Re: identity

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Fri Oct 01 2004 - 06:37:22 PDT

Does the idea that we put on and take off identities contradict your idea
that identity formation is dialogic?

The idea that we put on and take off identities suggests the designed
assumption of an identity for specified purposes. Something actors,
salesmen, teachers, and politicians often do in order to fulfill the
conventional objectives of their calling. Dialectical, or better dialogic,
relations still have a role in this kind of play-acting insofar as a
designed assumption of an identity is only as good as the familiarity of the
agent with the conventional prescriptions for the target identity of the
community he's trying to manipulate. Even then, no social situation is
absolutely predictable and no conventional prescription is absolute either
in its coverage of all conditions or in its distribution within the
community, so the role-assuming agent will undoubtedly find himself in some
dialogical formations of identity in the course of his relations with the
members of the targeted community.

 An interesting question is whether there is any value in formulating an
abstract notion of non-designed social intercourse can be regarded as an
absolute negation of designed identity formation. Such a notion in its
"purest" form would imply social discourse totally empty of all
instrumentality, of all purpose. Of course much identity formation is not
dominated by unified design and most evolves to varying degrees out of the
give and take (the exact description of dialog as well as political economy)
of casual social discourse. Still, despite Habermas and other humanist
critics of the role of instrumentality in classical theory, I'm not
convinced of the utility much less the evidence for purposeless (will-less
anyone?) social activity. By the way, Steve G., any and all higher thought
is by definition (Vygotsky's definition I might add) mediated and for
Vygotsky mediated = instrumental ( check all this out in the early chapters
of Mind and Society) so the idea of unmediated higher thought must be
someone else's theory. A more reasonable contradiction might be between
unified identity assumption and say opportunistic or situational identity
assumption, the latter being a function of the complexes of
instrumentalities (some often quite contradictory) that so often
characterize even the most orderly of social interaction situations.
Japanese drama, for example, just revels in the paradoxes of complex and
contradictory social identities and their impossible outcomes.

Identity formation, like all small scale social phenomena, is extremely
fluid. So fluid that extension from interactional, discourse, and dialogic
analysis to social theory is a very tricky business indeed. Witness here the
truly anarchic social theory of say Shotter or the more dogmatic
Ethnomethodology of Garfinkel. The determination of what is constant and
what changes from minute to minute represents the difference from say the
formation of socially significant practice and the millions of deviating
virtual social activities that appear and disappear with almost the same
frequency as the ideations that emerge and then are forgotten in internal
speech. True, enough the universal features of communities, societies and
human social life in general begin with singular social events, but tracking
interactional singularities in the hope of building from them a general
theory of culture appears to me to be an utter waste of time and activity.
It's like trying to check which butterfly's wing stroke produced Hurricane
Ivan, finding it and then trying to identify how that particular incident
created the storm.

The opposite approach from inducing large-scale social phenomena, the
deduction of the impact of large-scale social phenomena on interaction seems
to me to be a much more fruitful approach. Some interesting work in this
direction has been done by Mario Fuks "Arenas of Public Action and Debate:
Environmental Conflicts and The Emergence of The Environment as a Social
Problem in Rio de Janeiro". International Sociological Association‘s XIV Wor
ld Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Canada, July 26 - August 1, 1998. Celso
Alvarez-Cáccamo Building Alliances in Political Discourse: Language,
Institutional Authority, and Resistance Universidade da Corunha In Folia
Linguistica XXX.3/4 (1996), Special Issue on Interactional Sociolinguistics,
ed. by Helga Kotthoff, pp. 245-270. where the authors show how large scale
economic, political and ideological factors are projected into the
interactional situations of public political discourse. This approach might
be fruitfully combined with finer analysis of the disconformities that
emerge in such situations to produce more concrete analyses of the
historical processes contributing to the rise and decay of larger scaled
social conditions.

Highest regards,

----- Original Message -----
From: "Wolff-Michael Roth" <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, September 30, 2004 4:21 PM
Subject: identity

> Some of the writings made me wonder if readers understand the point
> about identity--it is not so much that we take one, like putting on a
> piece of clothing, but that in every single act, we provide resources
> for the self and other attribution of identity. That is, by writing
> this note, an act, others can make attributions--this Roth guy is
> talkative, or this Roth guy talks nonsense etc. If others agree, then
> there is a more widespread characterization of the person--which may
> change little in the way I see myself... We therefore need to consider
> the dialectic of self and other in the consideration of identity,
> self-attribution and other attribution, what is constant and what can
> change from minute to minute.
> For anyone interested in the philosophical grounding of such an
> approach to identity (Ricœur, Bakhtin, Marx) with a case study, I have
> a chapter in a forthcoming book on urban education which I can make
> available to interested individuals upon request.
> Michael

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 09 2004 - 11:43:06 PST