Abstract: Autobiography or confessional? The title is not plagiarised from the literary offering by a certain Mr. Tim Griggs, but that of a short story that has been languishing in my archives for over ten years, an ironic comment on the requirement in modern Western society for a female to be attached and the difficulties in attaining this state of “bliss”.

Monday, 31 December 2007

Britblog Roundup 150

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:42 pm

Welcome to the Britblog Roundup’s 150th edition with the festive season gearing up for a fresh bout of inebriation and overindulgence now that the crackers have been pulled, the groanworthy jokes ritually recited, the paper hats crumpled, the wrapping paper agonised over (will I be fined by the council if I attempt to recycle it, it being so glossy and all?), the boxes which the toys were packaged in and which proved a greater source of fascination for the toddlers than their contents compacted, the mince pie fillings congealed, the sprouts digested, the air cleared, the squabbles abated with the departure of the in-laws and the Rennies gulped down by the handful.

The prevailing holiday spirit and mellow mood does not mean an amnesty for those whose job descriptions deem them our servants, allegedly acting in the interests of the community as a whole, yet who increasingly behave as our lords and masters. They cling like ticks on the body politic, frantically glutting themselves on as much blood as they can before being smothered by butter, singed by a match flame or whatever other folk remedy might be employed to persuade them to release their grip. Janine at Stroppy Blog, issues us with a reminder of their propensity for self-regard in Snouts, Troughs, on the subject of the cross-party consensus on voting through a pay rise to £100,000, which would, apparently, more realistically reflect the worth of an MP. Here we have the one issue you can count on politicians of all hues agreeing on, uniting them across the ideological divides. Janine ponders the irony inherent in their unique privilege. Conceived as a way of ensuring that talented and committed representatives from humbler backgrounds would not be barred from standing for Parliament, a wage for MPs aimed at wresting control of the legislature from the wealthy elite: “And to think, it was the labour movement that originally fought for MPs to receive a salary at all, since the unpaid nature of the position meant that only those rich enough through other means could afford to be elected to Parliament. I hear the hum of grave-turning”.

Jim Jay of The Daily (Maybe) has painstakingly scoured the net to compile a comprehensive fact file on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Susanne Lamido, of also mourns her passing and, closer to home, that of Suzblog16-year-old Nassirudeen Osawe, stabbed in Islington: “The growing knife culture is getting out of hand. Reports about this latest killing are in all the papers and have been on the news because it seems so incredible that it could happen in public view in such a crowded place during the day”.

Continuing on the theme of violence, Jonathan Calder of Liberal England, in On letting boys play with guns opens with the stern warning from Kevin Brennan about gadgets, which inevitably cause disruption in the classroom, being taken away from their junior owners keen to show off their Christmas booty: “This sort of intervention is at once a symptom and a cause of the demoralisation of the teaching profession. In my young day teachers did not need encouragement from Margaret Thatcher or Shirley Williams before they confiscated things”.

He then moves on to consider recently published government guidance on the Early Years Foundation Stage, Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys’ Achievements. According to the booklet, an analysis of GCSE results indicates that “white British boys comprise nearly half of all low achievers, with boys generally outnumbering girls by 20%”.

In an effort to account for this phenomenon the authors assert: “Creating the right conditions for children to develop confidence in themselves as learners, explorers, discoverers and critical thinkers is vital in a rapidly changing world. This is particularly important for boys as their natural exuberance, energy and keen exploratory drive may often be misinterpreted. Unwittingly, boys can be labelled and their behaviour perceived as inappropriate or even challenging. The qualities and skills that are most valued by schools, the ability to communicate orally and represent ideas on paper, are often the very aspects of learning that boys find the most difficult”.

Jonathan finds the eagerness of politicians to pronounce upon every minute aspect of school life unpalatable and Beverley Hughes’ statement that “(…) many children, and perhaps particularly many boys, like boisterous, physical activity” objectionable, responding: “Note that ‘perhaps’. We all know that boys tend to be more boisterous than girls, but someone like Hughes has spent her entire political career moving in circles where it is impossible to say so. Hence her uneasiness in voicing this simple truth”.

In Jonathan’s youth and mine no teacher intervened during playtime except when a fight broke out. The children split into groups, the girls swapping scraps, skipping, playing doublers, hopscotch or tig (as it was referred to in my local dialect), the boys kicking a football or competing to win marbles off each other. With games such as Red Rover, Carrot, Carrot, Neep, Neep or What’s the time Mr Wolf? it would be a gross distortion to pretend that the girls were uniformly prim and sedate whilst the boys spent their entire fifteen minutes of freedom tearing around and skinning their knees. The “sugar and spice and all things nice” versus “frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails” division is too categorical and limiting on both genders. I do not believe that either boys’ or girls’ energies or curiosity should be stifled, but the social pressure on girls to sit quiet and cultivate greater demureness to render them properly “feminine” (and correspondingly passive) is undeniable. Contrast this with the contemporary construction of masculinity, which certainly does incorporate a tolerance of aggression (the will to conquer and forcibly possess as the less attractive aspect of the active principle).

Jess McCabe of The F-Word, covers the same ground from a feminist perspective in Government encouraging boys to play with toy weapons, demonstrating that the truth is not quite so simple after all. She quotes Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters-Union of Women Teachers, who rightly points out that the assumptions that lie behind the guidance constitute a clear instance of gender stereotyping.

To return to the original document for a moment: “Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting points in boys’ play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons. Adults can find this type of play particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it. This is not necessary as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and environment”.

The toys we are given by relatives cement gender roles at an age when we are as yet unable to adopt a critical distance from them. My miniature vacuum cleaner might have been intended to make me feel more grown up, but it was also calculated to reconcile me to the drudgery of unremunerated labour in the form of housework. My parents would never have dreamed of buying my brother a plastic rolling pin and mixing bowls in matching colours. I had Tiny Tears, fed her with a bottle and changed her nappy (preparation for future child-rearing), but I also pinched my brother’s Action Man, fascinated by how his Y-fronts were welded to his skin (maybe he hadn’t ever bothered to wash them), tortured him in ways that would give even the most hardened interrogators pause for thought.

Jess questions the appropriateness of the Children’s Minister reiterating the conventional wisdom that girls do not enjoy rough and tumble in their games and highlights the contradictions in the recommendations: “So children absorb and internalise messages about gender roles, but they should be unambiguously supported when they act this out at playtime? Not that they shouldn’t be ‘valued and supported’, but (…) the guidance just acknowledged that children’s play choices are heavily influenced by adult expectations (…) How is that allowing their ‘own personal narratives to flow’?”

We live in a culture saturated with images of violence. Toy guns are so true in every detail that they can easily be mistaken for the genuine article. When little boys tire of plastic replicas and withdraw to their dens as teenagers they might switch to the virtual weapons of FPS games, such as the tongue-in-cheek BFG in Doom 3, all of which conspires to desensitise, make wielding weapons second nature. Not that girls are left out altogether: after all, we have Buffy and Lara Croft to emulate these days. The lesson taught by the superheroes is that we can distinguish between good violence and bad violence. Bad violence is the preserve of the villains who want to subvert the established order or amass fortunes by dishonest means, whilst good violence is any kind the Government approves of and the Church gives its blessing to, whether that involve defending the homeland or invading a foreign state to ward off a potential threat. All the while the newspapers lament the random nihilism of drive-by shootings and the glamorisation of guns as a symbol of gang’s power. Too many youngsters are afraid to step outside their doors without the requisite “protection”. As a confirmed gaming addict I do not mention these trends as a prelude to a call for a ban of the intestine-splattering gorefests. As the mother of a well-adjusted 16-year-old boy I adopted a pragmatic approach, which did not involve banishing toy guns from my household. Instead, I seek merely to illustrate the sheer breadth of the issue.

