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Politics of Identity and Difference




Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: similarly-tagged 100/200-level courses or permission from the instructor.

Course description

All over the world societal claims for justice and recognition have repeatedly referred to claims for identity and group identification. Since the financial and economic crisis, which started in 2008, these struggles have intensified and diversified in various regions and political and societal contexts. At the same time processes of globalisation, modernisation and urbanisation have challenged clear and unambiguous references to traditional markers of group identities.

In this course we will discuss the politics of identity and difference by exploring the various playing fields on which struggles for group recognition take place. We will start by questioning the processes through which identities are constituted and how these identities are demarcated against opposing groups since claims to identity always include (and produce) difference and thus constitute the other who is not part of the ascribed or aspired identity. Analytically we will differentiate between essentialist and constructivist approaches which understand group constitutions as claims to either naturalistic markers of identities or to discursively constructed categories. We will investigate the claims for social and group identities based on class, gender, race and ethnicity or religion and their interrelations and intersections. During the course we will place current debates on nationalism and the multicultural society within this framework, exploring the different ways through which identity and difference are utilised. Claims for group identities in this context are often based on imaginations of natural communities. The end of this course will therefore explore the politics of those imaginations and constructions of communities and, in particular, the utilisation of nostalgic longings for identity.

Weekly overview

Week 1: Experiencing identity – Recognising identity
Week 2: Essentialist and constructivist approaches to identity
Week 3: Social identities I: Gender & Sexuality
Week 4: Social identities II: Race & Ethnicity
Week 5: Intersectionality
Week 6: Nation & culture: contested concepts in a globalised world
Week 7: Imagining community – The politics of nostalgia

Learning objectives

  • Students will be able to explain processes and characteristics of various groups’ struggles for recognition.

  • Students will be able to distinguish between essentialist and constructivist approaches to group identity.

  • Students will understand the variety of contested claims for national and/or cultural groups.

  • Students will be able to participate in and analyse current debates on questions of groups, identities and difference, such as discussions on multiculturalism or claims for mono-ethnic communities.

Compulsory textbook

A reader containing articles and book chapters will be made available electronically.