[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: Joseph E. Davis: Identity and Social Change: A Short Review
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Joseph E. Davis: Identity and Social Change: A Short Review
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture
Issues of self and identity have been a preoccupation in the
social sciences now for several generations. This short review of the
extensive literature touches on some of the most influential early
writers and then briefly discusses the several directions in which
more contemporary scholarship on identity has traveled.
Points of Departure
Up through the late 1960s, a considerable body of literature was
produced on personality and the self-concept, on the conflict between
individual needs and social demands, and on the effects of this
conflict and rapid social change for the adapting person. The
principal figures during this period were psychologists, including
Erik Erikson, Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, and Harry
Stack Sullivan; sociologists and anthropologists, such as Ruth
Benedict, Erving Goffman, Helen Lynd, David Riesman, and Georg Simmel;
and philosophers and existentialists, including R. D. Laing, Herbert
Marcuse, George Herbert Mead, and Alfred Schutz.
In this older literature, the self-society nexus was a central
problem, along with a concern over the disruptions in self-concept and
personality brought about by significant social dislocations and
transformations--urbanization, bureaucratization, the rise of a
consumption ethic, technological advances, the decline of major
institutions, and so on. For many writers, these disruptions were seen
to lead to painful uneasiness and destructive alienation and
instability. For others, however, the effects of change were
considered more salutary, leading to experimentation with new and
adaptive ways to meet social demands and efforts to break free from
narrow and restrictive social roles. The following titles are a
Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934.
Erikson, Erik H. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton,
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York:
Norton, (1930) 1961.
Fromm, Erich. Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of
Ethics. New York: Rinehart, 1947.
Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New
York: Doubleday, 1959.
Laing, R. D. The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and
Madness. Baltimore: Penguin, 1965.
Lynd, Helen Merrell. On Shame and the Search for Identity. New
York: Harcourt Brace, 1958.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of
Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon, 1964.
Maslow, Abraham H. Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton: Van
Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1934.
Riesman, David, with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denny. The Lonely
Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1950.
Schutz, Alfred. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1967.
Simmel, George. On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, (1903-1921) 1971.
Sullivan, Harry Stack. The Fusion of Psychiatry and Social
Science. New York: Norton, 1964.
Persisting Concerns and Lines of Theorizing
More recently, studies of self and identity have moved in a
number of diverse directions. However, two primary sociological texts
that continue the discussion of the older concerns with the
self-society connection and the impact of larger social forces on
Berger, Peter L., Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner. The Homeless
Mind: Modernization and Consciousness. New York: Vintage, 1973.
Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in
the Late Modern Age. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.
Individualism and Self-Fulfillment
Among others, two works that continue the concern with the self
spurred by Maslow, Carl Rogers, and others in the Human Potential
Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and address the contemporary
"identity crises" and "tribulations of the self" are:
Cushman, Philip. Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A
Cultural History of Psychotherapy. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley,
Lasch, Christopher. The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled
Times. New York: Norton, 1984.
For explorations of the changes in the ways people structure
their sense of self and/or pursue an ethic of self-fulfillment, see:
Bellah, Robert N., et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and
Commitment in American Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Clecak, Peter. America's Quest for the Ideal Self: Dissent and
Fulfillment in the 60s and 70s. New York: Oxford University Press,
Hewitt, John P. Dilemmas of the American Self. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1989.
Russell, Cheryl. The Master Trend: How the Baby-Boom Generation is
Remaking America. New York: Plenum, 1993.
Veroff, Joseph, Elizabeth Douvan, and Richard A. Kulka. The Inner
American: A Self-Portrait from 1957 to 1976. New York: Basic,
Yankelovich, Daniel. New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in
a World Turned Upside Down. New York: Random House, 1981.
Personality, Character, and Social Change
Many works trace the emergence of a new personality type or
character, shaped by or adapted to the changing social, cultural, and
economic conditions of postindustrial or postmodern life. The new
personality type has been variously categorized as an "antinomian"
personality (Adler), a boundaryless self (Bell), a narcissistic
personality (Lasch, Sennett), a "subject-directed" character
(Leinberger and Tucker), a protean self (Lifton), a therapeutic
personality (Rieff), and a "postmodern" (Wood and Zurcher) or
"mutable" self (Zurcher). As with observers of an earlier generation,
changes in personality or character are alternatively characterized as
destructive or liberating, as a sign of cultural decline or a
potentially fruitful adaptation to contemporary social conditions of
flux and fragmentation. See:
Adler, Nathan. The Underground Stream: New Life Styles and the
Antinomian Personality. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
Bell, Daniel. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York:
Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an
Age of Diminishing Expectation. New York: Norton, 1979.