A final contribution on this topic comes from Reynolds of Random Acts of Reality, who in Cliché expresses his outrage at domestic violence, articulating his frustration at the system’s inability to assist women whose self-confidence has been so battered that they stay put rather than fleeing their abusive partners.

Gavin Whenman of The Whiskey Priest, pours scorn on an initiative to encourage more women to voice their political opinions in Patronising the little women – the Gender Balance Blog Awards: “(…) honouring these wee little ladies that have both the ability to type and are doing so online…Presumably after their men have set up their internet connection and installed the necessary software that their women’s tiny brains simply cannot comprehend”.

His conclusion: “The Gender Balance Awards is a bunch of patronising bollocks designed to cure a problem that doesn’t exist. There are no historical or actual roadblocks stopping women from blogging and to launch a whole awards for them reveals the deeply offensive and chauvinistic attitude of those running the scheme”.

There are several reasons why I fundamentally disagree with Mr Whenman. Women have only too readily been pronounced incompetent in matters of technology on the basis of the ancient slander associating women with emotion/intuition and men with reason/logic. The computer industry remains male-dominated, the geek by definition male. A woman might not have much time left over for blogging, too busy ironing his shirts and socks after a hard day at the office whilst he vents his spleen over a hot keyboard in the knowledge that when his stomach starts rumbling his dinner will be on the table. Whereas a handful of women bloggers might have secured book deals these are almost completely confined to the “personal”, “autobiographical” or “confessional” categories. If you don’t write about your sexual exploits, your boyfriend’s foibles (however charmingly), child-rearing or dieting you don’t stand much of a chance of receiving any recognition (whenever the mainstream media devote a column or two to the personal publishing revolution or whatever new coinage has become fashionable you will only ever see a token woman).

In the realm of “political” blogging women are particularly thin on the ground. This is not because we prefer to discuss Gordon Brown’s dress sense rather than his policies, but because the “political” is routinely defined too narrowly along Party lines with feminism automatically discounted (just peruse the sidebars of a few of the better known political bloggers for corroboration of this). Natalie Bennett, for example, founder of the Carnival of the Feminists and regular host of the Roundup only began to attract attention when she joined the Greens. Quite iniquitous. “Intellectual” women, women able to argue a point are assiduously ignored (glance down the index of one of the compilations of political blogging articles), perhaps perceived as too unfemininely assertive, too threatening. In other words, the failing is not on the part of women, but on the part of those who airbrush them out.

Then there is the phenomenon of trolling and hate mails. When the bombardment is ceaseless and unremitting it can be quite disheartening. There are some petty-minded individuals who take pleasure in dedicating themselves to putting women down, particularly those who openly identify as feminists, presumably because of the challenge to male privilege that their mere existence represents. Mr Whenman can be forgiven for being unaware of this.

Therefore, whilst I concede that there are no overt, socially prescribed obstacles to women blogging there are other factors at play and the Awards provide a useful corrective, generating publicity for serious writing by women. Ros Tyler of Liberal Democrat Voice and one of the panel of judges summarises the philosophy behind the exercise: “(…) the dearth of women blogging about politics has had an uncivilising effect on the internet. Too many established bloggers, unconsciously or otherwise, consider the web a perfectly egalitarian place where women suffer no discrimination and should not expect special treatment.

Unfortunately, like every other utopia, that meritocracy simply doesn’t exist. Call it an innate unwillingness to pronounce on subjects in which we don’t have a doctorate, blame it on a lack of time, point to the lack of women at the highest levels of politics – whatever the cause, and despite the best efforts of a few individuals, the political blogosphere is still dominated by men. On a few non-Liberal Democrat blogs, scepticism about female bloggers has hardened into outright misogyny”.

A fine example of a woman political blogger, Molly of Gaian Economics examines the impact of the severe flooding in Gloucestershire earlier in the year in Turning Towards Each Other. Not by any means a depressing tale of calamity, Molly’s evaluation includes the rediscovery of a sense of community through shared adversity: “Surviving the floods was a salutary experience, and a very uplifting one after the initial panic had subsided. We amazed ourselves with our resourcefulness, as we found Heath-Robinsonesque ways to channel rainwater into our toilets and wash five heads of hair with a bucket of water. We found out who our neighbours were (and looked after the vulnerable ones) and we found out where our electricity and water come from”.

Natalie Bennett at My Paris, Your Paris, pays A visit to the Immigration Museum. “At the end of the 20th century the biggest flow by far is of Mexicans into the US – 10.3 million. But Europe also sent 7.5 million people to the US, a flow pretty well matched by thickness of the arrow from India to the Gulf States. These are movements that don’t always get the attention that their size might deserve”. Her guided tour eloquently conveys quite how politically charged migration has become.

Deek Deekster of Blog of Funk replies to the question: In the face of persistently evaluating music, how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measure up? with a fascinating close reading of what at first sight appears an entirely mundane image: “There is an implicit assumption that analysis – aka persistent evaluation – removes pleasure, conjuring the spectre of unsmiling white-coated laboratory technicians holding clipboards, observing the mechanical processes of love, sex and death, yet unmoved by the passion, fucking and dying which they witness as they measure minute electrical responses and exact quantities of bodily fluid.

Detachment doesn’t mean not caring. Analysis brings its own shiny set of pleasures to the table, which are not necessarily stainless steel cool”.

By way of respite from the murder and mayhem and allowing us to look ahead with hope rather than trepidation let us now turn to some more seasonal and comforting, log-fire and armchair offerings.

Camden Kiwi reviews the Dr Who Christmas Special, which surely qualifies as one of the few television events able to recapture the togetherness of the days before families avoided conflicts over viewing by putting a TV in every room and the advent of cable and niche channels by the thousand when the nation tuned into the same entertainments, which subsequently animated conversations for days. In that sense the antics of the good Doctor function as the latter-day equivalent of The Morecombe and Wise Show and can legitimately lay claim to the same status as a British institution.

Pandemian supplies us with an alternative version of a popular Christmas ditty, albeit not exactly replete with good cheer or glad tidings, with a little help from some tabloid journalists in The 12 News of the World Days of Christmas.

A bittersweet and poignant, beautifully written observation on loss, Rachel from North London’s A different kind of Christmas shimmers brighter than the glitter-dusted Christmas baubles of fond memory: “Mum loved Christmas, really loved it, and there was much remembering about last year; how, after the Christmas Eve midnight service we came back and got into bed and as we fell asleep, heard Mum on the stairs, clip-clopping coconut shells together and making farting noises – pretending to be a reindeer accompanying Father Christmas as he left presents. Stifling her giggles, as the Christmas stockings she loved to prepare were left outside every child’s door, though the children she left them for were all grown-up now”.

Diamond Geezer tackles a conundrum that stumps many of us around this time of year, considerately providing helpful advice on 20 ways to use up your leftover turkey (my personal favourite: “Leave it outside your local police station inside a plastic bag labelled ‘Extreme Danger – Bird Flu’”).

Finally, just to prove that we have not completely forgotten that the great outdoors awaits our atrophied leg muscles, two primarily picture-based pieces for those of us who might be inspired to take a bracing walk in the fresh air, Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG, presents a series of exquisite photographs from a bygone age in Green and Pleasant Land, whilst Aunty Sarah’s Journal takes us on a trip to the Ouse Washes in Swan Lake.

