Thursday, 24 October 2013


  • Introduce historical conceptions of identity
  • To introduce Foucault's discourse methodology
  • To place critique contemporary practice within these frameworks and to consider their validity
  • Postmodern theories of identity as fluid and constructed (in particular Zygmunt Bauman)
  • To consider identity today, especially in the digital domain

Theories of Identity
  • essentialisim (traditional approach)
  • our biological make up makes us who we are
  • We all have an innner essence that makes us who we are.
  • Post modern theorists disagree
  • Post-modern theorists are anti-essentialist

Physiognomy: Certain sorts of people have characteristics or identities.

Phrenology: equal parts of the brain, moral and animal. 

Used to produce a racially perfect person, arian race. The idea of a symetrical face means they are more intelligent and superior. 

Cesare L'ombroso (1835-1909) - Founder of positivist criminology - the notions that criminal tendencies are inherited.

Physiognomy legitimising racism in  Harpers Bazarr

The idea that africans and other races are not superior to english/ western people, the racial profiling of other races.

Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)
Jesus about to be crucified. The other people who are not him or are like him are made to look grotesk, jewish, subhuman, faces are highly animated.

Chris Ofili, holy virgin Mary, (1996)
Caused a sensation, gave a lot of coverage to young british artists. Caused a stir to the fact that people in new york comaplined and that it was offensive to christians. Mary wasn't black and was part of the arian race.

History phases of Identity
Douglas Kellner - Media Culture: Cultural studies, identity and polictis between the modern and the postmodern, (1992).

Pre modern Identity: personal identity is stable - defined by long standing roles. 

Institutions determined identity: Marriage, the church, monarchy, goverment, the state, work.

'Secure' identities : related insitualtional agency 

Farm work : landed gentry
The soldier : the state
The factory worker : industry capitalism
The house wife : patriarchy
The gentleman : patriarcy
Husband-wife (family) : marriage / church

Modern Identity: Modern societies begin to offer a range of social roles. Possibility to start 'choosing' your identity rather than simply being born into it. People 'worry about who they are

19th and early 20th centuries

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94), 
Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876

  • Charles baudelaire - The painter of modern life (1863) 
Baudelaire - inctroduces concept of the 'flaneur' (gentlement stroller)

  • Thorstein Veblen - Theory of the leisure class (1899)
Veblen - 'conspicuous consumption of valuable good is mean of reputability to the gentleman of leisure'

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 94), 
Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877

  • Georg Simmel - The metropolis and Mental Life (1903)

Simmel - trickle down theory: upperclass, shows there wealth, lower class want to emulate them, cheap knock offs. emulation, distinction, the 'mask' of fashion: the idea you hide behind what you wear.

Edvard Munch, Evening on Karl Johan,
Oil on Canvas, 1892

"the feeling of isolation is a rarely as decisive and intense when actually finds oneself physically alone, as when is a stranger with relations among many physical close persons, at a party on the train, or in the traffic of a large city"

Simmel suggests that:
because of the speed and mutability of 
modernity, individuals withdraw into 
themselves to find peace 
He describes this as: 
‘the separation of the subjective from the 
objective life’

Post modern Identity: Accepts a 'fragmented 'self'. Identity is constructed.
Identity is constructed out the discourses culturally available to us. - Michel Foucault.

What is discourse?

‘… a set of recurring statements that define a particular cultural ‘object’ (e.g., madness, criminality, sexuality) and provide concepts and terms through which such an object can be studied and discussed.’ Cavallaro, (2001) 

Possible discourses
  • age
  • class
  • gender
  • nationality race/ ethicty
  • sexual orientation
  • education
  • income
The list is endless.

Discourse to be considers

class - nationality - race/ethnicity/ gender and sexuality } 'otherness'

otherness: based around a history written by white, middle class, hetrosexual men.


Photography: Humphrey Spender/mass Observation, Worktown project, 1937.

Stereotypical images of a northern pub, Performance of a midsummer nights dream, Children play with chicken feet.

Photography: Martin Parr, New Brighton, Merseyside, form The Lasr Resort, 1983 - 86

Self congratulatory, lauhing at the other classes so others feel better about themselves.

