity is something all people have, or ought to have, or are


2. Identityis somethingall groups (at least groups of a certain kind -

e.g., ethnic, racial,or national)have, or ought to have.

3. Identityis something people (and groups) can have without being

awareof it. In this perspective,identityis somethingto be discovered,
and somethingabout which one can be mistaken.The strong con-
ceptionof identitythus replicatesthe Marxianepistemologyof class.

4. Strong notions of collective identityimply strong notions of group

boundednessand homogeneity.They imply high degrees of group-
ness, an "identity"or sameness among group members, a sharp
distinctivenessfrom nonmembers,a clear boundarybetweeninside
and outside.50

Given the powerful challenges from many quartersto substantialist

understandingsof groups and essentialistunderstandingsof identity,
one might think we have sketched a "strawman" here. Yet in fact
strongconceptionsof "identity"continueto informimportantstrands
of the literatureon gender,race,ethnicity,and nationalism.51

Weak understandingsof "identity,"by contrast, break consciously

with the everyday meaning of the term. It is such weak or "soft"

conceptions that have been heavily favoredin theoreticaldiscussions

of "identity"in recent years, as theorists have become increasingly
awareof and uncomfortablewith the strongor "hard"implicationsof
everydaymeanings of "identity."Yet this new theoretical "common
sense"has problemsof its own.We sketchthree of these.

The first is what we call "clichedconstructivism."Weak or soft con-

ceptions of identity are routinely packaged with standard qualifiers
indicatingthat identityis multiple,unstable,in flux, contingent,frag-
mented, constructed, negotiated, and so on. These qualifiers have
become so familiar - indeed obligatory - in recent years that one
reads (and writes) them virtually automatically.They risk becoming
mere place-holders,gesturessignalinga stance ratherthan words con-
veying a meaning.

Second, it is not clear why weak conceptionsof "identity"are concep-

tions of identity.The everydaysense of "identity"stronglysuggests at
least some self-samenessover time, some persistence,something that
remains identical, the same, while other things are changing.What is
the point in using the term "identity"if this core meaning is expressly

Third, and most important,weak conceptions of identitymay be too

weak to do useful theoretical work. In their concern to cleanse the
term of its theoretically disreputable"hard"connotations, in their
insistencethat identitiesare multiple,malleable,fluid, and so on, soft
identitariansleave us with a term so infinitelyelastic as to be incapable
of performingseriousanalyticalwork.

We are not claiming that the strong and weak versions sketchedhere
jointly exhaust the possible meanings and uses of "identity."Nor are
we claiming that sophisticatedconstructivisttheorists have not done
interestingand important work using "soft"understandingsof iden-
tity.We argue, however,that what is interestingand importantin this
work often does not depend on the use of "identity"as an analytical

MargaretSomers,criticizingscholarlydiscussionsof identityfor focus-

ing on categorical commonality rather than on historically variable
relationalembeddedness,proposesto "reconfigur[e]the studyof iden-
tity formationthroughthe concept of narrative,"to "incorporateinto
the core conception of identity the categoricallydestabilizingdimen-

sions of time, space, and relationality." Somers makes a compelling

case for the importanceof narrativeto social life and social analysis,
and argues persuasivelyfor situating social narrativesin historically
specificrelationalsettings.She focuseson the ontologicaldimensionof
narratives,on the way in whichnarrativesnot only representbut, in an
importantsense, constitutesocial actors and the social world in which
they act.What remainsunclearfrom her accountis why - and in what
sense - it is identities that are constituted through narrativesand
formedin particularrelationalsettings.Social life is indeedpervasively
"storied";but it is not clearwhy this "storiedness"shouldbe axiomati-
cally linkedto identity.Peopleeverywhereand alwaystell stories about
themselvesand others, and locate themselveswithin culturallyavail-
able repertoiresof stories. But in what sense does it follow that such
"narrativelocation endows social actors with identities - however
multiple, ambiguous,ephemeral,or conflicting they may be?" What
does this soft, flexible notion of identity add to the argumentabout
narrativity?The major analyticalwork in Somers'sarticle is done by
the concept of narrativity,supplementedby that of relationalsetting;
the workdone by the concept of identityis much less clear.52

Introducing a collection on Citizenship, Identity, and Social History,

CharlesTilly characterizesidentity as a "blurredbut indispensable"
concept and definesit as "anactor'sexperienceof a category,tie, role,
network,group or organization,coupled with a public representation
of that experience;the public representationoften takes the form of a
shared story, a narrative."But what is the relationshipbetween this
encompassing, open-ended definition and the work Tilly wants the
concept to do? What is gained, analytically,by labelingany experience
and public representaionof any tie, role, network,etc. as an identity?
When it comes to examples,Tilly roundsup the usual suspects:race,
gender, class, job, religious affiliation, national origin. But it is not
clear what analyticalleverageon these phenomenacan be providedby
the exceptionallycapacious, flexible concept of identityhe proposes.
Highlighting"identity"in the title of the volume signals an openness
to the cultural turn in the social history and historical sociology of
citizenship;beyond this, it is not clear what work the concept does.
Justlywell-knownfor fashioningsharplyfocused,"hard-working" con-
cepts,Tillyhere faces the difficultythat confrontsmost social scientists
writing about identity today: that of devising a concept "soft"and
flexibleenough to satisfythe requirementsof relational,constructivist
social theory,yet robust enough to have purchaseon the phenomena
that cry out for explanation,some of whichare quite"hard."53

CraigCalhounuses the Chinesestudentmovementof 1989as a vehicle

for a subtle and illuminatingdiscussion of the concepts of identity,
interest,and collective action. Calhounexplainsstudents'readinessto
"knowinglyrisk death"in TiananmenSquareon the night of June 3,
1989in terms of an honor-boundidentityor sense of self, forgedin the
course of the movementitself, to which studentsbecame increasingly
and, in the end, irrevocablycommitted.His account of the shifts in the
students'lived sense of self duringthe weeks of their protest - as they
were drawn, in and through the dynamics of their struggle, from an
originally"positional,"class-basedself-understandingas studentsand
intellectualsto a broader,emotionallychargedidentificationwith na-
tional and even universalideals - is a compellingone. Here too, how-
ever,the crucialanalyticalwork appearsto be done by a concept other
than identity- in this case, that of honor. Honor, Calhounobserves,is
"imperativein a way interests are not." But it is also imperativein a
way identity,in the weak sense, is not. Calhounsubsumeshonor under
the rubricof identity,and presentshis argumentas a generalone about
the "constitutionand transformationof identity."Yet his fundamental
argumentin this article,it would seem, is not about identityin general,
but about the way in which a compellingsense of honor can, in extra-
ordinarycircumstances,lead peopleto undertakeextraordinaryactions,
lest theircore sense of self be radicallyundermined.54

Identityin this exceptionallystrong sense - as a sense of self that can

imperativelyrequireinterest-threatening or even life-threateningaction
- has little to do with identity in the weak or soft sense. Calhoun
himselfunderscoresthe incommensurability between"ordinaryidentity
- self-conceptions,the way people reconcileinterestsin everydaylife"
and the imperative,honor-drivensense of self that can enable or even
require people to be "braveto the point of apparentfoolishness."55
Calhoun provides a powerful characterizationof the latter; but it is
not clear what analytical work is done by the former, more general
conception of identity.

In his edited volume on Social Theory and the Politics of Identity,

Calhoun works with this more general understanding of identity.
"Concernswith individualand collective identity,"he observes,"are
ubiquitous."It is certainly true that "[we]know of no people without
names, no languagesor culturesin which some mannerof distinctions
betweenself and other,we and they are not made."56But it is not clear
why this implies the ubiquityof identity,unless we dilute "identity"to
the point of designatingall practicesinvolvingnaming and self-other

distinctions. Calhoun - like Somers and Tilly - goes on to make

illuminating arguments on a range of issues concerning claims of
commonality and differencein contemporarysocial movements.Yet
while such claims are indeed often framedtoday in an idiom of "iden-
tity,"it is not clear that adoptingthat idiom for analyticalpurposesis
necessaryor even helpful.

In other words

What alternativeterms might stand in for "identity,"doing the theo-

retical work "identity"is supposed to do without its confusing, con-
tradictoryconnotations?Given the great range and heterogeneityof
the work done by "identity,"it would be fruitlessto look for a single
substitute,for such a term would be as overburdenedas "identity"
itself. Our strategy has been rather to unbundle the thick tangle of
meanings that have accumulatedaround the term "identity,"and to
parcel out the work to a number of less congested terms.We sketch
threeclustersof termshere.

Identification and categorization

As a processual,activeterm, derivedfroma verb,"identification"lacks

the reifying connotations of "identity."57It invites us to specify the
agents that do the identifying.And it does not presupposethat such
identifying(evenby powerfulagents,such as the state) will necessarily
resultin the internalsameness,the distinctiveness,the boundedgroup-
ness that political entrepreneursmay seek to achieve. Identification-
of oneself and of others - is intrinsic to social life; "identity"in the
strongsense is not.

One may be called upon to identifyoneself - to characterizeoneself, to

locate oneself vis-a-vis known others, to situateoneself in a narrative,
to place oneself in a category - in any numberof differentcontexts.
In modern settings, which multiply interactionswith others not per-
sonallyknown, such occasions for identificationare particularlyabun-
dant. They include innumerablesituations of everydaylife as well as
more formal and official contexts. How one identifies oneself - and
how one is identifiedby others - may vary greatly from context to
context; self- and other-identificationare fundamentallysituational
and contextual.

One key distinction is between relational and categorical modes of

identification.One may identify oneself (or another person) by posi-
tion in a relationalweb (a web of kinship,for example,or of friendship,
patron-clientties, or teacher-studentrelations).On the otherhand, one
may identifyoneself (or another person) by membershipin a class of
persons sharing some categorical attribute (such as race, ethnicity,
language, nationality, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
Craig Calhoun has argued that, while relationalmodes of identifica-
tion remainimportantin many contextseven today,categoricalidenti-
ficationhas assumedever greaterimportancein modern settings.58

Anotherbasic distinctionis betweenself-identificationand the identifi-

cation and categorizationof oneselfby others.59Self-identification
place in dialecticalinterplaywith externalidentification,and the two
need not converge.60Externalidentificationis itself a variedprocess.In
the ordinaryebb and flow of social life, people identifyand categorize
others, just as they identify and categorize themselves. But there is
anotherkey type of externalidentificationthat has no counterpartin the
domain of self-identification:the formalized,codified, objectifiedsys-
tems of categorizationdevelopedby powerful,authoritativeinstitutions.