If you will excuse me, I will now take my leave to introduce the neighbours to the Scottish tradition of “first footing”, since I have a tall and dark, if not exactly handsome, other half to cross the threshold with some whisky and a less austere version of the gifts of a lump of coal and black bun. In the meantime, I raise a glass to you all in celebration of the return of longer days, the lingering of the light.

Next week’s Roundup will be hosted by Cabalamat of Amused Cynicism. Nominations can be submitted, as ever, at britblog [at] gmail [dot] com

Saturday, 29 December 2007


Filed under: — site admin @ 1:21 pm

[According to Jonathan’s template]

The back-lit dial of the church tower clock glows blearily through the early morning mist and the neighbours’ dogs bark at every snow-muffled footstep inaudible to their owners, bayed warnings reaching a crescendo of fury as the post van labours up the slope. The motion sensors blink orange, registering my progress across the room to the kitchen for my second mug of the morning.

Perhaps our answers would all be the same, headline-inspired remedies for famine, climate change and war. Injustice as palpably obvious as the solutions remain elusive to politicians for whom any residue of compassion is summoned only to be strategically deployed when prompted by the polls. Their lip-service holds no greater meaning (and is, I suspect, less sincere) than that of the simpering beauty queen, in anticipation of her crown, who reels off how she would right the world’s wrongs, whilst the audience politely applauds: she is a good girl, in spite of her perfect proportions and artificially whitened teeth, her primped locks she cares, look at the tears smudging her mascara. She stands there in all her bathing-suited glory, measured up by their gaze, her skin unblemished, her limbs graceful, her awkwardness charmingly virginal, the symbol of unsullied youth, of hope, of feminine virtue (mouthing parroted platitudes whilst immaculately groomed), poised to accept victory graciously and modestly, to be paraded, to cut shopping mall ribbons, to sink into regret once the camera flashes have ceased blinding her. Of course she will never wield power beyond the transitory ability to incite envy and manipulate desire.

Perhaps ambition should be whittled down to the achievable in an effort to preserve substance rather than mimic those ritualistic pronouncements our professional declaimers indulge in to salve the collective conscience. Realism or capitulation? The abandonment of ideals?

  1. A change in attitudes towards rape in the spirit of the proposed reforms. At present, when the case is pared down to his word against hers, the myths permeating our culture too often mean that he is given the benefit of the doubt. He may have been emboldened by groping dozens of little girls with impunity, or have learned that the threat of retribution alone can suffice to silence, wielding his target’s shame against her as she torments herself with her naivety, agonises over her foolishness at wearing a skimpy dress or how her polite refusal could have been read as a come-on. The jury will learn nothing of his past predatory behaviour even where accusations have been officially recorded. Instead the victim herself will be placed under relentless scrutiny in the courtroom, her credibility on trial, every flicker of emotion (or absence of such) (mis-)interpreted. Better to be reminded of the wide range of coping mechanisms and responses to trauma by an expert than for a woman to be disbelieved because of a lack of bruises that would “prove” she had put up a fight. To be assaulted by the man closest to you, the most likely scenario, involves a betrayal of such magnitude that physical incapacitation might match her emotional numbness; in order to survive she might endure his viciousness with deadly calm rather than risk further injury by screaming or flailing around.

As for the issue of alcohol and consent, two incidents stick in my mind. A weekend break in a four-star hotel in the capital including a visit to my favourite Thai restaurant. Even a double portion of the dessert (banana cooked in coconut milk and sprinkled with sesame seeds) failed to lessen the effects of two (shared) bottles of Pinotage and I plunged into a deep slumber as soon as my head touched the pillow. The next morning my then addiction informed me with relish that, whilst dead to my surroundings, he could have done anything he wanted, the giddy sense of absolute power (thankfully) sufficing for him. As our relationship gradually deteriorated this laudable restraint evaporated.

In the bar after the night shift in exile, colleagues eager to wind down and blunt the adrenalin’s edge with the establishment’s array of flavoured vodkas. Her self-destructive streak manifested itself in excessive alcohol consumption. This was common knowledge amongst us and we protected her from the inevitable reprisals by concealing her occasional lateness. He was mercilessly plying her with drinks in a blatant effort to bludgeon her into oblivion at one remove, to step in gallantly and offer to accompany her back to her room. He knew that I was fully aware of his intentions and he challenged me to stop him with a supercilious sneer. Half slumped over the beer mats, she raised her head in slow motion at the sound of my voice, her eyes strangely distant even as she recognised me. Before he guided her away with a possessive arm around her shoulder she kissed me on the lips. Whence the pleasure of such non-intimacy might be derived escapes me. She would have shown all the responsiveness of a corpse before rigor had fully set in. What also strikes me is the vehemence with which those not otherwise vociferous in their espousal of women’s rights object to the idea that a woman might not be in a fit state to give her consent after a dozen vodka chasers which he so graciously purchased in exchange for her sexual favours (unstated assumption on his part). All of a sudden women attain the adult status they are customarily denied by those who claim we should not worry our pretty little heads about anything but functioning as brood mares. Is it because sweeping away her “inhibitions” on a tide of Bacardi Breezers is too common a “seduction” technique? Might it be that he fears the kind of appraisal he routinely carries out whenever a woman walks by? That sobriety’s cold assessment might find him wanting? That she might actually have the temerity to spurn his advances if not half cut?

  1. I would like feminism’s emancipatory agenda to be taken more seriously, for the tired cliché of the dungaree-wearing, bra-eschewing, man-despising termagant to be finally laid to rest. This is probably too much to ask for, given that the mainstream media find feminists too convenient a scapegoat for all of the alleged ills poisoning relations between men and women, for all of society’s woes. According to our detractors we want to purge all the fun out of life, classify harmless flirting as sexual harassment and so on. Portraying us all as ugly, strident, humourless nuisances hardly constitutes a serious engagement with our arguments, denies us any semblance of individuality and is, quite frankly, insulting (notice how the derogatory imagery deployed to persuade us to fall into line implicitly denigrates all conduct not centred directly on pleasing men, it is our appearance that counts, or rather is discounted because convention dictates that we constantly monitor how we present ourselves to – at the very least – avoid offending the male gaze). Not that I personally wear skirts as a general rule, only ever sensible shoes and the sole occasion on which I have worn make-up in the last two decades was on my wedding day. And yes, when I am slobbing around at home, I don’t generally bother to dress, let alone put on a bra. And, given that I am a (UK) size 22, I definitely do not conform to the ideals of slender beauty peddled by magazines.

Primitive though it is, the playground bully-style rhetoric alluded to above has proven remarkably resilient as well as effective, playing as it does on anxieties arising from our socialisation (oriented towards satisfying the demands of the male once again). If any doubt still lingers in your mind, just think of how many women are desperate to shake off the merest suspicion of sympathy for the sisterhood, prefacing their (often staunchly feminist) opinions with: “Well, I’m not a feminist, but…”

Biological difference should never be proffered to justify inferior social status or to deprive of opportunity. The oldest excuse for the subordination of women has been our role in reproduction. Until we have full control over our bodies we will not enjoy full autonomy. This means not being prevented by doctors, political or religious authorities from having abortions performed at any stage. It is arrant nonsense to claim that women take the decision to terminate lightly or frivolously, particularly given the massive cultural pressure for women to bear children (we are still said to be “incomplete” without offspring) and the immense burden of disapproval (stigma) surrounding abortion. Pretending otherwise is sheer hypocrisy. If the pregnancy results from unprotected sex then surely this should lead us to address why young girls do not feel empowered enough to insist on a condom in spite of his (selfishly motivated) pleas to the contrary rather than punishing them for the after-effects. Yes, ultimately, he could employ force, penetrate without a sheath and she could probably do little to stop him. Yes, we women are not exactly equipped culturally to turn him down. The embarrassment factor that leaves the inexperienced tongue-tied and unsure of themselves can only be tackled by eliminating the behind-the-bikesheds snigger element from sex education.

