Free Cultural Identity: Understanding of One's Identity

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The term ‘identity’ is vaguely defined or given a specific definition which means that we, as people, are constantly on this quest for identity, a validation of who we are. We do not want to be influenced or touched by society’s ideas or its ways of molding a person but sooner or later, we do realize that from the time we are born, everything we hear, see, do or experience is going to affect the way we think. Identities are our own representations.

The identity is subordinated to a vast concept far above the notion of baptismal name. Identity represents, or should represent, the unique manifestation of the individual conditioned by the context of his appearance in the world, but free spiritually. Identity, personality and individuality are three concepts that need to be understood and approached from the right positions. Identity refers to all the constituent elements of man from a genetic, social and cultural point of view. If we are genetically, socially and culturally conditioned by heredity, social status and education, in terms of individuality, this is the unique imprint that truly characterizes our ‘indivisibility’. The notion of personality comes from the old Greek word: ‘persona’, which means ‘mask’. In other words, personality would mean that person who uses in different situations different attitudes, depending on the nature of the situations. In this situation, a question of the most basic common sense is required: ‘are we really who we are? We are what we are both through our limits and our strengths, both through what we lack and what we have.

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We must become aware of what we really are, not just copies of some models and for this we must use only what is ours, energy, will and lucidity, all grafted on our own experience. In ‘Beyond Identity’ by Brubaker, Roger and Frederick Cooper, the existence of identity is put under a question mark because we are not so sure weather or not we need the pressure of knowing who and what we are but ‘The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion suggests that we do’ (Beyond Identity). Despite all the discussions regarding the identity itself, this term remains indispensable. However, identity is defined as being something that all people have, should have or are searching for and it is applied to groups too (e.g. ethnic, racial, national). The introduction of ‘identity’ occurred in the United States in the 1960s having been anticipated from the second half of 1950s. From the late 1960s on, individual identity was linked to communal culture. Also, W. J. M. Mackenzie characterized identity as a word 'driven out of its wits by over-use,'.

Categories of Practice and Categories of Analysis

‘Identity’ is both a category of practice and a category of analysis. As a category of practice, the term is used by people to establish a sense of themselves, of who they are and in what circumstances they are different from others. Identity is also used in terms of politics, having various forms. The category of practice is compared to the category of analysis.

The Uses of “identity”

The term itself is ambiguous but it has several potential meanings such as: “‘identity’ is often opposed to ‘interest’ in an effort to highlight and conceptualize non-instrumental modes of social and political action” or understood as a collective phenomenon meaning all people from a group have something in common, their identity. It is also understood as something deeply, not superficial, the journey of finding yourself and trying to understand who you are. Identity seen as a product of social or political action and is invoked to highlight the unstable, multiple, fluctuating, andfragmented nature of the contemporary 'self.'

Strong and weak understandings of 'identity”

  1. Identity is something all people have, or ought to have, or are searching for.
  2. Identity is something all groups have, or ought to have.
  3. Identity is something people (and groups) can have without being aware of it. “In this perspective, identity is something to be discovered, and something about which one can be mistaken. The strong conception of identity thus replicates the Marxian epistemology of class.”
  4. Strong notions of collective identity imply strong notions of group boundedness and homogeneity. They imply high degrees of groupness, an 'identity' or sameness among group members, a sharp distinctiveness from nonmembers, a clear boundary between inside and outside.

“Having surveyed the work done by 'identity,' indicated some limitations and liabilities of the term, and suggested a range of alternatives, we seek now to illustrate our argument - both the critical claims about 'identity' and the constructive suggestions regarding alternative idioms - through a consideration of three cases.”  

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