The modern state has been one of the most important agents of
identification and categorization in this latter sense. In culturalist
extensions of the Weberian sociology of the state, notably those
influencedby Bourdieuand Foucault,the state monopolizes, or seeks
to monopolize, not only legitimate physical force but also legitimate
symbolic force, as Bourdieuputs it. This includes the power to name,
to identify,to categorize,to state what is what and who is who.Thereis
a burgeoning sociological and historical literatureon such subjects.
Some scholars have looked at "identification"quite literally: as the
attachmentof definitivemarkersto an individualvia passport, finger-
print, photograph,and signature,and the amassingof such identifying
documentsin state repositories.When, why,and with what limitations
such systemshavebeen developedturnsout to be no simpleproblem.61
Other scholars emphasize the modern state's efforts to inscribe its
subjectsonto a classificatorygrid: to identifyand categorizepeople in
relation to gender, religion, property-ownership,ethnicity, literacy,
criminality,or sanity.Censuses apportionpeople across these catego-
ries, and institutions- from schools to prisons - sort out individualsin
relation to them. To Foucauldiansin particular,these individualizing
and aggregatingmodes of identificationand classificationare at the
core of what defines"governmentality" in a modern state.62

The state is thus a powerful "identifier,"not because it can create

"identities"in the strong sense - in general,it cannot - but because it
has the material and symbolic resources to impose the categories,
classificatoryschemes, and modes of social counting and accounting
with which bureaucrats,judges, teachers,and doctors must work and
to which non-state actors must refer.63But the state is not the only
"identifier"that matters. As CharlesTilly has shown, categorization
does crucial "organizationalwork" in all kinds of social settings, in-
cluding families, firms, schools, social movements,and bureaucracies
of all kinds.64Even the most powerfulstate does not monopolize the
productionand diffusion of identificationsand categories;and those
that it does producemay be contested.The literatureon social move-
ments - "old"as well as "new"- is rich in evidenceon how movement
leaderschallengeofficialidentificationsand proposealternativeones.65
It highlightsleaders'effortsto get membersof putativeconstituencies
to identifythemselvesin a certainway,to see themselves- for a certain
range of purposes - as "identical"with one another,to identifyemo-
tionallyas well as cognitivelywith one another.66

The social movementliteraturehas valuablyemphasizedthe interactive,

discursivelymediated processes through which collective solidarities
and self-understandingsdevelop. Our reservationsconcern the move
fromdiscussingthe workof identification- the effortsto build a collec-
tive self-understanding - to positing"identity"as theirnecessaryresult.
By consideringauthoritative,institutionalizedmodes of identification
togetherwith alternativemodesinvolvedin the practicesof everydaylife
and the projectsof social movements,one can emphasizethe hardwork
and long strugglesover identificationas well as the uncertainoutcomes
of such struggles.However,if the outcomeis alwayspresumedto be an
"identity"- howeverprovisional,fragmented,multiple,contested,and
fluid - one loses the capacityto make key distinctions.

"Identification,"we noted above, invites specification of the agents

that do the identifying.Yet identificationdoes not requirea specifiable
"identifier";it can be pervasiveand influentialwithout being accom-
plishedby discrete,specifiedpersons or institutions.Identificationcan
be carried more or less anonymouslyby discourses or public narra-
tives.67Although close analysisof such discoursesor narrativesmight
well focus on their instantiationsin particulardiscursiveor narrative
utterances,their force may dependnot on any particularinstantiation
but on their anonymous,unnoticedpermeationof our ways of think-
ing and talkingand makingsense of the social world.

There is one further meaning of "identification,"briefly alluded to

above, that is largely independent of the cognitive, characterizing,
classificatorymeanings discussed so far. This is the psychodynamic
meaning, derived originally from Freud.68While the classificatory
meanings involve identifying oneself (or someone else) as someone
who fits a certain description or belongs to a certain category, the
psychodynamicmeaning involvesidentifyingoneself emotionallywith
another person, category,or collectivity.Here again, "identification"
calls attentionto complex (and often ambivalent)processes,while the
term "identity,"designatinga conditionratherthan a process, implies
too easy a fit betweenthe individualand the social.

Self-understanding and social location

"Identification"and "categorization"are active, processualterms, de-

rived from verbs, and calling to mind particularacts of identification
and categorizationperformedby particularidentifiersand categorizers.
But we need other kinds of termsas well to do the variedworkdone by
"identity."Recall that one key use of "identity"is to conceptualizeand
explain action in a non-instrumental,non-mechanialmanner.In this
sense, the term suggestsways in which individualand collectiveaction
can be governed by particularisticunderstandingsof self and social
location rather than by putatively universal, structurallydetermined
interests."Self-understanding" is thereforethe second term we would
propose as an alternativeto "identity."It is a dispositionalterm that
designateswhat might be called "situatedsubjectivity":one's sense of
who one is, of one's social location, and of how (giventhe firsttwo) one
is preparedto act. As a dispositionalterm, it belongs to the realm of
what Pierre Bourdieu has called sens pratique, the practical sense - at
once cognitive and emotional - that persons have of themselvesand
their social world.69

The term "self-understanding," it is importantto emphasize,does not

imply a distinctivelymodern or Westernunderstandingof the "self"as
a homogeneous, bounded, unitary entity. A sense of who one is can
take many forms. The social processes throughwhich persons under-
stand and locate themselvesmay in some instancesinvolvethe psycho-
analyst'scouch and in others participationin spirit-possessioncults.70
In some settings,people may understandand experiencethemselvesin
termsof a grid of intersectingcategories;in others,in termsof a web of
connections of differentialproximityand intensity.Hence the impor-

tance of seeing self-understandingand social locatednessin relationto

each other, and of emphasizingthat both the bounded self and the
boundedgroupare culturallyspecificratherthan universalforms.

Like the term "identification,""self-understanding" lacks the reifying

connotations of "identity."Yet it is not restrictedto situationsof flux
and instability.Self-understandingsmay be variable across time and
acrosspersons,but they may be stable.Semantically,"identity"implies
samenessacrosstime or persons;hence the awkwardnessof continuing
to speak of "identity"while repudiatingthe implicationof sameness.
"Self-understanding," by contrast,has no privilegedsemanticconnec-
tion with samenessor difference.

Two closely relatedterms are "self-representation"and "self-identifica-

tion."Havingdiscussed"identification"above, we simplyobservehere
that, while the distinction is not sharp,"self-understandings" may be
tacit; evenwhen they are formed,as they ordinarilyare, in and through
prevailing discourses, they may exist, and inform action, without
themselves being discursively articulated."Self-representation"and
on the otherhand, suggestat least some degreeof
explicitdiscursive articulation.

"Self-understanding" cannot, of course,do all the workdone by "iden-

tity."We note here threelimitationsof the term. First, it is a subjective,
auto-referentialterm. As such, it designatesone'sown understanding
of who one is. It cannot captureothers'understandings,even though
external categorizations,identifications,and representationsmay be
decisive in determininghow one is regardedand treated by others,
indeed in shaping one's own understandingof oneself. At the limit,
self-understandingsmay be overriddenby overwhelminglycoercive

Second,"self-understanding" would seem to privilegecognitiveaware-

ness. As a result, it would seem not to capture - or at least not to
highlight- the affectiveor cathecticprocessessuggestedby some uses
of "identity."Yet self-understandingis never purely cognitive; it is
alwaysaffectivelytingedor charged,and the termcan certainlyaccom-
modate this affectivedimension.However,it is true that the emotional
dynamicsare bettercapturedby the term"identification" (in its psycho-

Finally, as a term that emphasizes situated subjectivity,"self-under-

standing"does not capture the objectivityclaimed by strong under-
standingsof identity.Strong,objectivistconceptionsof identitypermit
one to distinguish"true"identity(characterizedas deep, abiding,and
objective) from "mere" self-understanding(superficial, fluctuating,
and subjective).If identity is something to be discovered,and some-
thing about which one can be mistaken, then one's momentaryself-
understandingmay not correspondto one's abiding, underlyingiden-
tity.Howeveranalyticallyproblematicthesenotionsof depth,constancy,
and objectivitymay be, they do at least providea reason for using the
languageof identityratherthan that of self-understanding.

Weakconceptions of identityprovideno such reason. It is clear from

the constructivistliteraturewhy weak understandingsof identity are
weak; but it is not clear why they are conceptions of identity.In this
literature,it is the varioussoftpredicatesof identity- constructedness,
contingency,instability,multiplicity,fluidity- that are emphasizedand
elaborated,while what they are predicatedof- identityitself - is taken
for granted and seldom explicated.When identity itself is elucidated,
it is often representedas something - a sense of who one is,72a self-
conception73- that can be capturedin a straightforwardway by "self-
understanding."This term lacks the allure, the buzz, the theoretical
pretensions of "identity,"but this should count as an asset, not a

Commonality, connectedness, groupness

One particularform of affectivelycharged self-understandingthat is

often designated by "identity"- especially in discussions of race,
religion, ethnicity,nationalism, gender, sexuality,social movements,
and other phenomenaconceptualizedas involvingcollectiveidentities
- deservesseparatemention here.This is the emotionallyladen sense
of belonging to a distinctive, bounded group, involving both a felt
solidarityor oneness with fellow group membersand a felt difference
from or even antipathyto specifiedoutsiders.

The problemis that "identity"is used to designateboth such strongly

groupist, exclusive,affectivelycharged self-understandingsand much
looser, more open self-understandings,involvingsome sense of affin-
ity or affiliation,commonalityor connectednessto particularothers,
but lacking a sense of overridingoneness vis-a-vis some constitutive

"other."74Both the tightly groupist and the more loosely affiliative

forms of self-understanding- as well as the transitionalformsbetween
these polar types - are important,but they shape personalexperience
and conditionsocial and politicalaction in sharplydifferingways.

Rather than stirring all self-understandingsbased on race, religion,

ethnicity,and so on into the greatconceptualmeltingpot of "identity,"
we would do better to use a more differentiatedanalyticallanguage.
Terms such as commonality,connectedness,and groupnesscould be
usefullyemployedherein place of the all-purpose"identity."This is the
thirdclusterof termswe propose."Commonality"denotes the sharing
of some common attribute,"connectedness"the relational ties that
link people. Neithercommonalitynor connectednessalone engenders
"groupness" - the sense of belongingto a distinctive,bounded,solidary
group. But commonalityand connectednesstogether may indeed do
so. This was the argumentCharlesTilly put forwardsome time ago,
building on Harrison White's idea of the "catnet,"a set of persons
comprisingboth a category,sharing some common attribute,and a
network.75Tilly's suggestion that groupnessis a joint product of the
"catness"and "netness"- categoricalcommonalityand relationalcon-
nectedness- is suggestive.But we would proposetwo emendations.

First, categoricalcommonalityand relationalconnectednessneed to

be supplementedby a thirdelement,what Max Webercalled a Zusam-
mengehorigkeitsgefihl,a feeling of belonging together.Such a feeling
may indeed depend in part on the degreesand forms of commonality
and connectedness,but it will also depend on other factors such as
particularevents, their encoding in compellingpublic narratives,pre-
vailingdiscursiveframes,and so on. Second, relationalconnectedness,
or what Tilly calls "netness,"while crucial in facilitatingthe sort of
collective action Tilly was interested in, is not always necessary for
"groupness." A stronglyboundedsense of groupnessmay rest on cate-
gorical commonalityand an associated feeling of belonging together
with minimalor no relationalconnectedness.This is typicallythe case
for large-scale collectivities such as "nations":when a diffuse self-
understandingas a memberof a particularnation crystallizesinto a
stronglybounded sense of groupness,this is likely to depend not on
relational connectedness, but rather on a powerfully imagined and
stronglyfelt commonality.76

The point is not, as some partisansof networktheory have suggested,

to turn from commonalityto connectedness,from categories to net-

works,from sharedattributesto social relations.77Nor is it to celebrate

fluidityand hybridityover belonging and solidarity.The point in sug-
gesting this last set of terms is ratherto develop an analytical idiom
sensitiveto the multiple forms and degrees of commonalityand con-
nectedness, and to the widely varying ways in which actors (and the
culturalidioms, public narratives,and prevailingdiscourseson which
they draw)attributemeaningand significanceto them.This will enable
us to distinguishinstancesof stronglybinding,vehementlyfelt groupness
from more loosely structured,weakly constrainingforms of affinity
and affiliation.

Three cases: "Identity"and its alternativesin context

Having surveyedthe work done by "identity,"indicated some limita-

tions and liabilitiesof the term, and suggesteda range of alternatives,
we seek now to illustrateour argument- both the criticalclaims about
"identity"and the constructivesuggestionsregardingalternativeidioms
- througha considerationof three cases. In each case, we suggest, the
identitarianfocus on boundedgroupnesslimits the sociological - and
the political - imagination, while alternative analytical idioms can
help open up both.