Martin Parr, Ascot, 2003:  “Society” …reminds one of a particularly shrewd, cunning and pokerfaced player in the game of life, cheating if given a chance, flouting rules whenever possible’ -Bauman (2004), Identity, page 52"


Martin Parr, Sedlescombe, from think of England + Think Germany (2002 - 2003)

Alexander McQueen, Highland Rape collection, Autumn, Winter (1995 - 6)
Depicts the rape of scotland by the english, sensationalist attention, political statement.

Vivienne Westwood, Anglomania collection, Autumn / Winter (1993- 4)

Las Vegas: propcreated from elsewere, epygpt, itally ect.

‘I didn’t like Europe as much as I liked Disney World.  At 
Disney World all the countries are much closer together, and 
they just show you the best of each country.  Europe is more 
boring.  People talk strange languages and things are dirty. 
Sometimes you don’t see anything interesting in Europe for 
days, but at Disney World something different happens all the 
time, and people are happy.  It’s much more fun.  It’s well 
designed!’ - Papanek. V Quote (1995)


Important black artist and the looks at the perceptions of black people

Chris Ofili Left: No woman, no cry : references to black culture, Stephen Lawrence murder represented in the womans tears

Chris Ofili Right: Captain shit : elephant dung, references to African culture, rolled them up, marvel and dc comics, considers the representation of a character from a white persons point of view, how he feels and thinks about how he been represented.

Gilliam Wearing: From signs that say what you want them to say, and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say, (1992-3)

Stereotypes of black women and men and their gentiles, how society views themselves and their thoughts.

Alexander McQueen: representation of black women "it's a jungle out there". Imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy.

Emily Bates, Dress, created using her own hair.

Quote about her "hair has often been a big issue throughout my life.."
Created through the abuse she faces through having Ginger hair, mary magdeline denotted with red hair, wears red instead of blue. 

Gender / Sexuality

Cover of La Garconne by Victor Marguerite, (1922)

Androgyny style, french meaning of girl -boy 

Masquerade and the mask of femininity: Cindy Sherman, untitled film still (1977- 80)

Sam Taylor-Wood (Fuck, Suck, Spank, Wank)
Sarah Lucas, Au Naturel, (1994)
Tracey Emin, Everyone I have ever slept with (1963- 95) 

Way's they are viewed because they are woman. notches on the bedpost. negative connotations.

Post Modern Theory

  • Identity constructed through out social experience
  • Erving Goffman The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)
  • Goffman saw life as ‘theatre’, made up of ‘encounters’ and ‘performances’ 
  • For Goffman the self is a series of facades

Zygmunt Bauman

‘Yes, indeed, “identity” is revealed to us only as something to be invented rather than discovered; as a target of an effort, “an objective”’ 

Identity (2004)
Liquid Modernity (2000)
Liquid Love (2003)

The Morality

‘We use art, architecture, literature, and the rest, and advertising as well, to shield ourselves, in advance of experience, from the stark and plain reality in which we are fated to live’.

We celebrate how bad someone else's life is bad to make ourselves feel better.

‘ “Identity” is a hopelessly ambiguous idea and a 
double-edged sword.  It may be a war-cry of 
individuals, or of the communities that wish to be 
imagined by them.  At one time the edge of identity 
is turned against “collective pressures” by 
individuals who resent conformity and hold dear 
their own ways of living (which “the group” would 
decry as prejudices) and their own ways of living 
(which “the group” would condemn as cases of 
“deviation” or “silliness”, but at any rate of 
abnormality, needing to be cured or punished’
Bauman (2004), Identity, page 76

Further Reading

Bauman, Z. 2004) Identity, Cambridge, Polity Press
Benwell, B. and Stokoe, E. (2006) Discourse and Identity,
Edinburgh, Edinburgh  University Press
Gauntlett, D. (2008), Media, Gender and Identity: an
introduction, London and New York, Routledge
Kidd, W. (2001), Culture and Identity, Basingstoke,
Palgrave Macmillan
Woodward, K. (ed.) (1999), Identity and Difference, Milton
Keynes, Open University Press

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