That we have not yet won the battle for full self-determination is illustrated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, currently winding its way through Parliament. Even though it is not specifically focused on abortion, those who would seek to restrict our access to it wish to use it to lower the limit from 24 to 20 or even 13 weeks and to introduce a “cooling off period” as well as compulsory counselling for all women considering the step. Instead of focusing on instilling a greater sense of responsibility in men when it comes to contraception the self-appointed moral guardians prefer punishing women for their “promiscuity” to causing the slightest inconvenience or loss of sensitivity to Him. They give precedence to the unformed and still only putatively human embryo, not yet in-corporat-ed (either literally or metaphorically) into society, over one of its productive members. Women will continue to have abortions regardless of the law, whether the would-be womb-policers like it or not. We already know that all such legislation will achieve will be a higher death toll from unsanitary back-street terminations, maimed girls and greater human misery. Instead what we should be doing is passing laws to ensure that doctors who refuse to perform abortions on moral or religious grounds are struck off or as a bare minimum obliged to refer their patient to a colleague not beset by such qualms without judgemental comment or delay.

  1. I would dearly love the Left to confront the consequences of multiculturalism rather than abdicating responsibility wholesale and immediately branding anyone who points to possible detrimental effects as racists, which only serves to stifle debate (and fuel legitimate resentment amongst those who do not subscribe to the prevailing orthodoxy). I wholeheartedly agree with Susan Moller Okin, Seyran Ates and Serap Cileli about the dangers of parallel societies and the immeasurable damage done to women in the name of cultural difference. Where the subordination and oppression of half of humanity is cold-bloodedly promulgated by decree tolerance must surely reach its limits. One (secular) law should apply to all citizens without exception. Making standards of protection contingent upon ethnic group membership institutionalises racism as opposed to eradicating it, condemning women to second-class status without appeal.

  1. The scriptures of the monotheistic religions are certainly inimical to equality between the sexes. God has spoken and His word cannot be contradicted. I can still recall the most from my Christian fundamentalist days the most generous slant on the creation myth. Eve was fashioned from Adam’s rib. Not from his head that she might rule over him, nor from his feet that he might trample on her, but from his side that she might be his companion and from close to his heart that he might cherish her. Today’s Church may well have strayed far from the rampant misogyny of passages labelling us as whited sepulchres and relegating us purely to the domestic sphere as the incubators of future male leaders, to the extent that in certain denominations the ordination of women is permitted. Perhaps my antipathy towards any and all religion is merely an extreme reaction to the corrosive and detrimental impact of obedience to a highly literal reading of the Bible during my formative years. Nevertheless I stand by my assertion that feminism and religious faith are incompatible. Jesus may have taught that all are of equal worth in the eyes of His Father, but historically the Church has blithely ignored His gospel. Religious belief has become the last refuge of those who actively seek to promote and practice open discrimination on grounds of gender and sexual preference, the only argument that can avert the ubiquitous charges of racism or be wielded to silence opponents. Faith, after all, defies reason.

In certain instances religion can be a force for good, providing comfort in the face of imminent death, easing the pain of utter futility. The prospect of the nothingness that follows once the electrical impulses of our brains have been extinguished can be terrifying and our societies are founded on suppressing the knowledge of our mortality. The hardest part of my Mother’s passing was the absolute certainty that I would never see her again, never hear her voice, never communicate with her, never be reunited in a happier hereafter.

What about some of the other objections to jettisoning a prop which humanity ought to have outgrown? How many atheists run soup kitchens? (Is it true altruism that hopes for heavenly reward, however?) Look at all the achievements religion has inspired in the realms of art, literature and architecture. True enough, but the harm done by religion far outweighs the good. At best its fantasy of a compensatory afterlife fosters complacency. Rather than tackling the injustices of the here and now tradition is revered and the flock is exhorted to meek observance of the laws rather than challenging them. Heaven is a distraction that saps reforming energies, notions of righteousness and sin promote callousness and paralysing indifference (the poor deserve the penury they wallow in). I would like to see the influence of religion diminish, unlikely though that may be in the present climate.

  1. I would also like to see university tuition fees abolished and the return of the grants system in the interests of restoring enhanced social mobility. With my working-class background I would never as a teenager have entertained the idea of higher education had it been linked to the millstone of long-term debt.

By instinct, yet also on the basis of my experience, I believe that the state has a duty to intervene to create opportunity for less privileged citizens. This is far too interventionist for many and is where I part company with Liberals (ironically on a policy issue where we are in complete accord). The traditional liberal concept of equality is gender blind with the male as the taken-for-granted default and is completely divorced from cultural reality. It dismisses the feminist perspective that the mere fact of being born female in itself entails culturally sanctioned disadvantage (“career woman” still carries negative connotations to take but the simplest example). If we only apply ourselves with sufficient diligence our upward climb will be assured. As the doctrine accords us all equal worth as human beings we are all assumed to enjoy equal entitlement and equal opportunities. History demonstrates however that this is palpably false. We do not live in a classless society for a start.

It is also important to recognise that even an omnipotent state cannot remove all traces of inequality and here my views once again converge with a more liberal stance: state interference should be restricted to the minimum necessary to attain the objective of as much equality as can reasonably be expected. One man’s connections might be deemed as having greater value than another (wo)man’s qualifications no matter how much legislation is adopted. It would be disingenuous to maintain that there is no pecking order amongst universities or that such snobbery is not deeply entrenched. This brings us on to the trickier matters, such as whether there is much point awarding (and here I am being quite consciously polemical and sexist) Tracey from Scunthorpe a degree in hairdressing from Redbrick Uni (formerly Redbrick Polytechnic) to meet a target of half of the population being in possession of a diploma when her particular certificate is not worth the paper it is printed on compared with Russell’s double-first in classics and mathematics (quite apart from the fact that she is highly unlikely to delude herself that it would help her land a job in the BBC beyond in the make-up department, whereas he might easily end up fronting a late-evening news programme grilling politicians because that nice chap he went out drinking with in his undergraduate days recommended him).

  1. If I were obscenely rich, enough to be able to dedicate my days to writing rather than subject myself to the frustrations of remunerated employment (and once I had spent several months playing online), after setting up multiple bursaries for the talented yet less well-to-do at the secondary school and universities I have attended I would commission various works. This would include more than one film. Success across genres has proven elusive especially for those directors who have looked to computer games as a source text as opposed to literature. They may look glossy and be loaded with state-of-the-art effects, yet ultimately remain hollow with their superficial characterisations and almost total absence of plot. StarCraft, with its unusual depth of storyline, its epic sweep, the tragedy and intrigues might well survive the transition if sensitively handled. I would be willing to put up the money for a try. And if, say, an artist of the calibre of Ridley Scott (the game does owe a debt to Alien after all) were willing. And whilst I was at it, I would probably fund a struggling composer to write a Protoss symphony too.