A case from Africanist anthropology: "The"Nuer

African studies has sufferedfrom its version of identitarianthinking,

most extremelyin journalisticaccountsthat see Africans'"tribaliden-
tity"as the main cause of violence and of the failureof the nation-state.
Academic Africanists have been troubled by this reductivevision of
Africa since at least the 1970sand attractedto a version of constructi-
vism, well before such an approachhad a name.78The argumentthat
ethnicgroupsare not primordialbut the productsof history- including
the reifyingof culturaldifferencethroughimposed colonial identifica-
tions - became a staple of African studies.Even so, scholarstendedto
emphasize boundary-formationrather than boundary crossing, the
constitution of groups ratherthan the developmentof networks.79In
this context, it is worth going back to a classic of African ethnology:
E. E. Evans-Pritchard's book TheNuer.80

Based on researchin NortheastAfrica in the 1930s,TheNuerdescribes

a distinctively relational mode of identification, self-understanding,

*-A *=A =A *=A

0-A 0-A A 0 A *-A -A

&= *
M=- =AA B

* Female / \
A Male

Figure 1. A segmentary patrilineage; lines represent descent; marriage partners come

from another lineage; children of daughters belong to the lineage of the husband and are
not shown; children of sons belong to this lineage and are represented here.

and social location, one that construesthe social world in terms of the
degreeand qualityof connectionamong people ratherthan in termsof
categories,groups,or boundaries.Social location is definedin the first
instance in terms of lineage, consisting of the descendants of one
ancestor reckoned through a socially conventional line: patrilineal,
via males in the case of Nuer, via females or more rarelyvia double
descentsystemsin otherpartsof Africa. Childrenbelong to the lineage
of their fathers,and while relationshipswith the mother'skin are not
ignored,they are not part of the descentsystem.A segmentarylineage
can be diagrammedas in Figure1.

Everybodyin this diagramis relatedto everybodyelse, but in different

ways and to differentdegrees. One might be tempted to say that the
people markedin circle A constitutea group,with an "identity"of A,
as distinct from those in circle B, with an "identity"of B. The trouble
with such an interpretationis that the very move that distinguishesA
and B also shows their relatedness,as one moves back one generation
and findsa common ancestor,who may or may not be livingbut whose
social location links people in A and B. If someone in set A gets into a
conflictwith someonein set B, such a person may well try to invokethe
commonalityof "A-ness"to mobilize people against B. But someone
genealogicallyolderthan these partiescan invokethe linkingancestors
to cool things off.The act of going deeperin a genealogicalchartin the
course of social interactionkeeps reemphasizingrelationalvisions of
social location at the expenseof categoricalones.

One could argue that this patrilineageas a whole constitutesan iden-

tity, distinct from other lineages. But Evans-Pritchard'spoint is that

segmentationrepresentsan entiresocial order,and that lineagesthem-

selves are relatedto one anotheras male and female lineage members
are to each other.Then let us consider marriage.Virtuallyall segmen-
tary societies insist on exogamy;and, in evolutionaryperspective,the
prevalence of exogamy may reflect the advantages of cross-lineage
connectedness.So the male-centeredlineagediagrampresumesanother
set of relationships,throughwomen who are born into the lineage of
their fathersbut whose sons and daughtersbelong to the lineage they

One could then arguethat all the lineagesthat intermarriedconstitute

the "Nuer"as an identity distinct from "Dinka"or any of the other
groups in the region. But here recent work in African history offersa
more nuancedapproach.The genealogicalconstructionof relationality
offers possibilities for extension more supple than the twentieth-cen-
tury scholar'stendencyto look for a neat boundarybetweeninside and
outside. Marriagerelationscould be extendedbeyond the Nuer (both
via reciprocalarrangementsand coercivelyby forcing captive women
into marriage).Strangers- encounteredvia trade,migration,or other
forms of movement - could be incorporatedas fictive kin or more
loosely linked to a patrilineagevia blood brotherhood.The people of
northeasternAfrica migratedextensively,as they tried to find better
ecological niches or as lineage segmentsmoved in and out of relations
with each other. Tradersstretchedtheir kinship relations over space,
formed a variety of relationshipsat the interfaces with agricultural
communities,and sometimes developed lingua franca to foster com-
munication across large spatial networks.81In many parts of Africa,
one finds certain organizations- religiousshrines,initiation societies
- that cross linguistic and cultural distinctions, offering what Paul
Richards calls a "common 'grammar"'of social experience within
regions, for all the culturalvariationand political differentiationthat
they contain.82

The problemwith subsumingthese forms of relationalconnectedness

underthe "socialconstructionof identity"is that linkingand separating
get called by the same name, making it harderto grasp the processes,
causes,and consequencesof differingpatternsof crystallizingdifference
and forgingconnections.Africa was far from a paradiseof sociability,
but war and peace both involvedflexiblepatternsof affiliationas well
as differentiation.

One shouldnot assumethat the principlesof a slidingscale of connec-

tion areuniqueto small-scale"tribal"society.Weknowfromthe studyof
larger-scalepolitical organizations - with authoritative rulers and
elaboratehierarchiesof command- that kinshipnetworksremainedan
importantprincipleof social life. Africankings assertedtheirauthority
by developingpatrimonialrelationswith people fromdifferentlineages,
creatinga core of support that cross cut lineage affiliations,but they
also used lineageprinciplesto consolidatetheirown power,cementing
marriage alliances and expandingthe size of the royal lineage.83In
almost all societies, kinship concepts are symbolic and ideological
resources,yet while they shapenorms,self-understandings, and percep-
tions of affinity,they do not necessarilyproducekinship"groups." 84

To a greater extent than the forms of domination that preceded it,

colonial rule attempted a one-to-one mapping of people with some
putativelycommon characteristiconto territory.These imposed iden-
tificationscould be powerful,but their effectsdependedon the actual
relationshipsand symbolic systems that colonial officials - and in-
digenous culturalentrepreneursas well - had to work with, and on
countervailingefforts of others to maintain, develop, and articulate
differentsorts of affinitiesand self-understandings.The colonial era
did indeedwitnesscomplexstrugglesover identification,but it flattens
our understandingof these strugglesto see them as producing"identi-
ties."People could live with shadings- and continuedto do so day-by-
day even when politicallines were drawn.

SharonHutchinson'sremarkablereanalysisof Evans-Pritchard's "tribe"

takes such an argumentinto a contemporary,conflict-riddensituation.
Her aim is "to call into questionthe very idea of 'the Nuer'as a unified
ethnic identity."85She points to the fuzziness of the boundaries of
people now called Nuer: cultureand history do not follow such lines.
And she suggests that Evans-Pritchard'ssegmentaryschema gives ex-
cessive attention to the dominant male elders of the 1930s, and not
enough to women, men in less powerfullineages, or youngermen and
women. In this analysis,it not only becomes difficultto see Nuerness
as an identity,but imperativeto examine with precision how people
triedboth to extendand to consolidateconnections.Bringingthe story
up to the era of civil warin the southernSudanin the 1990s,Hutchinson
refusesto reducethe conflict to one of culturalor religiousdifference
between the warringparties and insists instead on a deep analysis of
political relationships,struggles for economic resources,and spatial

In much of modern Africa, indeed, some of the most bitter conflicts

have taken place within collectivities that are relativelyuniform cul-
turallyand linguistically(Rwanda, Somalia) and between loose eco-
nomic and social networksbased more on patron-clientrelationsthan
ethnic affiliation(Angola, SierraLeone), as well as in situationswhere
culturaldistinctionhas been made into a political weapon (Kwa Zulu
in South Africa).86To explainpresentor past conflict in terms of how
people construct and fight for their "identities"risks providinga pre-
fabricated, presentist, teleological explanation that diverts attention
from questionssuch as those addressedby Hutchinson.

East European nationalism

We have arguedthat the languageof identity,with its connotations of

boundedness,groupness,and sameness, is conspicuouslyill suited to
the analysis of segmentarylineage societies - or of present-daycon-
flicts in Africa. One might accept this point yet arguethat identitarian
languageis well suitedto the analysisof other social settings,including
our own, wherepublicand private"identitytalk"is widelycurrent.But
we are not arguingonly that the concept of identitydoes not "travel"
well, that it cannot be universallyappliedto all social settings.Wewant
to make a strongerargument:that "identity"is neither necessarynor
helpful as a category of analysis even where it is widely used as a
category of practice.To this end, we briefly consider East European
nationalismand identitypolitics in the United States.

Historical and social scientific writing on nationalism in Eastern

Europe - to a much greaterextent than writing on social movements
or ethnicity in North America - has been characterizedby relatively
strong or hard understandingsof group identity.Many commentators
have seen the post-communistresurgenceof ethnic nationalismin the
regionas springingfrom robustand deeplyrootednationalidentities-
from identities strong and resilient enough to have surviveddecades
of repressionby ruthlesslyantinationalcommunist regimes. But this
"return-of-the-repressed"view is problematic.87

Considerthe formerSoviet Union.To see nationalconflictsas struggles

to validateand expressidentitiesthathad somehowsurvivedthe regime's
attemptsto crush them is unwarranted.Although antinationalist,and
of coursebrutallyrepressivein all kinds of ways, the Soviet regimewas
anything but anti-national.88 Far from ruthlessly suppressing nation-

hood, the regime went to unprecedentedlengths in institutionalizing

and codifying it. It carved up Soviet territory into more than fifty
putativelyautonomous national "homelands,"each "belonging"to a
particularethnonationalgroup;and it assigned each citizen an ethnic
"nationality,"which was ascribed at birth on the basis of descent,
registeredin personal identity documents, recorded in bureaucratic
encounters,and used to controlaccess to highereducationand employ-
ment. In doing so, the regimewas not simplyrecognizingor ratifyinga
pre-existingstate of affairs;it was newlyconstitutingboth persons and
places as national.89In this context, strongunderstandingsof national
identityas deeply rooted in the pre-communisthistory of the region,
frozen or repressedby a ruthlesslyantinationalregime,and returning
with the collapse of communism are at best anachronistic,at worst
simplyscholarlyrationalizationsof nationalistrhetoric.

What about weak, constructivist understandingsof identity? Con-

structivists might concede the importance of the Soviet system of
institutionalizedmultinationality,and interpretthis as the institutional
means through which national identities were constructed. But why
shouldwe assumeit is "identity"that is constructedin this fashion?To
assumethat it is risksconflatinga systemof identificationor categoriza-
tionwith its presumedresult,identity.Categoricalgroupdenominations
- howeverauthoritative,howeverpervasivelyinstitutionalized- cannot
serveas indicatorsof real "groups"or robust"identities."

Considerfor example the case of "Russians"in Ukraine. At the time

of the 1989 census, some 11.4million residentsof Ukraine identified
their "nationality"as Russian. But the precision suggested by this
census datum,even when roundedto the nearesthundredthousand,is
entirelyspurious.The very categories"Russian"and "Ukrainian,"as
designators of putativelydistinct ethnoculturalnationalities, or dis-
tinct "identities,"are deeply problematicin the Ukrainian context,
where rates of intermarriagehave been high, and where millions of
nominal Ukrainiansspeak only or primarilyRussian. One should be
skepticalof the illusion of "identity"or boundedgroupnesscreatedby
the census, with its exhaustiveand mutuallyexclusivecategories.One
can imaginecircumstancesin which"groupness"might emergeamong
nominal Russiansin Ukraine, but such groupnesscannot be taken as

The formalinstitutionalizationand codificationof ethnic and national

categoriesimpliesnothingaboutthe depth,resonance,orpowerof such

categories in the lived experience of the persons so categorized. A

strongly institutionalizedethnonational classificatory system makes
certaincategoriesreadilyand legitimatelyavailablefor the representa-
tion of social reality,the framingof politicalclaims, and the organiza-
tion of political action.This is itself a fact of greatsignificance,and the
breakupof the Soviet Union cannot be understoodwithout reference
to it. But it does not entail that these categorieswill have a significant
role in framing perception, orienting action, or shaping self-under-
standingin everydaylife - a role that is impliedby even constructivist
accountsof "identity."

