SOC 202 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6: Louis Althusser, Frantz Fanon, Mirror Stage

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24 Apr 2012
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Chapter 6 Identity and the Body
Identity - a necessary fiction?
- Transamerica, the film is interesting as a paradigmatic exploration of the traditional Western
theme of identity
- Popular culture testifies to the centrality of identity on producing meaning and pleasure in out
everyday lives
- Essentialists theories posit identity as a fundamental, unchanging core of meaning that precedes
and transcends culture and politics
o Through history and natures, where history is seem as an unbroken line of development
whose truth is unquestionable
o And on the other hand other socialists say that cultural and political circumstances are
where identities are produced
- Identity as something inherent within an individual or group, foregrounding instead the complex
process through which narratives of identity express broader social relations, including and
especially relations of power
- Over the course of the last century, development in the field of psychology, political theory, and
philosophy have highlighted some of the logical and practical problems with essentialism, while
offering variations on constructivist models of identity
- Genetics might establish broad parameters for what we can do, think, or feel, but it is culture
that give us the ingredients to establish the story lives of who we think we are
- Embodied subjectivity: contemporary practises such as health and fitness, regimes and forms of
body modification such as tattooing, piercing, and plastic surgery
The History of Identity Some Different theories
- The idea of the individual as a unique self, with deep psychological needs and preferences, held
no currency in a social context in which the meaning of an individual life was subordinate to the
issue of the survival of society as a whole
Identity and the Unconscious
- Grounds of identity was the field of psychoanalysis
- The stages of identity development that are a critical precondition for the individuals
integration into society
- Identities are not pre-given, or natural, but rather produced in order to manage chaotic fears
and desires whose expression is socially for forbidden
Freudian Theory of Psychosocial Development
- Two key moments
o The recognition of sexual difference
o The acquisition of language
Identity and Ideology
- The ley lesion in Freud for understanding identity is not that it has no grounding in reality; it is
that the stable and coherent selves we articulate to the world and to ourselves are
constructions, a bit like dams built to control and manage the torrent of chaotic drives and
impulses that cannot be assimilated to society
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Marxist Theories of Identity
- He understood identity as the construction of identity as a response to underlying forces of
which the individual is largely unconscious
- Identity is understood in one sense as a kind of mythical armour people assumed as a way of
coping with the gap between their needs and desires and the social economy
- For Marx, the primary force in producing identity and consciousness as a kind of empty
protective shell was ideology
- Ideology played a hugely significant role in securing the accpectance of an exploited working
class by promoting a belief in the naturalness of the capitalist order and in the freedom of the
individual within it
- While earlier concepts of ideology saw it as a kind of “false consciousness”
Louis Althusser
- Ideological state Apparatuses (ISA) though which ideology is reproduced
- Rather than being absolutely determined by the economy, the realm of culture and ideology, as
it id disseminated through institutions such as schools, universities, and the media, come to
have a semi-autonomous or independent role in shaping individuals and society
- Althusser focused on the process he termed “ interpellation”, by which individuals are
compelled, though a mix of individual psychological and social imperatives, to identify with
social roles offered them
- Althussers locats the roots of this process of identification in the early stages of socialization, in
particular the acquisition of language
- Lusan identifies as the mirror stage, the moment in which the child sees his reflection in the
mirror and identifies with that image
All Selves Are not created Equal
- Identity may be an illusion, but it is an illusion that works for some people in a way that it
doesn’t for others. This inequality is highlighted explicitly in Marx theory, which shows that the
stakes of ideology are different depending on what position one occupies in the class structure,
and more implicitly in psychoanalysis, where sexual difference determines what identities and
authorities are available to whom, based on physiological sex characteristics
Feminist Theories
- Assigned a role in culture that is defined not autonomous or self-sufficient but as always in
relation to “other” than the normative category of man women do not inhabit the myth of
identity as comfortably as men generally do
Race The Empty Signifier
- The function of race as a marker of identity did not enter Freud Theory
- While masculinity was the explicit standard by which to analyse normal human development ,
whiteness operated implicitly in the same way: an assumed norm whose claims to universalism
betrayed the Euro centrism of early practitioners of psychoanalysis , Frantz Fanon, who
challenged psychoanalytic theory to take account of the role of race, and the associated practise
of racism, in defining identity
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