  1. Having been jolted out of contemplation mode by one a moment ago, I would certainly ban all junk/cold calls soliciting money. The fixed line has only been installed for a few days, yet my ears have just been assailed by a recording of a 10-year-old (very clever – it is infinitely harder to hang up on an innocent child than a double glazing salesman) tugging on the heartstrings to elicit donations for a hospital. If you wish to increase the number of operations next year, please press one…In the particular hell that awaits me, I will doubtless be riddled with gangrene and tumours with no surgeons available to offer me relief.

  1. So many stray thoughts, so little scope…if only Labour would shed its recently acquired Thatcherist and authoritarian impulses; if only a truly viable alternative to Labour and Tory would emerge (one that enough people would actually vote for – I am not taking a gratuitous swipe at the Liberals, the Greens or even the SNP here); if only government would cease patronising the electorate and curb its desire to keep us all under constant surveillance, preaching to us about our lifestyles whilst merrily disregarding its own recommendations (I do reside in a country that has been without a national government for several months now and if the papers and TV channels did not harp on endlessly about an unprecedented constitutional crisis you would never notice). If only, if only…

I would like to tag Natalie, Gordon, Richard, Tumbleweed and Invader Stu.

Saturday, 22 December 2007


Filed under: — site admin @ 7:54 am

November Butterfly by Chameleon

Autumn Berries by Chameleon

Natural Light by Chameleon

Friday, 21 December 2007

Memory and Identity

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:50 am

Memory and Identity

(Illustrated by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner)

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die”.

- Roy Batty’s last words.

“More human than human” is the proud boast of the Tyrell Corporation’s advertising slogan for its top of the range product, the Replicants, androids designed for the kind of dangerous and menial task their masters are no longer willing to perform from the colonisation of hostile planets to the fulfilment of the client’s sexual needs. With their advent, consumerism has reached its ultimate state of development, enabling those with sufficient means at their disposal to dispense with the tiresome messiness of ties of solidarity, empathy and responsibility inherent in any relationship. Instead of making the effort to negotiate or pander to the arbitrary moods of the Other, the buyer, in full knowledge that the risk of conflict, of the hurt or regret born of unpredictability and change has been eliminated in advance, can purchase the perfect partner, submissive and disposable. For the fortunate few, society has finally been supplanted by interaction of choice with no demands being placed, no clamour of noisy wants disturbing the pursuit of pleasure (Dr. Tyrell’s inner sanctum embodies the ideal of discreetly editing out all inconvenient and extraneous contacts, its almost cavernous dimensions and silence in stark contrast with the overcrowded, teeming streets it looks down upon from the symbolic heights of the company headquarters).

Set in a harsh post-industrial wasteland of unceasing deluge where the flares from chemical processing plants arc into the night sky and the only plant and animal life is synthetic, we are confronted with a setting in which genetic engineering has scaled unimaginable heights, where body parts are manufactured, where only the hedonistic hyper rich, the technological experts, service-providers and the detritus of misfits and outcasts rub shoulders. Mythical echoes of fears of the evil twin, the Doppelganger suffuse the plot as we are informed that Replicants have been banished from return to the homeland on pain of execution or – to use the euphemism of bitter aftertaste employed by the squads of police whose livelihood consists of hunting them down and disposing of them – “retirement”.

The problem with the Replicants is that the more intelligent amongst them have a propensity to seeking out the place of origin, hoping for answers. This is frowned upon by their makers because of the disruptive effect their presence would have given that they are not equipped for integration. Although surpassing most non-engineered humans in physical strength and intelligence they lack stability, unable to cope with the emotions that well up inside them and threaten to engulf them. As a result they are no longer reduced to sheer functionality: feelings represent an impediment to programming, an anomaly, generating a conflict of interest. Here we encounter the cultural legacy of dualism: reason is equated with goal-orientated action, harmony, seriousness of intent, proper function and efficiency, order and balance whilst feelings, depicted in the film as a by product of self-aware sentience, upset, overturn, distract, divert, disrupt.

The failsafe mechanism devised by the programmers in case of irredeemable and dangerous malfunction is as simple as it is cruel: a four-year lifespan. What we are presented with in the course of the story is the tragedy of a small group of synthetic adults impelled by the knowledge of their imminent demise to locate their creator in an attempt to find a means of prolonging their longevity. At this juncture Ridley Scott’s masterpiece moves beyond the trivial spectacle of standard fare science fiction to explore the human condition, examining the boundaries separating the artificial from the authentic (paralleled by a second dichotomy marking the discrepancy between appearance and reality illustrated by the owl in Tyrell’s apartments and Rachael herself, both indistinguishable from the flesh and blood beings they imitate, their true nature betrayed by the visual signal of an eerie glow in their eyes) and making a profound comment on the link between memory and identity.

The narrator and hero is Deckard, a former Blade Runner forced back into active service by his erstwhile boss Bryant to track down and destroy a handful of Replicants (Zhora, Pris and Leon) who have disregarded the ban on coming back to earth under the leadership of Roy Batty, a combat model of supreme resourcefulness and autonomy. Having abandoned his profession due to being racked by scruples Deckard is reluctant to fall back into his murderous ways. He lacks, in other words, the detachment necessary to viewing the Replicants as mere machines, vermin to be exterminated before they cause too much harm. The disillusioned atmosphere that pervades the film with its pessimistic appraisal of run of the mill humanity is redolent of the film noir genre popular in the 1950s, stylistically coherent with its retro detective story frame.

During the course of his investigations, Deckard is admitted into the presence of Dr. Tyrell himself, head of the vast business empire and the genius whose brainchild the Replicants are. He introduces the cop to Rachael, a new generation of Replicant so exquisitely conceived that even she is unaware of not being human. Her encounter with Deckard sparks an identity crisis as all her previous assumptions about herself are proven to be erroneous. Her memories do not belong to her, but to Tyrell’s niece and Deckard is able to recite to her in detail incidents from her childhood she had never recounted to another living soul.

Apart from her initial ignorance of her true identity the principle difference between Rachael and the remaining Replicants is to be found in the role played in their lives by memory. Although her past is false, Rachael is not racked by doubts or anxiety about who she is or what her place in society might be. She can proceed through an almost infinite variety of situations with perfect ease. The behaviour of the other Replicants is disturbing; their emotions are expressed with a vehemence that reduces them to a parody of prevailing convention. They are unable to mute, contain and channel their feelings in a fashion appropriate according to normal etiquette. Within the economy of the plot this immaturity is explained by the urgency of their errand (the date of shutdown approaches rapidly) and by the impossibility of cramming the experiences of a normal human lifetime into a pathetic four years. Accumulating memories as a buffer against impending extinction is transformed into a desperate race against time, the Replicants clutch at too brief a past, too intense a love.