The extentto which officialcategorizationsshape self-understandings,

the extent to which the population-categoriesconstitutedby states or
political entrepreneursapproximatereal "groups"- these are open
questions that can only be addressed empirically.The language of
"identity"is more likely to hinder than to help the posing of such
questions, for it blurs what needs to be kept distinct:externalcatego-
rization and self-understanding,objectivecommonalityand subjective

Considerone final, non-Soviet example.The boundarybetween Hun-

garians and Romaniansin Transylvaniais certainlysharperthan that
between Russians and Ukrainians in Ukraine. Here too, however,
group boundariesare considerablymore porous and ambiguousthan
is widely assumed.The language of both politics and everydaylife, to
be sure,is rigorouslycategorical,dividingthe populationinto mutually
exclusiveethnonationalcategories,and makingno allowancefor mixed
or ambiguousforms. But this categoricalcode, importantthough it is
as a constituentelementof social relations, should not be taken for a
faithful descriptionof them. Reinforcedby identitarianentrepreneurs
on both sides, the categoricalcode obscuresas much as it revealsabout
self-understandings, maskingthe fluidityand ambiguitythat arise from
mixed marriages,from bilingualism,from migration,from Hungarian
childrenattendingRomanian-languageschools, from intergenerational
assimilation(in both directions),and - perhapsmost important- from
sheerindifferenceto the claims of ethnoculturalnationality.

Even in its constructivistguise, the languageof "identity"disposes us

to think in terms of bounded groupness.It does so because even con-
structivist thinking on identity takes the existence of identity as axio-
matic. Identityis alwaysalready"there,"as somethingthat individuals
and groups"have,"even if the content of particularidentities,and the

boundariesthat markgroupsoff from one another,are conceptualized

as always in flux. Even constructivistlanguagetends thereforeto ob-
jectify "identity,"to treat it as a "thing,"albeit a malleable one, that
people "have,""forge,"and "construct."

This tendencyto objectify"identity"deprivesus of analyticalleverage.

It makes it more difficultfor us to treat "groupness"and "bounded-
ness" as emergentpropertiesof particularstructuralor conjunctural
settings ratherthan as always alreadythere in some form. The point
needs to be emphasizedtoday more than ever, for the unreflectively
groupist language that prevails in everydaylife, journalism, politics,
and much social research as well - the habit of speaking without
qualificationof "Albanians"and "Serbs,"for example,as if they were
sharplybounded,internallyhomogeneous"groups"- not only weakens
social analysisbut constrictspoliticalpossibilitiesin the region.

Identity claims and the enduring dilemmas of "race"in the United States

The languageof identityhas been particularlypowerfulin the United

States in recent decades. It has been prominentboth as an idiom of
analysisin the social sciencesand humanitiesand as an idiom in which
to articulateexperience,mobilize loyalty,and formulatesymbolicand
materialclaims in everydaysocial and politicalpractice.

The pathos and resonance of identity claims in the contemporary

United Stateshave many sources,but one of the most profoundis that
central problem of American history - the importation of enslaved
Africans,the persistenceof racialoppression,and the rangeof African-
Americanresponsesto it. The African-Americanexperienceof "race"
as both imposedcategorizationand self-identificationhas been impor-
tant not only in its own terms,but from the late 1960son as a template
for identity claims of all sorts, including those based on gender and
sexualorientationas well as those based on "ethnicity"or "race."91

In response to the cascading identitarian claims of the last three

decades, public discourse, political argument, and scholarship in
nearly every field of the social sciences and humanities have been
transformed.There is much that is valuable in this process. History
textbooksand prevailingpublicnarrativestell a much richerand more
inclusive story than those of a generation ago. Specious forms of
universalism- the Marxistcategoryof "worker"who alwaysappears

in the guise of a male, the liberalcategoryof "citizen"who turns out to

be white- havebeenpowerfullyexposed."First-generation" identitarian
claims themselves - and scholarly literatures informed by them - have
been criticizedfor theirblindnessto cross-cuttingparticularities:Afri-
can-Americanmovements for acting as if African-Americanwomen
did not have gender-specificconcerns, feministsfor focusingon white,

Constructivistargumentshave had a particularinfluence in Ameri-

canist circles,allowingscholarsto stressthe contemporaryimportance
of imposed identifications and the self-understandingsthat have
evolvedin dialecticalinterplaywith them, while emphasizingthat such
self- and other-identified"groups"are not primordialbut historically
produced.The treatmentof race in the historiographyof the United
States is an excellentexample.92Even before"socialconstruction"be-
came a buzz-word,scholarswere showing that far from being a given
dimensionof America'spast, race as a political categoryoriginatedin
the same moment as America's republican and populist impulses.
Edmund Morgan argued that in early eighteenth-centuryVirginia,
white indentured servants and black slaves shared a subordination
that was not sharply differentiated;they sometimes acted together.
It was when Virginian planter elites started to mobilize against the
Britishthat they needed to drawa sharpboundarybetweenthe politi-
cally included and the excluded, and the fact that black slaves were
more numerous and replaceable as laborers and less plausible as
political supportersled to a markingof distinction,which poor whites
could in turn use to make claims.93From such an opening, historians
have chartedseveralkey moments of redefinitionof racial boundaries
in the United States - and severalpoints at which other sorts of ties
showed the possibilityof giving rise to other kinds of political affilia-
tion. Whiteness and blacknesswere both historicallycreated and his-
shown that the constructionof race can take still more varied forms,
showing that many people who were "black"under North American
classificatorysystemswould havebeen somethingelse in otherparts of
the Americas.94

Americanhistory thus revealsthe powerof imposedidentification,but

it also reveals the complexity of the self-understandingsof people
definedby circumstancesthey did not control.Pre-CivilWarcollective
self-definitionssituatedblack Americans in particularways in regard
to Africa - often seeing an African (or an "Ethiopian")origin as

placingthem close to the heartlandsof Christiancivilization.Yet early

back-to-Africamovements often treated Africa as a cultural tabula
rasa or as a fallen civilization to be redeemedby African-American
Christians.95Assertingoneself as a diasporic"people"did not neces-
sarily imply claiming culturalcommonality - the two concepts have
been in tension with each other ever since. One can write the history
of African-Americanself-understandingas the "rise"over time of a
black nationality,or one can explore the interplayof such a sense of
collectivitywith the effortsof African-Americanactiviststo articulate
differentkinds of political ideologies and to develop connectionswith
other radicals.The most importantpoint is to consider the range of
possibilitiesand the seriousnesswith whichthey weredebated.

It is not the historical analysis of social construction as such that is

problematic,but the presumptionsabout what it is that is constructed.
It is "whiteness"or "race"that is taken as the typical object of con-
struction,not other, looser forms of affinityand commonality.Setting
out to write about "identifications"as they emerge, crystallize, and
fade away in particularsocial and political circumstancesmay well
inspirea ratherdifferenthistory than setting out to write of an "iden-
tity,"whichlinks past, present,and futurein a single word.

Cosmopolitaninterpretationsof Americanhistoryhave been criticized

for taking the pain out of the distinct ways in which that history has
been experienced:above all the pain of enslavementand discrimina-
tion, and of struggleagainstenslavementand discrimination,a history
that marks African Americans in ways that white Americans do not
share.96Here is where calls for the understandingof the particularity
of experienceresonatepowerfully,but it is also here that the dangers
of flatteningthose histories into a static and singular "identity"are
serious.There may be gains as well as losses in such a flattening,as
thoughtfulparticipantsin debates over the politics of race have made
clear.97But to subsumefurtherunder the generic category of "iden-
tity" the historical experiences and allegedly common "cultures"of
other "groups"as disparateas women and the elderly,Native Ameri-
cans and gay men, poor people and the disabledis not in any obvious
way more respectfulof the pain of particularhistories than are the
universalistrhetoricsof justice or human rights. And the assignment
of individuals to such "identities"leaves many people - who have
experienced the uneven trajectories of ancestry and the variety of
innovationsand adaptationsthat constituteculture- caught between
a hard identity that doesn't quite fit and a soft rhetoric of hybridity,

multiplicity,and fluiditythat offersneitherunderstandingnor solace.98

The questionremainswhetherwe can addressthe complexityof history
- includingthe changingways in which externalcategorizationshave
both stigmatizedand humiliatedpeople and given them an enabling
and empowering sense of collective selfhood - in more supple and
differentiatedlanguage.If the real contributionof constructivistsocial
analysis - that affinities, categories, and subjectivitiesdevelop and
change over time - is to be taken seriously, and not reduced to a
presentist,teleological account of the construction of currentlyexist-
ing "groups,"then bounded groupnessmust be understoodas a con-
tingent,emergentproperty,not an axiomaticgiven.

RepresentingcontemporaryAmericansociety poses a similarproblem

- avoidingflat, reductiveaccountsof the social worldas a multichrome
mosaic of monochromeidentitygroups.This conceptuallyimpoverished
identitariansociology,in whichthe "intersection" of race,class, gender,
sexualorientation,and perhapsone or two othercategoriesgeneratesa
set of all-purposeconceptualboxes, has become powerfulin American
academiain the 1990s- not only in the social sciences,culturalstudies,
and ethnic studies, but also in literatureand political philosophy.In
the remainderof this section, we shift our angle of vision and consider
the implicationsof the use of this identitariansociology in the latter

"Amoralphilosophy,"wroteAlisdairMacIntyre,"presupposesa sociol-
ogy";99 the same holds afortiori of political theory. The problem with
much contemporarypolitical theory is that it is built on questionable
sociology - indeed preciselyon the group-centeredrepresentationof
the social world just mentioned.We are not taking the side of "uni-
versality"against "particularity"here. Rather, we are suggestingthat
the identitarianlanguage and groupist social ontology that informs
much contemporarypolitical theory occludes the problematicnature
of "groupness"itself and forecloses other ways of conceptualizing
particularaffiliationsand affinities.

There is a considerableliteraturenow that is critical of the idea of

universalcitizenship.Iris MarionYoung,one of the most influentialof
such critics, proposes instead an ideal of group-differentiatedcitizen-
ship, built on group representationand group rights.The notion of an
"impartial general perspective,"she argues, "is a myth." Different
social groupshave differentneeds, cultures,histories,experiences,and
perceptions of social relations."Citizenshipshould not seek to tran-

scend such differences,but shouldrecognizeand acknowledgethem as


What sort of differencesshould be ratifiedwith special representation

and rights?The differencesin question are those associatedwith "so-
cial groups,"definedas "comprehensiveidentitiesand waysof life,"and
distinguishedfrom mere aggregateson the one hand - arbitraryclas-
sificationsof persons accordingto some attribute- and from volun-
tary associationson the other.Specialrightsand representationwould
be accordednot to all social groups, but to those who sufferfrom at
least one of five forms of oppression. In contemporaryAmerican
society, this means "women, blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos,
Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-speakingAmericans,Asian Ameri-
cans, gay men, lesbians, working-classpeople, old people, and men-
tally and physicallydisabledpeople."101

What constitutes the "groupness"of these "groups?"What makes

them groupsratherthan categoriesaroundwhich self- and other-iden-
tificationsmay but certainlydo not necessarilyor always crystallize?
This is not addressedby Young.She assumesthat distinctivehistories,
experiences,and social location endow these "groups"with different
"capacities,needs, culture, and cognitive styles"and with "distinctive
understandingsof all aspects of the societyand uniqueperspectiveson
social issues."102 Social and culturalheterogeneityis construedhere as
a juxtapositionof internallyhomogeneous,externallybounded blocs.
The "principlesof unity" that Young repudiates at the level of the
polity as a whole - becausethey "hidedifference"- are reintroduced,
and continueto hide difference,at the level of the constituent"groups."

