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identity politics

  A concept that refers to social movements organized around the politicization of particular cultural identities. It is sometimes used as a synonym for some versions of feminist, anti-racist and anti-heterosexist social movements, to both credit and criticize their effects of fragmenting leftist class politics. Identity politics arose, however, in reaction to the particularisms that were represented as universalist in radical as well as liberal politics (see masculinism). The distinction between class as opposed to identity politics is sometimes conceptualized through a series of dualisms: class politics attend to the economy — identity politics are cultural; class politics address redistributive justice — identity politics are about matters of recognition. These are problematic dualisms for two reasons: first, within cultural politics the conceptual and political terrain is more complex than such dualisms suggest — identity politics are potentially at odds with deconstructive anti-identity politics inspired by post-structuralism; and second, a crude distinction between culture and economy evades the task of articulating the relations between them (Crang, 1997).

|||A more nuanced discussion engages with the challenges of creating effective political alliances across social movements. One concern is that identity politics can make this difficult if boundaries are sharply drawn between groups and \'experience\' within a group is taken as the only grounds for knowledge and speech; in such a circumstance, there is little basis for communication with those deemed outside the group. Another problem is that struggles around redistributive justice and identity politics sometimes have contradictory aims (see justice, geography and): the first tends to undermine group differentiation and the latter promotes it. (In feminism, this restates the classic equality/difference dilemma: should women seek equality with men or insist on their difference from them?) Fraser attempts to \'finesse\' this dilemma through a further distinction among attempts to remedy injustice: between affirmative efforts that seek to correct inequitable outcomes without disturbing the processes that underlie them, and transformative ones that address both outcomes and underlying processes. She thus produces four categories of politics. Fraser distinguishes, for example, between two types of sexual politics: she conceives gay-identity politics as an affirmative politics of recognition that seeks to enhance gay group identity and queer politics as an anti-identity politics that attempts to destabilize all fixed sexual identities, including heterosexual ones (see queer theory). (See also Kobayashi (1990) for a parallel distinction between multiculturalism that transforms rather than simply affirms race identity.) Fraser\'s assessment is that both forms of transformational politics complement each other, as do both varieties of affirmative politics, but that it is contradictory to combine affirmative and transformational politics; Fraser favours the latter. This is a coherent resolution that nonetheless sidesteps the psychic and political demands for identification, the problem that anti-identity politics may jar with the lived experience of a coherent stable identity, and the fact that identities can be important political resources (see subject formation, geographies of). Less categorical resolutions of the dilemma of the seemingly contradictory objectives of identity and deconstructive politics are suggested by those who see identity politics as a necessary moment of organizational cohesion before deconstruction, or simply as different political objectives that can be drawn upon strategically (Rose, 1993).

Critical geographers continue to debate the challenges of determining which and when particular identities and differences matter (see critical human geography): if \'a thousand flowers are encouraged to bloom under the sign of “critical” [geography], might not the notion of critical lose all meaning as well as grit? Doesn\'t politics require figuring out which differences matter when?\' (Katz, 1998, p. 258). Haraway\'s suggestive account of situated knowledge continues to tantalize: \'In the consciousness of our failures, we risk lapsing into boundless difference and giving up on the confusing task of making partial, real connections. Some differences are playful, some are poles of world historical systems of domination. Epistemology is about knowing the difference.\' (1990, pp. 202-3). But which epistemology? This remains a matter of debate (e.g. Harvey, 1996). (GP)

References Crang, P. 1997: Cultural turns and the (re)constitution of economic geography. In R. Lee and J. Wills, eds, Geographies of economies. London: Arnold, 3-15. Fraser, N. 1997: Justice Interruptus: critical reflections of the \'postsocialist\' condition. London: Routledge. Haraway, D. 1990: A manifesto for cyborgs: science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s. In L. Nicholson, ed., Feminism/postmodernism. London: Routledge. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Katz, C. 1998: Lost and found in the posts: addressing critical human geography. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 16: 257-78. Kobayashi, A. 1990: Racism and the law in Canada: a geographic perspective. Urban Geography 11: 447-73. Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and geography. Oxford: Polity Press and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
REDISTRIBUTION|liberal welfare state|socialism|
RECOGNITION|mainstream multiculturalism (gay identity politics)|deconstruction (queer politics)|
identity politics Four political orientations (After Fraser, 1997)



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