Looking at the problem from a sociological perspective affords another set of insights. The primitiveness of their forms of expressing mutual affection, for example, arises because of they are divorced of a human social context. They have not undergone the long process of acculturation or socialisation moving through developmental stages (cognitively, emotionally and reflected in changing status within the family and the wider functional context). They do not possess the subtlety taken for granted in an adjusted adult and this affords them a childlike vulnerability that enables us to pity them in spite of their being otherwise unencumbered by the inhibitions of moral strictures and the sensation of pain (at Batty’s instigation Pris gleefully plunges her hand into boiling water before removing it unscalded in a demonstration of power).[1] The mastery of the cultural codes through a blend of painstaking absorption, observation, imitation, interaction and testing of limits indispensable to smooth navigation through everyday reality is thereby denied them. The simply have not acquired the unspoken rules and it is precisely this cultural incompetence that makes them dangerous. When challenged or provoked they react like cornered beasts because they have never endured the discipline imposed by social embeddedness. The resources that the penetration of our innermost being by society furnishes us with in the shape of values, classifications, definitions of legitimate expectations and rewards, in short an empowering cognitive framework and tissue of meaning to fall back on in the face of novelty, endowing us with the flexibility to improvise and innovate, to display creativity, to overcome adversity is alien to them in spite of their evident linguistic capabilities. Language can only assist us up to a certain point when being steeped in a culture takes over. For this reason the Replicants, although they can fit in superficially once they have sloughed off the constricting ligatures of duty, the function originally assigned to them, will never perfectly adopt the customs of those who surround them. They may emulate, but never comprehend; they are doomed to cultural illiteracy, their transactions awkward and their communication flawed. They prefer their own company because within the compact group they are bonded by shared meanings, loyalties and objectives.

What from the vantage point of the individual may at first appear to be a burden, the dead weight of social limitations upon conduct, of morality, of the myriad tacit ascriptive compacts far from stifling originality and reducing liberty to a mere collective fantasy is revealed instead as the precondition of freedom, an amulet against chaos and the onslaught of meaninglessness fashioned over countless generations. What we must not fail to recognise, however, is that our code is not absolute or supreme and that its utility must not blind us to the equal validity of alternatives. In adhering to it we must not exclude or denigrate those who do not subscribe to its prescripts.

It is reassuring at least that the director does not suggest that a single mind (Tyrell) or even a gathering of gifted programmers could ever hope to encompass the full essence of humanity or grasp the awe-inspiring complexity of the societies in which we live.

The spirit of the Romantic era pervades the film in its argument concerning memory and identity: the claim to the unique value of each individual resides in the filter of consciousness, the store of sense impressions and interpretations, the jumble of random events forged into narrative through the medium of memory, a progression from life to death via a series of social transitions. The essence of the human tragedy therefore consists of the loss of irretrievable and irreplaceable subjectivity. It is through memory that we discover who we truly are, memory that imparts meaning to our lives, memory that informs us of the best course of action to follow, memory that consoles us through loss by projecting the past before us, subverting the pitiless flow of time, only memory fixes reality, only memory assures us that we truly exist. Or, to quote from the callous commercial gain-oriented cynics from the Tyrell Corporation the implanted memories were inserted to provide a buffer, a cushion to make sense of rampant emotions and thereby render the Replicants more pliant, easier to control. This once again emphasizes the meaning-producing function of memory, as what would otherwise remain a chaotic profusion of sights, sounds and random interactions is lent structure and significance.

The degree of manipulation with its total violation of the sacred core of the self is what Deckard finds so repugnant. If we cannot be certain whether our memories truly belong to us or whether they have been extracted from another (and the film does not address the issue of whether the memories in question were stolen, forcibly removed or taken with the informed consent of the individual concerned perhaps in a misplaced search for a pseudo-immortality, presumably because the act of spiritual cloning is deemed so reprehensible in terms of conventional morality as not to require further comment, witness Deckard’s shock) only to be placed within our minds then we cannot truly know who we are, our identity is no longer an unrepeated biography, a trajectory we are sovereign to define, although (another area not touched upon) even the Replicants with borrowed personal histories once released into the uncontrolled environment of the world are from that moment free to make choices, determine what is significant for them, in short to create a life story. The paths of the synthetic and natural human will from that moment diverge because they will be exposed to different physical stimuli and, more importantly, social contexts.

The commodification of memory such as we witness in the film is deeply threatening because it undermines our cherished notions of continuity, one of the fundamental components of our concept of identity. Continuity is axiomatic to the embodied self. Several consciousnesses do not normally occupy or inhabit the same body except in the rare and disputed pathology of multiple personality disorder. Though my perspective on who I am alters almost imperceptibly as the years pass and I gain in competence and experience, though my circumstances and the general intellectual and social climate may change radically I persist. If I were to go back and read excerpts from my diary as a teenager I might shudder at my naivety or feel a twinge of nostalgia for the days when decisions were so straightforward and the dilemmas I agonised over so petty, I might, in short, be astonished by how little the me of today resembles the me of yesterday, but this in itself would never lead me to presume that a caesura had taken place, that my current identity was entirely independent of the identity I possessed then, that the past and present personae had nothing in common, that they were, in fact, two distinct people in spite of the existence of the phrase “I am a different person now”, which usually indicates that lessons have been learned from hindsight, that greater maturity has been attained, that repentance has led to recognition of wrongdoing and contrition. What links the endless flow of inputs and experiences, what binds together the succession of selves is memory. Every me that has preceded the me of the contemplated instant is the seed, the shoot from which the me of the here and now grew. Memory permits us to focus on the similarities rather than the discrepancies or differences. Indeed the metaphor of the growing developing self derives its persuasive power from the very process of bodily ageing itself (accompanied by gradual shifts in status and the meanings attached to the various stages of growth, reflected in regulations and prohibitions, such as for example stipulating a minimum age for the consumption of alcohol, an age of consent and so on).

The Scottish philosopher David Hume recognised the profound importance of memory for identity and causality:

“For what is memory, but a faculty, by which we raise up the images of past perceptions? And as an image necessarily resembles its object, must not the frequent placing of these resembling perceptions in the chain of thought, convey the imagination more easily from one link to another, and make the whole seem like the continuance of one object? In this particular, then, the memory not only discovers the identity, but also contributes to its production, by producing the relation of resemblance among the perceptions. The case is the same whether we consider ourselves or others.

(…) Had we no memory, we should never have any notion of causation, nor consequently of that chain of causes and effects, which constitute our self or person. But having once aquir’d this notion of causation from the memory, we can extend the same chain of causes, and consequently the identity of our persons beyond our memory, and can comprehend times, and circumstances, and actions, which we have entirely forgot, but suppose in general to have existed. (…) memory does not so much produce as discover personal identity, by showing us the relation of cause and effect among our different perceptions”.[2]

I note in passing that memory is notorious for its selectivity and unreliability (think of the inaccuracy of many eye witness recollections of crimes for example). Where they are traumatic, memories are often preserved with unsurpassed vividness and immediacy. By contrast where they stretch over a long period of relative tranquillity and contentment mood and atmosphere are often evoked at the expense of details, which blur. Precisely what is destined for long term storage and what is consigned to oblivion hinges on a number of factors – naturally my comments thus far have been based on the assumption that we are considering a relatively stable environment, the negotiation of which does not demand a huge amount of energy with members of a culture obeying its standards and conventions thereby investing the whole with the predictability we take for granted. In more extreme situations memory undoubtedly reveals its survival function: telling the difference between a poisonous and edible foodstuff, for example, or remembering the appropriate protocol formalities when meeting a foreign dignitary. Amongst these factors we may include our chosen way of life,[3] our habitus – in Pierre Bourdieu’s definition “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively “regulated” and “regular” without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor”[4] – the socially determined cognitive apparatus, which allows us to interact, representations of the good and the desirable and dominant narratives. These provide us with structures of relevance and models for what to emulate and strive towards. From this it becomes clear that memory is not an entirely private affair, that we assign meaning according to cultural criteria we are not aware of on a conscious level. In taking the decisions, which alter the subsequent course of our lives we make use of cultural templates, patterns of behaviour, we judge and are judged on the basis of the pervasive social norms, we act as interpreters, unceasingly reviewing our pasts, reassessing their message for us in the now.