At stake in argumentsabout group-differentiatedor "multicultural"

citizenshipare importantissues that havebeen long debatedoutsideas
well as inside the academy,all havingto do in one way or anotherwith
the relative weight and merits of universalist and particularist
claims.103Sociological analysiscannot and should not seek to resolve
this robust debate, but it can seek to shore up its often shaky socio-
logical foundations.It can offera richervocabularyfor conceptualiz-
ing social and culturalheterogeneityand particularity.Movingbeyond
identitarianlanguageopens up possibilitiesfor specifyingother kinds
of connectedness,other idioms of identification,other styles of self-
understanding,other ways of reckoningsocial location.To paraphrase
what Adam Przeworskysaid long ago aboutclass, culturalstruggleis a
struggle about culturebefore it is a struggle among cultures.'04Acti-

vists of identitypolitics deploy the languageof boundedgroupnessnot

because it reflects social reality, but precisely because groupness is
ambiguousand contested.Their groupistrhetorichas a performative,
constitutivedimension,contributing,whenit is successful,to the making
of the groupsit invokes.105

Here we have a gap betweennormativeargumentsand activist idioms

that take bounded groupness as axiomatic and historical and socio-
logical analyses that emphasize contingency,fluidity,and variability.
At one level thereis a real-lifedilemma:preservingculturaldistinctive-
ness depends at least in part on maintainingbounded groupnessand
hence on policing the "exitoption,"and accusationsof "passing"and
of betrayingone's roots serve as modes of discipline.106 Criticsof such
policing, however, would argue that a liberal polity should protect
individualsfrom the oppressivenessof social groups as well as that of
the state. At the level of social analysis,though, the dilemma is not a
necessaryone. We are not faced with a starkchoice between a univer-
salist, individualistanalyticalidiom and an identitarian,groupistidiom.
Framingthe options in this way misses the varietyof forms (otherthan
bounded groups) that affinity,commonality,and connectedness can
take - hence our emphasis on the need for a more supplevocabulary.
We are not arguing for any specific stance on the politics of cultural
distinctionand individualchoice, but ratherfor a vocabularyof social
analysis that helps open up and illuminatethe range of options. The
politics of group "coalition"that is celebratedby Young and others,
for example, certainly has its place, but the groupist sociology that
underliesthis particularform of coalition politics - with its assump-
tion that bounded groups are the basic building blocks of political
alliances - constrictsthe political imagination.107

None of this belies the importanceof currentdebatesover "universal-

istic" and "particularistic"conceptions of social justice. Our point is
that the identitarianfocus on bounded groupness does not help in
posing these questions;the debate is in some respects based on mis-
conceptions on both sides. We need not in fact choose between an
American history flattened into the experiences and "cultures"of
bounded groups and one equally flattened into a single "national"
story. Reducing the heterogeneityof American society and history to
a multichromemosaic of monochromeidentitygroups hinders rather
than helps the work of understandingthe past and pursuing social
justice in the present.

Conclusion:Particularityand the politics of "identity"

We have not made an argumentabout identity politics. Nonetheless,

the argumentdoes havepoliticalas well as intellectualimplications.In
some circles, these will be thought to be regressive,to underminethe
basis for making particularisticclaims. That is neither our intention
nor a valid inferencefromwhat we havewritten.

To persuadepeople that they are one; that they comprise a bounded,

distinctive,solidarygroup;that theirinternaldifferencesdo not matter,
at least for the purpose at hand - this is a normal and necessarypart
of politics, and not only of what is ordinarilycharacterizedas "identity
politics."It is not all of politics; and we do indeed have reservations
about the way in which the routine recourse to identitarianframing
may foreclose other equally important ways of framing political
claims.But we do not seekto depriveanyoneof "identity"as a political
tool, or to underminethe legitimacy of making political appeals in

Our argumenthas focused, rather,on the use of "identity"as an ana-

lyticalconcept. Throughoutthe article, we have asked what work the
concept is supposedto do, and how well it does it. We have arguedthat
the concept is deployedto do a greatdeal of analyticalwork - much of
it legitimateand important."Identity,"however,is ill suitedto perform
this work, for it is riddled with ambiguity,riven with contradictory
meanings, and encumberedby reifyingconnotations. Qualifyingthe
noun with strings of adjectives- specifying that identity is multiple,
fluid, constantlyre-negotiated,and so on - does not solve the Orwel-
lian problem of entrapmentin a word. It yields little more than a
suggestiveoxymoron- a multiplesingularity,a fluid crystallization-
but still begs the question of why one should use the same term to
designate all this and more. Alternative analytical idioms, we have
argued,can do the necessaryworkwithoutthe attendantconfusion.

At issue here is not the legitimacy or importance of particularistic

claims, but how best to conceptualizethem. People everywhereand
always have particularties, self-understandings,stories, trajectories,
histories, predicaments.And these inform the sorts of claims they
make. To subsume such pervasiveparticularityunder the flat, undif-
ferentiatedrubricof "identity,"however,does nearlyas muchviolence
to its unrulyand multifariousforms as would an attemptto subsumeit
under"universalist"categoriessuch as "interest."

Construing particularityin identitarianterms, moreover, constricts

the political as well as the analyticalimagination.It points away from
a range of possibilitiesfor political action other than those rooted in
putatively shared identity - and not only those that are praised or
damnedas "universalist." Identitarianpoliticaladvocates,for example,
construe political cooperation in terms of the building of coalitions
betweenboundedidentitygroups.This is one mode of politicalcoopera-
tion, but not the only one.

KathrynSikkinkand MargaretKeck, for example,have drawnatten-

tion to the importance of "transnationalissue networks,"from the
antislaverymovementof the early nineteenthcenturyto international
campaignsabout human rights, ecology, and women'srights in recent
years. Such networksnecessarilycross culturalas well as state boun-
daries and link particularplaces and particularisticclaims to wider
concerns. To take one instance, the antiapartheidmovementbrought
togetherSouthAfricanpoliticalorganizationsthat werethemselvesfar
from united - some sharing "universalist"ideologies, some calling
themselves"Africanist,"some assertinga quitelocal, culturallydefined
"identity"- with internationalchurchgroups,labor unions, pan-Afri-
can movementsfor racial solidarity,human rights groups, and so on.
Particulargroupsmoved in and out of cooperativearrangementswith-
in an overallnetwork;conflict among opponentsof the apartheidstate
was sometimesbitter,even deadly.As the actorsin the networkshifted,
the issues at stake were reframed.At certain moments, for example,
issues amenableto internationalmobilizationwere highlighted,while
others - of greatconcernto some would-beparticipants- weremargi-

Our point is not to celebrate such networks over more exclusively

identitariansocial movements or group-basedclaims. Networks are
no more intrinsically virtuous than identitarian movements and
groups are intrinsicallysuspect. Politics - in SouthernAfrica or else-
where - is hardly a confrontationof good universalistsor good net-
works versus bad tribalists. Much havoc has been done by flexible
networks built on clientage and focused on pillage and smuggling;
such networks have sometimes been linked to "principled"political
organizations;and they have often been connected to arms and illegal
merchandisebrokers in Europe, Asia, and North America. Multi-
fariousparticularitiesare in play,and one needs to distinguishbetween
situations where they cohere around particularcultural symbols and
situations where they are flexible, pragmatic, readily extendable. It

does not contributeto precisionof analysisto use the same words for
the extremesof reificationand fluidity,and everythingin between.

To criticize the use of "identity"in social analysis is not to blind

ourselves to particularity.It is rather to conceive of the claims and
possibilitiesthat arise from particularaffinitiesand affiliations,from
particularcommonalitiesand connections,fromparticularstories and
self-understandings,from particularproblemsand predicamentsin a
more differentiatedmanner.Social analysishas become massively,and
durably,sensitizedto particularityin recentdecades;and the literature
on identityhas contributedvaluablyto this enterprise.It is time now to
go beyond "identity"- not in the name of an imagineduniversalism,
but in the name of the conceptual clarity requiredfor social analysis
and politicalunderstandingalike.


Our thanks to Zsuzsa Berend, John Bowen, Jane Burbank, Margit

Feischmidt,Jon Fox, MaraLoveman,JitkaMaleckovta, PeterStamatov,
Loic Wacquant,RogerWaldinger,and the Theoryand Society Editors
for valuable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.Thanks as
well to the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences,
wherethis articlewas conceivedduringa lunchtimeconversation,and
to participantsin the Sociology Department Colloquium at UCLA
and in the ComparativeStudyof Social Transformationfaculty semi-
nar at the Universityof Michigan,whereearlierversions of the article
were presented.And a final word of thanks to our graduatestudents,
who have put up in good spirit - but not necessarilyin agreement-
with our queryingtheiruse of a seeminglyindispensableconcept.


1. From "Politics and the English Language," in George Orwell, A Collection of

Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1953), 169-170.
2. For a tempered critique of identity politics, see Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of
Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars (New York: Henry
Holt, 1995), and for a sophisticated defense, Robin D.G. Kelley, Yo' Mama's
Disfunktional!. Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Boston: Beacon,
1997). For a suggestion that the high noon of identity politics may have passed,
see Ross Posnock, "Before and After Identity Politics," Raritan 15 (Summer 1995):
95-115; and David A. Hollinger, "Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the United

States," in Noah Pickus, editor, Immigration and Citizenship in the Twenty-first

Century(Lanham,MD: RowmanLittlefield,1998).
3. Avrum Stroll, "Identity,"Encyclopediaof Philosophy(New York: MacMillan,
1967), Vol. IV, p. 121-124. For a contemporaryphilosophical treatment, see
Bartholomaeus Boehm, Identitaet und Identifikation: Zur Persistenz physikalischer
Gegenstaende (Frankfurth/Main: PeterLang,1989).On the historyandvicissitudes
of "identity"and cognate terms, see W.J.M. Mackenzie,PoliticalIdentity(New
York:St. Martin's1978),19-27, and John D. Ely,"Communityand the Politicsof
Identity:Towardthe Genealogyof a Nation-StateConcept,"StanfordHumanities
Review 5/2 (1997), 76ff.
4. See PhilipGleason,"IdentifyingIdentity:A SemanticHistory,"JournalofAmerican
History 69/4 (March 1983): 910-931. The 1930s Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences
(New York:Macmillan:1930-1935)containsno entryon identity,but it does have
one on "identification"- largely focused on fingerprintingand other modes of
judicial markingof individuals(ThorsteinSellin,Vol. 7, pp. 573-575).The 1968
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan),
contains an article on "identification,political" by William Buchanan(Vol. 7,
pp. 57-61), which focuses on a "person'sidentificationwith a group"- including
class, party,religion - and anotheron "identity,psychosocial,"by Erik Erikson
(ibid.,61-65), whichfocuseson the individual's"roleintegrationin his group."
5. Gleason, "IdentifyingIdentity,"914ff;for the appropriationof Erikson'swork in
politicalscience,see Mackenzie,PoliticalIdentity.
6. Gleason,"IdentifyingIdentity,"915-918.
7. Anselm Strauss, Mirrors and Masks. The Search for an Identity (Glencoe, Ill.: Free
8. Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Engle-
wood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,1963); Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann,
The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966); Peter
Berger,BrigitteBerger,and HansfriedKellner,The HomelessMind:Moderniza-
tionand Consciousness(New York:RandomHouse, 1973);PeterBerger,"Modern
Identity: Crisis and Continuity," in The Cultural Drama: Modern Identities and
Social Ferment,ed. Wilton S. Dillon (Washington:SmithsonianInstitutionPress,
9. As Philip Gleason has pointed out, the popularizationof the term began well
before the turbulenceof the mid- and late 1960s. Gleason attributesthis initial
popularizationto the mid-centuryprestigeand cognitive authorityof the social
sciences, the wartimeand postwar vogue of national characterstudies, and the
postwarcritiqueof mass society,which newly problematizedthe "relationshipof
the individualto society"("IdentifyingIdentity,"922ff).
10. Eriksoncharacterizedidentityas "a process'located'in the coreof the individual
and yet also in the core of his communal culture, a process which establishes ... the
identityof those two identities"(Identity.Youthand Crisis [New York:Norton,
1968],22, italics in the original).Althoughthis is a relativelylate formulation,the
link was alreadyestablishedin Erikson'simmediatelypostwarwritings.
11. See for exampleCraigCalhoun,"New Social Movementsof the EarlyNineteenth
Century," Social Science History 17/3 (1993): 385-427.
12. Mackenzie, Political Identity, 11, reporting a seminar paper of 1974; Coles is
quoted in Gleason, "IdentifyingIdentity,"913. Gleason notes that the problem
was remarkedeven earlier:"by the late 1960s the terminologicalsituation had
gotten completelyout of hand"(ibid., 915).Eriksonhimselflamentedthe "indis-