Leinberger, Paul, and Bruce Tucker. The New Individualists: The
Generation after the Organization Man. New York: HarperCollins,
Lifton, Robert Jay. The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age
of Fragmentation. New York: Basic, 1993.
Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After
Freud. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man: On the Social Psychology
of Capitalism. New York: Knopf, 1977.
Wood, Michael R., and Louis A. Zurcher, Jr. The Development of a
Postmodern Self: A Computer-Assisted Comparative Analysis of
Personal Documents. New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Zurcher, Louis A., Jr. The Mutable Self: A Self-Concept for Social
Change. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1977.
Technology and Identity
Finally, recent studies also continue a concern with the impact
of technology on consciousness and identity, though new technologies
have raised new issues. Some works focus on how new communications
technologies, including the Internet, which free interaction from
physical co-presence, are affecting the experience of the self as
unified and coherent and changing the context in which identity is
constructed. For instance:
Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in
Contemporary Life. New York: Basic, 1991.
Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic
Media on Social Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. The Media Equation: How People
Treat Computers, Televisions, and New Media as Real People and
Places. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the
Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
Another emerging interest concerns the new psychopharmacology.
For a provocative examination of the effects of mood-altering drugs on
the experience of self, see:
Kramer, Peter D. Listening to Prozac: A Psychiatrist Explores
Antidepressant Drugs and the Remaking of the Self. New York:
New Issues and Directions
In addition to broad thematic continuities, recent identity
studies have also departed from the older literature in significant
ways. The most consequential of the new developments has been to shift
attention away from a concern with the individual's sense of self to
issues of collective identity and political action.
Constructionism, Collective Identities, and the Body
One stream of the new scholarship, the social constructionist,
has concentrated on identities of race, ethnicity/nation, gender, and
sexuality. In these studies, collective identities are treated not as
some primordial property of a group's members, but as interactional
accomplishments that must be continually renegotiated. The following
are a few notable examples:
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread of Nationalism. 2nd ed. New York: Verso, 1991.
Waters, Mary. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Nagel, Joane. American Indian Ethnic Renewal: Red Power and the
Resurgence of Identity and Culture. New York: Oxford University
A notable subset of the constructionist literature questions the
meaning of biological distinctions, such as the inscription of gender
on the body and the growing importance of the body to individual and
collective identities. For example:
Martin, Emily. The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of
Reproduction. Boston: Beacon, 1991.
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage, 1993.
Following on the politicization of identity by the new social
movements of the 1960s and 1970s, another, and closely related, stream
of research has emerged on the constitution of collective identities
and the political implications that result from group struggles to
self-characterize and claim social franchise. This is the literature
on "identity politics," which has been principally, though not
exclusively, concerned with identities of race, ethnicity, gender,
sexuality, and social class. For instance:
Balibar, Etienne, and Immanuel Wallerstein. Race, Nation, Class:
Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso, 1991.
Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. Vol. 2, The Information
Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997.
Dudley, Kathryn Marie. The End of the Line: Lost Jobs, New Lives
in Postindustrial America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Finally, the academic discourse of postmodernism has also been
centrally concerned with an erosion of the belief in an essence or
substantial identity defining the person. In fact, Robert Dunn argues
that "the concept of the postmodern itself was an attempt to
articulate a growing sense of the problematization of identity as a
generalized condition of life in postwar Western society" (Identity
Crises, 2). The literature on the politics of identity, itself a
version of postmodernism, involves a critique of social hierarchies
and emphasizes the negotiated and contingent nature of identity,
difference, and the rules of inclusion and exclusion. Academic
postmodernism, by contrast, influenced by French poststructuralism,
involves an epistemological critique and abandonment of the rational
and unified subject of Enlightenment philosophy. The many works of
such prominent postmodern theorists as Jean Baudrillard, Jacques
Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard, all attempt in
their various ways to "decenter" the subject and deconstruct
established identity categories and their accompanying power-discourse
formations. For examples of this type of postmodern theorizing and
helpful discussions, see:
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1994.
Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. Postmodern Theory: Critical
Interrogations. New York: Guilford, 1991.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of
Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1978.
Dunn, Robert G. Identity Crises: A Social Critique of
Postmodernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other
Writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980.
Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the
Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on
Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
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