Sociologist and critical theorist Zygmunt Bauman’s lamentation on the demise of the political sphere in an “individualised society” and the colonisation of public space by private concerns pinpoints one of the salient features of what he dubs as either postmodernity or late modernity:

“For the individual, public space is not much more than a giant screen on which private worries are projected without ceasing to be private or acquiring new collective qualities in the course of magnification: public space is where public confession of private secrets and intimacies is made. From their daily guided tours of the “public” space individuals return reinforced in their de jure individuality and reassured that the solitary fashion in which they go about their life-business is what all other “individuals like them” do, while – again like them – suffering their own measures of stumblings and (hopefully transient) defeats in the process”.[5]

However, the insatiable appetite for chat-shows in the TV generations can also be understood as a search for archetypes, for practical guidance and for comfort in the gnawing fretfulness of isolation:

“Celebrities with enough capital of authority to make what they say worthy of attention even before they say it are far too few to furnish the innumerable TV chat-shows (…), but this does not stop the chat-shows from being daily compulsive viewing for millions of guidance-hungry men and women. The authority of the person sharing her or his life-story may help viewers watch the example attentively and add a few thousand to the ratings. But the absence of the story-teller’s authority, her not-being-a-celebrity, his anonymity, may make the example easier to follow and so may have a value-adding potential of its own. The non-celebrities, the “ordinary” men and women “like you and me”, who appear on the screen only for a fleeting moment (no longer than it takes to tell the story and to get their share of applause for telling it, as well as the usual measure of rebuke for withholding tasty bits or dwelling on the uninteresting pieces for too long) are people as helpless and as hapless as their watchers, smarting under the same kind of blows and seeking desperately an honourable exit from trouble and a promising road to a happier life. And so what they have done, I can do as well; perhaps even better. I may learn something useful from their victories and their defeats alike”.[6]

Broadly speaking the two major identity paradigms of recent times can be encompassed in the concepts of essence and of construction.

In The Social Construction of Reality, first published in 1966, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann[7] turn their attention to the world of the everyday life:

“Its privileged position entitles it to the designation of paramount reality. The tension of consciousness is highest in everyday life, that is, the latter imposes itself upon consciousness in the most massive, urgent and intense manner. It is impossible to ignore, difficult even to weaken in its imperative presence. Consequently, it forces me to be attentive to it in the fullest way. I experience everyday life in the state of being wide-awake. This wide-awake state of existing in and apprehending the reality of everyday life is taken by me to be normal and self-evident, that is, it constitutes my natural attitude.

I apprehend the reality of everyday life as an ordered reality. Its phenomena are prearranged in patterns that seem to be independent of my apprehension of them and that impose themselves upon the latter. The reality of everyday life appears already objectified, that is, constituted by an order of objects that have been designated as objects before my appearance on the scene. The language used in everyday life continuously provides me with the necessary objectifications and posits the order within which these make sense and within which everyday life has meaning for me”.[8]

The reality of everyday life is organised around the body and the present and is intersubjective.[9] In the course of our face-to-face dealings with others we communicate through the medium of language, a symbolic system capable of generating “semantic fields”, or “zones of meaning”:[10]

“Within the semantic fields thus built up it is possible for both biographical and historical experience to be objectified, retained and accumulated. The accumulation, of course, is selective, with the semantic fields determining what will be retained and what “forgotten” of the total experience of both the individual and the society. By virtue of this accumulation a social stock of knowledge is constituted, which is transmitted from generation to generation and which is available to the individual in everyday life. I live in the common-sense world of everyday life equipped with specific bodies of knowledge. What is more, I know that others share at least part of this knowledge, and they know that I know this. My interaction with others in everyday life is, therefore, constantly affected by our common participation in the available social stock of knowledge”.[11]

It is the reciprocal action between society as objective and subjective reality, the use of common media of communication within shared symbolic universes absorbed during primary socialisation, maintenance and contribution to (expansion of) the shared stock of knowledge, participation in the processes of institutionalisation combined with a reification of the institutions inscribing them in nature that construct reality. Far from implying tacit acquiescence to an overwhelming and oppressive given the constructionist view opens the possibility of altering structures, changing attitudes, it holds an emancipatory potential that has been latched on to by feminists, environmentalists and numerous other critics of the dominant order.

By emphasising the inherent relativity of all cultural suppositions the liberating implications of this stance for the idea of the self emerge clearly:

“The genetic presuppositions for the self are, of course, given at birth. But the self, as it is experienced later as a subjectively and objectively recognizable identity, is not. The same social processes that determine the completion of the organism produce the self in its particular, culturally relative, form. The character of the self as a social product is not limited to the particular configuration the individual identifies as himself (for instance, as “a man”, in the particular way in which this identity is defined and formed in the culture in question), but to the comprehensive psychological equipment that serves as an appendage to the particular configuration (for instance, “manly” emotions, attitudes and even somatic reactions). It goes without saying, then, that the organism and, even more, the self cannot be adequately understood apart from the particular social context in which they were shaped”.[12]

Acquiring an identity begins with primary socialisation and is highly context-dependent:

“(…) identity is objectively defined as location in a certain world and can be subjectively appropriated only along with that world. Put differently, all identifications take place within horizons that imply a specific social world”.[13]

Reiterating their definition at a later stage, Berger and Luckmann allude to the impact of what might be described as “core identity narratives”:

“Identity is, of course, a key element of subjective reality and, like all subjective reality, stands in a dialectical relationship with society. Identity is formed by social processes. Once crystallised, it is maintained, modified, or even reshaped by social relations. The social processes involved in both the formation and the maintenance of identity are determined by the social structure. Conversely, the identities produced by the interplay of organism, individual consciousness and social structure react upon the given social structure, maintaining it, modifying it, or even reshaping it. Societies have histories in the course of which specific identities emerge; these histories are, however, made by men with specific identities”.[14]

In this view, history is not a flow of events over which we enjoy no influence, but the specific coping and sense-making mechanisms enshrined in common sense – the manifestation of the common stock of knowledge in the mind of the individual – developed by each collectivity will assign priority to solutions that have proven their worth. Identities will wax and wane, be fashionable and become passé as society adopts new attitudes whilst discarding those that have become obsolete in the fierce competition over ascendancy within cultural production. Against this backdrop certain trajectories retain greater appeal as narrative structures than others. The writing of history as the codification of public memory, as a form of representation mirroring the cultural mindset of a society at a given point in time is not an innocent undertaking, but – apart from staking the claim to authority, to peer consecration and a rank amongst lasting works of art to be included in the pantheon – informs us of who we are, from whence we came and serves as a source of reference, a storehouse of examples to follow.