criminate"use of "identity"and "identitycrisis" in Identity. Youthand Crisis,

publishedin 1968(p. 16).
13. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Editors'Introduction:
MultiplyingIdentities,"in Identities,ed. Appiah and Gates (Chicago:University
of ChicagoPress,1995),1.
14. Between1990 and 1997alone, for example,the numberof journal articlesin the
CurrentContentsdatabasewith "identity"or "identities"in the title more than
doubled,while the total numberof articlesincreasedby about 20 percent.James
Fearonfounda similarincreasein the numberof dissertationabstractscontaining
"identity,"even after controllingfor the increasein the total numberof disserta-
tions abstracted.See "WhatIs Identity(As We Now Use theWord)?"unpublished
manuscript,Dept. of PoliticalScience,StanfordUniversity,p. 1.
15. One might also speakof a narrower"'identitycrisis'crisis."Coinedand popular-
ized by Erikson, and appliedto social and political collectivitiesby LucianPye
and others,the notion of "identitycrisis"took off in the 1960s.(For Erikson'sown
retrospectivereflectionson the origins and vicissitudesof the expression,see the
Prologueto Identity:Youthand Crisis,pp. 16ff.)Criseshavebecome (oxymoroni-
cally) chronic; and putative crises of identity have proliferatedto the point of
destroyingwhatevermeaningthe concept may once have had. Already in 1968,
Eriksoncould lamentthat the expressionwas being used in a "ritualized"fashion
(ibid.,p. 16).A recentbibliographicalsamplingrevealedthat "identitycrises"were
predicatednot only of the usual suspects - above all ethnic, racial, national,
gender,and sexual identities- but also of such heterogeneoussubjectsas fifth-
centuryGaul, the forestryprofession,histologists,the Frenchmedicalcorpsduring
the First WorldWar,the internet,the Sonowal Kacharis,technicaleducationin
India, early childhood special education, French hospital nurses, kindergarten
teachers,TV, sociology, Japan'sconsumergroups, the EuropeanSpace Agency,
Japan'sMITI, the NationalAssociationof Broadcasting,CathayPacificAirways,
Presbyterians, the CIA, universities,Clorox,Chevrolet,lawyers,the San Francisco
RedevelopmentAgency, black theology, eighteenth-centuryScottish literature,
and, our favorite,dermopterousfossils.
16. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, which appeared in 1994, "explores
the relationshipof racial, ethnic and national identities and power hierarchies
withinnationaland global arenas... [It]respondsto the paradoxof our time: the
growthof a globaleconomyand transnationalmovementsof populationsproduce
or perpetuatedistinctiveculturalpracticesand differentiatedidentities"(State-
ment of "aimsand scope"printedon insidefrontcover).SocialIdentities:Journal
for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, whose first issue appeared in 1995, is
concernedwith "the formationsof, and transformationsin, socially significant
identities,their attendantforms of materialexclusionand power, as well as the
politicaland culturalpossibilitiesopen[ed]up by these identifications"(statement
printedon insidefrontcover).
17. ZygmuntBauman,"Soil,Blood, and Identity,"SociologicalReview40 (1992):675-
701;PierreBourdieu,"L'identiteet la representation:Elementspourune reflexion
critique sur l'idee de r&gion,"Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 35 (1980):
63-72; Fernand Braudel,The Identityof France,trans. Sian Reynolds, 2 Vols.
(New York:Harper& Row, 1988-1990);Craig Calhoun,"SocialTheoryand the
Politics of Identity," in Calhoun, editor, Social Theory and the Politics of Identity
(Oxford,U.K. and Cambridge,Mass:Blackwell,1994);S. N. Eisenstadtand Bern-
hard Giesen, "The Constructionof CollectiveIdentity,"Archiveseuropeennesde

sociologie 36, no. 1 (1995): 72-102; Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-identity.
Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity Press, in association
with Blackwell, Oxford, 1991); Jiirgen Habermas, Staatsbiirgerschaft und rationale
Identitdt: Uberlegungen zur europaischen Zukunft (St. Gallen: Erker, 1991);
David Laitin, Identity in Formation(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998);
Claude Levi-Strauss, editor, L'identite: Seminaire interdisciplinare (Paris: Presses
Universitairesde France,1977);Paul Ricoeur, Oneselfas Another(Chicago:Uni-
versityof ChicagoPress,1992);AmartyaSen,"Goals,Commitment,and Identity,"
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 2 (Fall 1985): 341-355; Margaret
Somers,"TheNarrativeConstitutionof Identity:A Relationaland NetworkAp-
proach,"Theoryand Society 23 (1994):605-649; CharlesTaylor,"ThePoliticsof
Recognition," in Multiculturalism and "The Politics of Recognition: An Essay",
(Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1992);25-74; CharlesTilly,"Citizenship,
Identity and Social History,"in Tilly, editor, Citizenship,Identity and Social
History(Cambridgeand New York:CambridgeUniversityPress, 1996);Harrison
White, Identity and Control: A Structural Theory of Social Action (Princeton, N.J.:
18. On experience-nearand experience-distantconcepts- the termsare derivedfrom
Heinz Kohut - see CliffordGeertz,"Fromthe Native'sPoint of View,"in Local
Knowledge(New York: Basic Books, 1983),57. The basic contrast goes back at
least to Durkheim'sRulesof SociologicalMethod,whichcriticizedthe sociological
use of "pre-notions"or lay conceptsthat havebeen "createdby experienceand for
it." Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, trans. S. Solovay and J.
Mueller,ed. G. E. G. Catlin,8th ed. (New York:FreePress,1964),14-46.
19. As LoicWacquantnotes of race,the "continualbarterbetweenfolk and analytical
notions, the uncontrolledconflationof social and sociologicalunderstandingsof
'race"' is "intrinsicto the category. From its inception, the collective fiction
labeled'race'... has alwaysmixed science with common sense and tradedon the
complicity between them" ("For an Analytic of Racial Domination,"Political
Power and Social Theory 11 [1997]: 222-223).
20. On "ethnicidentityentrepreneurs,"see BarbaraLal,"EthnicIdentityEntrepreneurs:
Their Role in Transracialand IntercountryAdoptions,"Asian Pacific Migration
Journal6 (1997):385-413.
21. This argumentis developedfurtherin Rogers Brubaker,NationalismReframed
22. Mara Loveman, "Is 'race' essential? A comment on Bonilla-Silva,"American
Sociological Review,November 1999. See also Wacquant,"For an Analytic of
Racial Domination";Rupert Taylor,"Racial Terminologyand the Question of
'Race' in South Africa,"manuscript,7; and Max Weber,Economyand Society,
ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York: BedminsterPress, 1968), 1:
385ff, for a strikinglymodern argumentquestioningthe analyticalutility of the
notions of "race,""ethnicgroup,"and "nation."
23. On "nation"as a "political fiction," see Louis Pinto, "Une fiction politique:
la nation," Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 64 (September 1986): 45-50,
a Bourdieuianappreciationof the studies of nationalism carried out by the
eminent Hungarianhistorian Jen6 Sziics. On race as a "collectivefiction,"see
Wacquant,"For an Analytic of Racial Domination,"222-223. The key work by
Bourdieuin this domain is "L'identiteet la representation:6elmentspour une
reflexion critique sur l'idee de r6gion," Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 35
(November1980),part of which is reprintedin Bourdieu,Languageand Symbolic

Power,trans. MathewAdamson, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge:Harvard,

24. EvenDurkheim'suncompromisinglyobjectivistsociologicalmanifestoshies away
from this extreme position; see The Rules of Sociological Method, chapter 2.
25. Wacquant,"For an Analytic of Racial Domination,"222. See also Wacquant's
criticismof the conceptof "underclass"in "L'underclass
urbainedans l'imaginaire
social et scientifiqueamericain,"in Serge Paugam,editor, L'exclusion:I'etatdes
savoirs(Paris:La d6couverte,1996):248-262.
26. For a sustainedand influentialexample,see JudithButler,GenderTrouble:Femi-
nism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990).
27. For a recent review,see Calhoun,"Social Theory and the Politics of Identity,"
28. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva,for example, slides from an impeccablyconstructivist
characterizationof "racializedsocial systems"as "societies... partiallystructured
by the placementof actors in racialcategories"to the claim that such placement
"producesdefinite social relations between the races," where "the races" are
characterizedas real social groupswith differingobjectiveinterests("Rethinking
Racism: Towarda StructuralInterpretation,"AmericanSociologicalReview62
(1996), 469-470). In their influential Racial Formation in the United States (second
edition, New York:Routledge,1994),MichaelOmi and HowardWinantstriveto
be more consistentlyconstructivist.But they too fail to remainfaithfulto their
constructivistdefinitionof "race"as an "unstableand 'decentered'complex of
social meaningsconstantlybeing transformedby political struggle... [and as] a
concept which signifiesand symbolizessocial conflictsand interestsby referring
to differenttypes of human bodies" (55, emphasis in original).The historical
experiencesof "whiteEuropean"immigrants,they argue,wereand remainfunda-
mentallydifferentfrom those of "racialminoritygroups"(includingLatinos and
Asian Americans as well as African Americans and Native Americans);the
"ethnicityparadigm"is applicableto the formerbut not - becauseof its "neglect
of raceper se" - to the latter(14-23).This sharpdistinctionbetween"ethnic"and
"racial"groupsneglectsthe fact - now well establishedin the historicalliterature
- that the "whiteness"of severalEuropeanimmigrantgroupswas "achieved"after
an initialperiodin whichthey wereoftencategorizedin racialor race-liketermsas
non-white; it also neglects what might be called "de-racialization"processes
among some groups they consider fundamentally"racial."On the former, see
JamesR. Barrettand David Roediger,"InbetweenPeoples:Race, Nationalityand
the 'New Immigrant' Working Class," Journal of American Ethnic History 16
(1997):3-44; on the latter,see Joel Perlmanand RogerWaldinger,"SecondGen-
erationDecline?Childrenof Immigrants,Past and Present- a Reconsideration,"
International Migration Review 31/4 (Winter 1997), 893-922, esp. 903ff.
29. WalterBenn Michaelshas arguedthat ostensiblyconstructivistnotions of cul-
tural identity,insofar as they are advanced - as they often are advanced in
practice,especiallyin connectionwith race,ethnicity,and nationality- as reasons
for our holding, or valuing,a set of beliefs or practices,cannot avoid essentialist
appealsto who we are."Thereare no anti-essentialistaccountsof identity... [T]he
essentialisminheres not in the descriptionof the identitybut in the attemptto
derivethe practicesfromthe identity- we do this becausewe are this. Hence anti-
essentialism... must take the form not of producingmore sophisticatedaccounts
of identity (that is, more sophisticatedessentialisms)but of ceasing to explain
what people do or should do by referenceto who they are and/or what culture

