DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.6899999

Against Identity. A Sketch towards a Genealogy of Culture

by Achia Anzi

Cultural identity emerged as a philosophical and theoretical concern in the last century. During the post-Second World War era, thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon critically explored the notion of identity and its function in various racial discourses. Curiously, as Stuart Hall discerns, the critical discourse of identity has harboured a duality since its inception. On the one hand, identity has become an axis around which political struggles were organised (identity politics), and on the other hand, the concept has been constantly questioned and viewed as a discursive position imposed on the individual (sub-jectification). The critique of identity renders it either as distorting the universality of humanism, or as halting the flux of becoming and the processes of hybridization through which cultures are formed and transformed. Hall, among other scholars, resolves this disparity at the cost of undermining the ontological position of cultural specificity. He replaces the notion of identity with identification and thus diverts the attention from what subjects are to what they identify themselves with. In this paper, I critically examine the presuppositions of the discourses on identity and identification. I argue that proponents and critics alike establish their analyses of the phenomenon of social belonging on a rickety theoretical premise that does not take into account the historicity of terms such as “identity” and “culture” and the political and social processes that they reflect, primarily colonialism. Identity, I argue while exploring the genealogy of the term “culture”, does not represent particularism but its containment within the universal order constituted by coloniality/modernity and leads to the erosion of cultural differences. By replacing the notion of being with becoming, Hall and other hybridity thinkers overcome the shortcoming of essentialism but continue to psychologise the notion of cultural belonging. Paradoxically, being in culture is not a state of being but the relation that one establishes with tradition.

Keywords: Identity, Stuart Hall, Identification, Culture, Colonialism

Download PDF