Sunday, March 13, 2005

Identity, Place, Knowledge

(notes from studies)

I am following Mouffe (1988) in suggesting that every agent occupies multiple subject positions. And although there are many possible constructions of these “multiple subjectivities,” they must be articulated, that is, constructed politically through discourse (by which Mouffe means the full range of speech acts and other practices). Subject positions and identities are neither pre-existing, nor analytically or politically privileged. Mouffe, therefore, is opposed to any form of class reductionism and to the notion of a paradigmatic expression of class position. Significantly, Mouffe does not claim that class is nonexistent, or that it cannot become the basis for counterhegemonic struggle, only that it is one of an array of available subject positions that must be politically articulated in order to become the locus of social struggle. At the same time, the range of possible emergent identities is not infinite. In the contemporary period, race, class, gender and sexuality have become visible and politicized as particularly powerful axes of social experience, knowledge and politics—that is, of identity. (Conway, 2004: 26)

Collective identities are actively constructed while constantly interacting with and being shaped by multiple social forces (Alvarez and Escobar, 1992: 321). Therefore, all forms of collective action (perhaps all social processes) need to be understood, at least in part, in terms of identity formation. (Conway, 2004: 27)

New spaces of resistance are being opened up, where our “place” (in all its meanings) is considered fundamentally important to our perspective, our location in the world, and our right and ability to challenge dominant discourses of power. (Keith and Pile, 1993: 6)

Recent developments in radical geography have problematized place as a process (Massey 1994). Places are constantly being produced through social relations and practices, which are inherently dynamic and conflictual. Places are produced through social contestation. The production of space as place is riven through with the exercise of power(s) and resistance(s). Places cannot be represented as internally coherent or unitary, nor can they be conceived as static pieces of ground or neutral stages on which action takes place. Finally, and relatedly, especially under conditions of globalization, places can no longer be conceived of as pre-given or bounded locals. Places are being constituted in significant ways by forces and conditions arising beyond the place, including the globalization of place, trade, finance, international migration, environmental crises and transnational social movements. This is a new way of seeing place, and it complicates any inquiry into the relationship between places and their social movements. (Conway, 2004: 35-36)

Place-based identities are not necessarily place-bound identities nor naively preservationist nor politically conservative. (Conway, 2004: 37)

The identities of place are always unfixed, contested and multiple. And the particularity of any place is, in these terms, constructed not by placing boundaries around it and defining its identity through counterposition to the other which lies beyond, but precisely (in part) through the specificity of the mix of links and interconnections to that “beyond.” Places viewed in this way are open and porous. (Massey, 1994: 5)

Massey argues for the possibility of a progressive and “global sense of place,” in which specificity of a place is constituted by the “particular constellation of social relations [of many scales], meeting and weaving together at a particular locus” and interacting with the “accumulated history of a place” (1994: 154). In this conceptualization, places retain their uniqueness without fixing essentialist identities and boundaries (Massey 1994). Places are thereby produced by social relations that stretch across space and through time-memory-history. (Conway, 2004: 38)

Alvarez, Sonia E. and Arturo Escobar. “Theoretical and Political Horizons of Change in Contemporary Latin American Social Movements.” The Making of Social Movements in Latin America. Eds. S.E. Alvarez and A. Escobar. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992:

Conway, Janet M. Identity, Place, Knowledge: Social Movements Contesting Globalization. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood, 2004.

Keith, Michael and Steve Pile. “The Politics of Place.” Place and the Politics of Identity. eds. M. Keith and S. Pile. NY: Routledge, 1993:

Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Polity Press, 1994.

Mouffe, Chantal. “Hegemony and New Political Subjects: Toward a New Concept of Democracy.” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988:

1 comment:

Arabica Robusta said...

Good stuff! I just discovered your blog and look forward to reading this and other postings in more depth.