theybelongto" ("Raceinto Culture:A CriticalGenealogyof CulturalIdentity,"in

Identities,ed. Appiahand Gates, p. 61n).Note, however,the crucialelision at the
end of the quoted passage between "do"and "shoulddo." Essentialisminheres,
pace Michaels,less in the "attemptto derive[in an explanatorymode]the practice
from the identity"than in the attemptto prescribethe practiceson the basis of an
ascribed identity: you ought to do this because you are this.
30. For a differentapproachto this question, see Fearon,"Whatis Identity(As We
Now Use the Word)?"
31. See, for example, Jean L. Cohen, "Strategyor Identity:New TheoreticalPara-
digms and ContemporarySocial Movements,"Social Research 52/4 (Winter
1985): 663-716.
32. Somers,"TheNarrativeConstitutionof Identity."
33. This oppositiondependson a narrowconceptualizationof the category"interest,"
one restrictedto interestsunderstoodto be directlyderivablefromsocial structure
(see for example ibid., 624). If interestis instead understoodto be culturallyor
discursivelyconstituted,to be dependenton the discursiveidentificationof inter-
ests and (more fundamentally)interest-bearingunits, to be "constitutedand re-
constitutedin time and over time,"like narrativeidentitiesin Somer'saccount,
then the oppositionloses muchof its force.
34. Some strandsof identitariantheorizingemphasizethe relativeautonomyof self-
understandingvis-a-vis social location.The tendencyis most pronouncedin the
fourthand the fifthuses sketchedbelow.
35. The contemporaryconceptualizationof identityas unmooredfrom social struc-
tureis foreignto most premodernsocial settings,whereself- and other-identifica-
tions are generallyunderstoodas followingdirectlyfrom social structure.See, for
example,Peter Berger,"On the Obsolescenceof the Concept of Honor,"172-181
in Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy, ed. Stanley Hauerwas
and AlasdairMacIntyre(Notre Dame: Universityof Notre Dame Press,1983).
36. Alberto Melucci,"The Process of CollectiveIdentity,"in Social Movementsand
Culture,ed. Hank Johnstonand Bert Klandermans(Minneapolis:Universityof
37. Much recent work on gender,to be sure, has criticizedas "essentialist"the idea
that women share a fundamentalsameness.Yet certain strandsof recent work
nonethelesspredicatesuchsamenessof some "group"definedby the intersectionof
genderwith othercategoricalattributes(race,ethnicity,class, sexualorientation).
See, for example, Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Con-
sciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
38. See, for example, Harold R. Isaacs, Idols of the Tribe: Group Identity and Political
Change(New York:Harper& Row, 1975);WalkerConnor,Ethnonationalism, The
Questfor Understanding (Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress,1994),195-209.
39. For a sophisticated historical and philosophical account, see Charles Taylor,
Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard
40. For a key statementby Eriksonhimself,see Identity:Youthand Crisis,22.
41. See,forexample,Calhoun,"TheProblemof Identityin CollectiveAction";Melucci,
"The Process of Collective Identity";Roger Gould, InsurgentIdentities:Class,
Community and Protest in Parisfrom 1848 to the Commune (Chicago: University
of ChicagoPress,1995).
42. See, for example,StuartHall, "Introduction:Who Needs 'Identity?'"in Questions
of CulturalIdentity,editedby StuartHall and Pauldu Gay (London:Sage, 1996).

43. See,for example,RichardWerbner,"MultipleIdentities,PluralArenas,"in Richard

Werbner and Terence Ranger, editors, Postcolonial Identities in Africa (London:
Zed, 1996),1-26.
44. Two important,althoughpartial,exceptionsdeservenote.WalterBenn Michaels
has formulateda brilliant and provocativecritique of the concept of "cultural
identity"in "Race into Culture."But that essay focusesless on analyticaluses of
the notion of "identity"than on the difficultyof specifyingwhat makes "our"
culture or "our"past count as "ourown" - when the referenceis not to one's
actualculturalpracticesor one's actualpersonalpast but to some putativegroup
culture or group past - without implicitly invoking the notion of "race."He
concludesthat "oursense of cultureis characteristicallymeant to displace race,
but ... culturehas turnedout to be a way of continuingratherthan repudiating
racial thought.It is only the appeal to race that ... gives notions like losing our
culture, preserving it, [or] ... restoring people's culture to them ... their pathos"
(61-62). RichardHandlerarguesthat "we shouldbe as suspiciousof 'identity'as
we havelearnedto be of 'culture,''tradition,''nation,'and 'ethnicgroup"'(27), but
then pulls his criticalpunches.His centralargument- that the salienceof "iden-
tity"in contemporaryWestern,especiallyAmericansociety "doesnot mean that
the concept can be applied unthinkinglyto other places and times" (27) - is
certainlytrue, but it impliesthat the concept can be fruitfullyappliedin contem-
poraryWesternsettings,somethingthat otherpassagesin the same articleand his
own workon Quebecoisnationalismtend to call into question.See "Is'Identity'a
Useful Cross-Cultural Concept?" in Commemorations: The Politics of National
Identity,ed. John Gillis (Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1994);the quota-
tions are from p. 27. See also Handler, Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in
Quebec(Madison:Universityof WisconsinPress,1988).
45. StuartHall,"WhoNeeds 'Identity?'"2.
46. "I use 'identity'to referto the meetingpoint, the point of suture,betweenon the
one hand the discoursesand practiceswhich attemptto 'interpellate,'speakto us
to hail us into place as the social subjectsof particulardiscourses,and on the other
hand, the processeswhich producesubjectivities,which constructus as subjects
which can be 'spoken.'Identitiesare thus points of temporaryattachmentto the
subjectpositionswhichdiscursivepracticesconstructfor us" (ibid., 5-6).
47. ClaudeLevi-Strauss,concludingremarksto Levi-Strauss,ed., L'identite,332.
48. LawrenceGrossberg,"Identityand CulturalStudies:Is That All ThereIs,"in Hall
and du Gay, editors, Questions of Cultural Identity, 87-88.
49. Melucci,"TheProcessof CollectiveIdentity,"46.
50. Here the blurringbetween categories of analysis and categories of practice is
particularlystriking.As RichardHandlerhas argued, scholarlyconceptions of
"nation"and "nationalidentity"havetendedto replicatekey featuresof nationalist
ideology,notablythe axiomaticunderstandingof boundednessand homogeneity
in the putative "nation" (Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec). The
same argumentcouldbe madeabout"race"or "ethnicity."
51. See, for example,Isaacs,Idolsof the Tribe;Connor,"BeyondReason:The Nature
of the EthnonationalBond,"in Connor,Ethnonationalism.
52. Somers,"The NarrativeConstitutionof Identity";the quotationsare from 605,
606, 614, and 618,emphasisin original.See also Somers's"Narrativity,Narrative
Identity,and SocialAction:RethinkingEnglishWorking-ClassFormation,"Social
Science History 16/4 (Winter 1992):591-630. For another argumentfor seeing
identityin terms of narrative,see Denis-ConstantMartin,"TheChoices of Iden-

tity,"Social Identities1/1 (1995),5-20; see also idem, "Introduction:Identit&set

politique:Recit, mythe, et ideologie," 13-38 in Denis-ConstantMartin, editor,
Cartes d'identite: Comment dit-on "nous"en politique? (Paris: Presses de la Fonda-
tion Nationaledes SciencesPolitiques,1994).
53. CharlesTilly,"Citizenship,Identityand SocialHistory,"1-17 in Citizenship,
and Social History,ed. CharlesTilly (Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress,
1996).The quotationsare fromp. 7.
54. Craig Calhoun,"The Problemof Identityin CollectiveAction," in Joan Huber,
editor, Macro Micro Linkages in Sociology (Newbury Park, Cal.: Sage, 1991). The
quotationsare frompp. 53, 64-67.
55. Ibid., 53, 68.
56. Calhoun,"SocialTheoryand the Politicsof Identity,"9.
57. On the merits of "identification",see Hall, "Who Needs 'Identity?'"Although
Hall's is a Foucauldian/post-Freudian understandingof "identification,"drawing
on the "discursiveand psychoanalyticrepertoire,"and quite differentfrom that
proposedhere, he does usefullywarn that identificationis "almostas trickyas,
thoughpreferableto,'identity'itself; and certainlyno guaranteeagainstthe con-
ceptual difficultieswhich have beset the latter"(p. 2). See also AndreasGlaeser,
"Divided in Unity: The Hermeneuticsof Self and Other in the Postunification
BerlinPolice"(Ph.D. Dissertation,HarvardUniversity,1997),esp. chapter1.
58. CraigCalhoun,Nationalism(Minneapolis:Universityof MinnesotaPress, 1997),
59. For an anthropologicalperspective,usefullyextendingthe Barthianmodel, see
Richard Jenkins, "RethinkingEthnicity:Identity, Categorizationand Power,"
Ethnic and Racial Studies 17/2 (April 1994): 197-223, and Jenkins, Social Identity
(Londonand New York:Routledge,1996).
60. PeterBerger,"ModernIdentity,"163-164,makesa similarpoint,thoughhe phrases
it in termsof a dialectic- and possibleconflict- betweensubjectiveand objective
61. Gerard Noiriel, La tyranniedu national (Paris: Calmann-Levy,1991), 155-180;
idem,"L'identification des citoyens:Naissancede l'etatcivil republicain,"Geneses
13 (1993):3-28; idem, "Surveillerdes deplacementsou identifierles personnes?
Contributiona l'histoiredu passeporten Francede la Ier a la III Republique,"
Geneses 30 (1998): 77-100; Beatrice Fraenkel, La signature. genese d'un signe
(Paris:Gallimard,1992).A numberof scholars,includingJaneCaplan,historian
at Bryn Mawr College, and JohnTorpey,sociologist at Universityof California,
Irvine, are currentlyengaged in projects on passports and other identification
62. Michel Foucault, "Governmentality,"in Graham Burchell et al., editors, The
Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1991),87-104. Similarconceptionshave been appliedto colonial societies, espe-
cially in regardto the way colonizers'schemesfor classificationand enumeration
shape and indeedconstitutethe social phenomena(such as "tribe"and "caste"in
India)beingclassified.See, in particular,BernardCohn, ColonialismandIts Forms
of Knowledge. The British in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).
63. On the dilemmas,difficulties,and ironies involvedin "administeringidentity,"in
authoritativelydeterminingwho belongs to what categoryin the implementation
of race-consciouslaw, see ChristopherA. Ford, "AdministeringIdentity:The
Determination of 'Race' in Race-Conscious Law," CaliforniaLaw Review 82

