a note on identity

From: Jay Lemke (jaylemke@umich.edu)
Date: Tue Oct 05 2004 - 20:05:49 PDT

How much I miss xmca! I've gotten way too busy lately, partly in the good
cause of helping organize a series of symposia here on social justice and
education issues (inviting many friends, including Kris Gutierrez, Carol
Lee, John Baugh, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and others), and most recently,
and unhappily, because of difficult issues in my family.

I was sorry the Rommetveit discussion did not pick up more. Obviously it
assumed a lot of historical background to the issues and debates, but I for
one would be fascinated to hear more about the history of the concepts of
subject and subjectivity in US and European psychology that Mike mentioned.
We inherit more than we know ... especially we inherit the roads-not-taken,
and they are very hard to notice, not being there anymore.

I started to follow the discussion of Roth's intro, and then the
Philadelphia examples, about which I know a little having been on the
advisory board of one or two of the projects (but not following it for the
whole length of time needed to see what was happening to the school). I was
especially interested when this veered over into the questions about
identity, having participated in a panel at AERA in 2003 that led me to
take a more critical look at the notion itself (there will be an edited
book eventually, something like "Troubling Identity", and maybe more than
one). This was the SIG panel with Dorothy Holland that many here may remember.

I do like the idea that, whatever identities there may be (one word, many
notions), some at least emerge from an interactive dynamic of self- and
other- attribution, or at least of aspects of interactional activity that
provide affordances for such attributions, in a sort of moment-to-moment
dynamic contingency. But it's probably worth keeping in mind that all these
momentary variations and fluctuations, important on short timescales of
immediate choices and responses, also leave only some bits of their effects
in more lasting, more longer-term "habitus" or persistent dispositional
tendencies. Those tendencies, which matter on longer timescales, perhaps to
the more cumulative, time-averaged shape of a life -- though always still
one made by many momentary decisions, or reactions -- can also be called
identities, or can also be not just about dispositions to action as such,
but dispositions to self- attribution. And in their traces left in the
environment, whether artifactual or inter-personal, there is also some
longer timescale averaged effect in how others are likely to attribute
characters to us, or our environments differentially afford opportunities
for us to continually make and re-make some rather than other kinds of
short- and longer- term "identities" for ourselves.

I am not of course suggesting that there are just the two, momentary and
life-scale "identities". There must be many intermediate timescales where
identity-like notions are useful, but perhaps rather different from scale
to scale. And they are all "interactive" in some sense, but not necessarily
in the sense of person-person immediate transactions. The relevants
actants, or units of analysis, would be different across scales.

In Wolf-Michael and Ken's data there is a long enough timeline and a deep
enough micro-scale ethnography to begin to look at how we might articulate
across scales, from identity-in-events to identities-through-lives, and
observe the reciprocities with other-attributions and with institutional
"identity" changes. But this is very, very difficult to work through, and
challenging even to conceptualize usefully. Thanks to all for some
stimulating examples and arguments.


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. www.umich.edu/~jaylemke

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