64. CharlesTilly,DurableInequality(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,1998).

65. MelissaNobles,"'RespondingwithGood Sense':The Politicsof Race and Censuses
in ContemporaryBrazil,"Ph.D. Dissertation,YaleUniversity,1995.
66. See, for example, Melucci, "The Process of Collective Identity";Martin, "The
Choicesof Identity."
67. Stuart Hall, "Introduction:Who Needs 'Identity?"';Margaret Somers, "The
NarrativeConstitutionof Identity."
68. See Hall, "Introduction,"2ff; and Alan Finlayson,"Psychology,psychoanalysis
and theoriesof nationalism,"Nationsand Nationalism4/2 (1998):157ff.
69. PierreBourdieu,The Logic of Practice,trans. RichardNice (Cambridge:Polity
70. An extensiveanthropologicalliteratureon Africanand othersocieties,for example,
describeshealingcults, spiritpossessioncults, witchcrafteradicationmovements,
and other collective phenomenathat help to constituteparticularforms of self-
understanding,particularways in which individualssituate themselvessocially.
See studies rangingfrom classics by VictorTurner,Schismand Continuityin an
African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life (Manchester: Manchester Uni-
versity Press, 1957) and I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study
of Spirit Possession and Shamanism (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1971) to
more recent work by Paul Stoller, Fusion of the Worlds: An Ethnography of Pos-
session among the Songhay of Niger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989)
and Janice Boddy, Wombs and Alien Spirits. Women, Men and The Zar Cult in
NorthernSudan(Madison:Universityof WisconsinPress,1989).
71. For a poignantexample,see SlavenkaDrakulic'saccountof being "overcomeby
nationhood"as a resultof the war in the formerYugoslavia,in BalkanExpress.
Fragments from the Other Side of the War, trans. Maja Soljan (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1993),50-52.
72. See, for example,PeterBerger,"ModernIdentity:Crisisand Continuity,"162.
73. See, for example,CraigCalhoun,"TheProblemof Identityin CollectiveAction,"
68, characterizing"ordinaryidentity."
74. For a good example of the latter, see Mary Waters'sanalysis of the optional,
exceptionallyunconstrainingethnic "identities"- or what Herbert Gans has
called the "symbolicethnicity"- of third- and fourth-generationdescendantsof
EuropeanCatholicimmigrantsto the United States in EthnicOptions:Choosing
Identitiesin America(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,1990).
75. CharlesTilly,FromMobilizationto Revolution(Reading,Mass.:Addison-Wesley,
76. On the centralityof categoricalcommonalityto modernnationalism,see Handler,
Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec, and Calhoun, Nationalism,
77. See, for example,the discussionof the "anti-categoricalimperative"in Mustafa
Emirbayerand Jeff Goodwin, "NetworkAnalysis, Culture,and the Problemof
Agency," American Journal of Sociology 99/6 (May 1994): 1414.
78. Lonsdale,"WhenDid the Gusii or Any Other Group Become a Tribe?"Kenya
Historical Review 5/1 (1977): 355-368; Abner Cohen, Custom and Politics in Urban
Africa: A Study of Migrants in Yoruba Towns (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1969). Anthropologistswere influencedby the work of FredrickBarth,
editor, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organisation of Cultural Differ-
ence (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969), especially Barth's"Introduction,"9-38.
More recent and systematicconstructivistaccounts include Jean-LoupAmselle

and Elikia M'Bokolo, editors, Au coeur de 'ethnie: Ethnies, tribalisme et etat en

Afrique(Paris:Editionsla Decouverte,1985);LeroyVail, editor,The Creationof
Tribalismin SouthernAfrica (Berkeley:Universityof California Press, 1988);
TerenceRanger,"The Inventionof Traditionin Africa,"in Eric Hobsbawmand
TerenceRanger,editors,The Inventionof Tradition(Cambridge:CambridgeUni-
79. Identity talk has become popular among Africanists in recent years, and the
typicalinsistencethat identityis multipleis rarelyfollowedby explanationof why
what is multipliedshouldbe consideredidentity.For a case in point, see Richard
Werbner,"MultipleIdentities,PluralArenas,"in RichardWerbnerand Terence
Ranger, editors, Postcolonial Identities in Africa (London: Zed, 1996), 1-26. Afri-
canist scholarshave been criticalof the concepts of race and ethnicity,but often
still use "identity"in an unexaminedway. See, for example,the special issue of
Journal of Southern African Studies 20/3 (1994), coordinated by Saul Dubow, John
Sharp, and Edwin N. Wilmsen."Ethnicityand Identityin SouthernAfrica."A
more reflectiveapproach-deployinga range of terms to indicatedifferentforms
of affiliationand examiningwhat "identical"actuallymeansin particularcontexts
- may be found in ClaudeFay,"'Car nous ne faisons qu'un':identites,equivalen-
ces, homologies au Maasina (Mali),"Cahierdes Sciences Humaines31/2 (1995)
427-456. Identitarianpositions are severelycriticized in Jean-FrancoisBayart,
L'illusion identitaire (Paris: Fayard, 1996).
80. E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and
Political Institutions of a Nilotic People (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940).
81. See the pioneeringstudyof AbnerCohen,"CulturalStrategiesin the Organization
of TradingDiasporas,"in ClaudeMeillassoux,editor,TheDevelopmentof Indige-
82. Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra
83. John Lonsdale,"Statesand Social Processesin Africa,"AfricanStudiesReview
24/2-3 (1981):139-225.
84. Jane Guyer,"Householdand Community," AfricanStudiesReview24/2-3 (1981):
87-137; Jean-Loup Amselle, Logiques metisses. Anthropologie del'identite, en
Afrique et ailleurs (Paris: Payot, 1990).
85. Sharon Hutchinson, Nuer Dilemmas. Coping with Money, War, and the State
(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,1995),29.
86. Gerard Prunier,The RwandanCrisis (New York: Columbia UniversityPress,
1996) and Jean-Pierre Chretien, Le Defi del'ethnisme: Rwanda et Burundi: 1990-
1996 (Paris: Karthala, 1997). Similarly,Richards'saccount of conflict in Sierra
Leone is notable for his stress on networks over groups, on creolizationover
differentiation,and on overlappingmoral visions over conflicts of "cultures"
(Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest).
87. For an elaborationof this argument,see Rogers Brubaker,"Mythsand Miscon-
ceptions in the Study of Nationalism,"in John Hall, editor, The State of the
Nation. Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge
88. For a fullerversionof this argument,see Brubaker,NationalismReframed,chap-
ter 2. For a parallelargumentabout Yugoslavia,see VeljkoVujacicand Victor
Zaslavsky,"The Causesof Disintegrationin the USSR and Yugoslavia,"Telos88
89. Some peripheralSoviet regions, to be sure, had already experiencednational

movementsin the last years of the Russianempire(and duringthe ensuingcivil

war), but even in those regions, the social basis of such movementswas weak,
and identificationwith "the nation"was limited to a relativelysmall part of the
population. Elsewhere,the significanceof the regime in constituting national
divisionswas even more prominent.On Soviet "nation-making"in the 1920s,see
YuriSlezkine,"TheU.S.S.R.as a CommunalApartment,or How a SocialistState
PromotedEthnicParticularism," SlavicReview53 (Summer1994):414-452;Terry
D. Martin,"AnAffirmativeAction Empire:Ethnicityand the Soviet State, 1923-
1938,"Ph.D. Dissertation,Universityof Chicago,1996.
90. For data on nationalityand language,see GosudarstvennyiKomitetpo Statistike,
Natsional'nyi Sostav Naseleniia SSSR (Moscow: Finansy i Statistika, 1991): 78-79.
91. Gitlin, Twilight,134.
92. One of the best introductionsto constructivistanalysisin Americanhistoryis Earl
Lewis, "Race," in Stanley Kutler, editors, Encyclopedia of the United States in the
TwentiethCentury(New York:Scribners,1996),129-160.See also BarbaraFields,
"Slavery,Race and Ideologyin the United States of America,"New Left Review
93. Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom. The Ordeal of Colonial
Virginia(New York:Norton, 1975).More recentworks on this formativeperiod
include a special issue of Williamand Mary Quarterly,3rd Series, 54/1 (1997),
"ConstructingRace: DifferentiatingPeoplesin the EarlyModernWorld,"and Ira
Berlin, Many Thousands Gone. The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Northern
94. The differentways in which race was configuredin the Americas was one of
subjectsin which comparativehistory came into being, notably in the aftermath
of Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas (New York:
Knopf, 1946).An influentialshort statementis CharlesWagley,"On the Concept
of Social Race in the Americas," 531-545 in Contemporary Cultures and Societies
in LatinAmerica,ed. D. B. Heath and R. N. Adams (New York:RandomHouse,
1965). A more recent constructivistargument about the historical specificity
of the idea of being "white"is exemplifiedin David Roediger, The Wagesof
Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso,
95. One of the foundationaltexts of what is sometimesconsideredblacknationalism,
MartinDelany'saccountof his voyageto Africa, is notablefor its lack of interest
in the culturalpracticesof the Africanshe encountered.Whatcountedfor him was
that a Christianof African origin would find his destiny in ridding himself of
oppressionin the United Statesand bringingChristiancivilizationto Africa. See
Martin R. Delany and Robert Campbell, Searchfor a Place. Black Separatism and
Africa1860,ed. HowardH. Bell (Ann Arbor:Universityof MichiganPress,1969).
For an illuminatingrecentbook on AfricanAmerican-Africanconnections- and
the differingways in which linkageswere made while culturaldistinctionswere
emphasized - see James Campbell, Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episco-
pal Church in the United States and South Africa (New York: Oxford University
96. Eric Lott, "TheNew Cosmopolitanism:Whose America?"Transition72 (Winter
97. For one such contribution,see KwameAnthony Appiah, In My Father'sHouse:
Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
98. This is the point emphasizedby WalterBenn Michaels("Raceinto Culture"):the

assignmentof individualsto culturalidentitiesis even more problematicthan the

definitionof those identities.
99. AlisdairMacIntyre,AfterVirtue(Notre Dame, Indiana:Universityof Notre Dame
100. Iris Marion Young, "Polity and Group Difference:A Critique of the Ideal of
UniversalCitizenship,"Ethics99 (January1989):257,258. See alsoYoung'sJustice
and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).
101. Young,"Polityand GroupDifference,"267, 261.
102. Ibid., 267, 268.
103. See especiallythe lucid and influentialbooks by Will Kymlicka:Liberalism,Com-
munity, and Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) and Multicultural Citizen-
ship. A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995).
104. AdamPrzeworski,"Proletariatinto a Class:The Processof Class Formationfrom
Karl Kautsky's'The Class Struggle'to RecentControversies,"
Politicsand Society
7 (1977):372.
105. Pierre Bourdieu,"L'identiteet la representation:Elements pour une riflexion
critique sur l'idee de region," Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 35 (1980):
106. David Laitin, "Marginality:A Microperspective,"Rationalityand Society 7/1
107. In a debatewithYoung,the philosopherNancy Fraserhasjuxtaposeda politicsof
"recognition"to one of "redistribution,"arguingthat both are needed,since some
groups are exploited as well as stigmatized or unrecognized.Strikingly,both
parties to the debate treat group boundaries as clear-cut, and both therefore
conceive of progressivepolitics as involvingintergroupcoalitions. Both neglect
other forms of political action that do not presupposecommonalityor "group-
ness."Nancy Fraser,"FromRedistributionto Recognition?Dilemmas of Justice
in a 'Post-Socialist'Age,"New Left Review212 (1995):68-93; Iris MarionYoung,
"'UnrulyCategories,'A Critiqueof Nancy Fraser'sDual SystemsTheory,"ibid.,
222 (1997):147-160.
108. Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy
Networks in International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); Audie
Klotz, Norms in International Relations: The Struggle Against Apartheid (Ithaca:
Cornell UniversityPress, 1995).See also the classic study of JeremyBoissevain,
Friends of Friends: Networks, Manipulators and Coalitions (Oxford: Blackwell,