In a more recent refinement of the social constructionist approach, a group of German researchers carried out a series of in-depth interviews charting the lives of 152 young adults from both the West and the regions that formerly belonged to the GDR in order to arrive at a more satisfying theoretical statement of the substance of identity. The starting point for Keupp et al is that the establishment of an identity results from an ongoing process of labour, of expending energy:

“It seems appropriate to lend the issue of identity a universal and a cultural-specific dimension. Identity always entails the production of a fit between the subjective “inner” and the social “outer” dimensions, in other words the manufacture of an individual social positioning (Verortung) as the universal demand of the conditio humana, the basic anthropological task to be performed by the human being”.[15]

The driving force behind this indefatigable toil is clear:

“The universal necessity of individual identity construction is founded upon the fundamental human need for recognition and belonging. Its purpose is to enable the subject, which can be defined anthropologically as a “being beset by flaws”, to position itself, it provides meaning for the individual and creates opportunities for the satisfaction of individual needs in a socially acceptable form. Identity forms a self-reflexive hinge between the inner and outer worlds and it is in precisely this function that its dual character becomes visible: through it the unmistakeably individual and the socially acceptable can be made the object of representation. To that extent, it is always the result of a compromise between “obstinacy” and adaptation, to that extent the identity discourse is always associated with the variations of meaning contained in the concepts of the aspiration to autonomy (…) and subjugation (…). Only in the dialectical combination of autonomy and subjugation with the available contexts of social recognition at a given juncture, however, does a conceptually adequate framework arise”.[16]

Again the context-bounded character of identity shines through. Keupp et al situate the constructivist discourse firmly within the period of modernity, which in their estimation stretches back some 150 years. Classical modernism presupposed a regular, linear process of development, a setting of social continuity and predictability within which the individual’s introspective search for self-knowledge could take place without major upsets. With the onset of postmodernity and the individualisation, pluralisation and globalisation, which are its hallmarks these comfortable assumptions have been overturned. The prospect of a stable and assured identity has evaporated before our very eyes, indeed its conceptual ingredients of unity, continuity, coherence, development or progress have been definitively replaced by their opposites: contingency, discontinuity, fragmentation, rupture, dissipation, diffusion, reflexivity and transition. Identity is no longer regarded as an inner core, but as the espousal of a project, a blueprint for a satisfactory life always subject to modification, as a task to be performed day in, day out.[17]

On a subjective level, the experience of postmodernity can be summarised as follows: a feeling of being cut loose or drifting socially, a multi-optional moral universe where virtue no longer consists of complying with predetermined, fixed standards, but in making the most personally fulfilling accommodation with transitory patterns of acceptable conduct and lifestyle, the inadequacy of paid employment as an identity-base, fragmentation of experience as normality, “virtual worlds” as new realities and communities, a shrinkage of the present as a side effect of technological advance and the almost instantaneous obsolescence of innovation, pluralisation of forms of life, a dramatic shift in gender roles, a radical change in the relationship between individual and community and finally individualised quests for meaning.[18] Certainly our band of Replicants, floating without social anchorage in a hostile metropolis scramble for an identity in a similar manner.

In the circumstances of postmodernity coherence assumes a different quality. It ceases to be understood as inner unity, harmony or a self-contained narrative and, in the words of the researchers, takes on an open structure within which – from the vantage point of the outside observer – the incidental, diffusion in the sense of refusal to enter into commitments, keeping options open, idiosyncratic anarchy and the combination of what at face value appear to be contradictory fragments are the order of the day. As long as the subject is happy with the authenticity of the cocktail in the lived moment and it is given the seal of approval by his network in the form of support and recognition nothing else matters. The laying of a durable foundation for future orientation is traded for a reflexive attentiveness capable of processing and adapting to new situations. This does not mean that coherence has lost its relevance, but that the individual narratives constitutive of it have diminishing recourse to the traditional “meta narratives” circulating within a given culture.[19] Identity can therefore be regarded as “the individual framework concept for a person within which he interprets his experiences and which serves as the basis for everyday identity work. In this identity work the subject endeavours to create coherent fits between internal and external experiences in any given situation and to link different partial identities”.[20] I would add that from this perspective memory retains its status as the raw material from which identities are built, a rich seam to be mined at leisure. The significance of recollected events is pliable, open to re-examination and reappraisal at will and can be bent to suit the pressing needs of justification and reinterpretation.

The skills called for in sewing together the patchwork include flexibility, mobility, adaptiveness, the ability to draw on reserves of strength and ingenuity and to mobilise material, cultural and social capital. Both subjectively and objectively, however, individuals do not have equal access to these precious resources.[21] Being in possession of sufficient financial wherewithal and armed with high qualifications and an extensive network of friends and contacts facilitates the implementation of identity projects. The less privileged are afflicted by social inequality in constructing an identity as much as they are in other areas.

Let us take stock of what the social constructionist identity paradigm teaches us: identity is not absolute, but varies both culturally and over time, in short it is context-bound. It is dynamic and interactive, the outcome of a continuous process of bargaining and negotiation – we are, after all, not just who we assert ourselves to be, but who others see us as – whereby we invent and reinvent ourselves in relation to them.

In addition I would propose that within society, identity may be used as a criterion for distributing or withholding benefits and advantages; it may promote cohesion or sanctify division, legitimate integration or exclusion. Identity is an organising principle of classification upon which both individuals and collectivities base their definition of who they are, what they stand for and hence how to conduct themselves. Without an identity it is impossible to be counted as fully human, to join in the life of society (part of the anguish that racks the Replicants). Identity is the bedrock upon which we ascribe significance to events; it is the quintessence of our conscious existence, the site of our emotional attachments.

Keupp and his co-authors were more than cognisant of the corrosive effects their stance would have on the conventional cognitive/narrative frameworks provided by national, ethnic, gender and corporeal identities, removing them once and for all from the cosy obscurity of the taken-for-granted realm of the doxa. The surgeon’s knife and the sophistication of medical interventions have transformed the body from – to paraphrase Siebert – a static given inherited from our parents in which we reluctantly age to an elastic mass, a work in progress,[22] not just through banishing the outward signs of ageing, but through more drastic procedures, such as changing sex.

In moving on to consider the rival discourse of essence, against which constructionism has rebelled, let us return to Hume on the subject of national character:

“The human mind is of a very imitative nature; nor is it possible for any set of men to converse often together, without acquiring a similitude of manner, and communicating to each other their vices as well as their virtues. The propensity to company and society is strong in all rational creatures; and the same disposition, which gives us this propensity, makes us enter deeply into each other’s sentiments, and causes like passions and inclinations to run, as it were, by contagion, through the whole club or knot of companions. Where a number of men are united into one political body, the occasions of their intercourse must be so frequent for defence, commerce, and government, that, together with the same speech or language, they must acquire a resemblance in their manners, and have a common or national character, as well as a personal one, peculiar to each individual. Now, though nature produces all kinds of temper and understanding in great abundance, it does not follow, that she always produces them in like proportions, and that in every society the ingredients of industry and indolence, valour and cowardice, humanity and brutality, wisdom and folly, will be mixed after the same manner. In the infancy of society, if any of these dispositions be found in greater abundance than the rest, it will naturally prevail in the composition, and give a tincture to the national character”.[23]

For the philosopher, the origin of national identity is social, the outcome of ongoing interaction and negotiation rather than an absolute coded in the genes. The specific question as to whether the particular blend of preferences, biases, outlook and temperament widely perceived as the distinguishing attributes of “Scottishness” (for our purposes a generic signifier for which any other nationality may be substituted) can be handed down through the generations and thereby acquire greater “solidity” (in explicit contrast to Bauman’s “liquidity” in describing the condition of late modernity) is not addressed directly by Hume, however. In his essay, he prefers to attribute both similarity and difference to the operation of moral as opposed to physical causes. Moral causes encompass “all circumstances which are fitted to work on the mind as motives or reasons, and which render a peculiar set of manners habitual to us”.[24] Condemning reliance on what we would label national stereotypes as fit only for the vulgar, he rejects physical causes (“those qualities of the air and climate which are supposed to work insensibly on the temper, by altering the tone and habit of the body, and giving a particular complexion”)[25] as an adequate explanation for national character, pinpointing a number of other factors instead. His observations include the impact of the establishment of “a very extensive government” over an extended period of time in encouraging uniformity; the peculiar variations engendered by a distinctive local government and its intimate relationship with a small, self-contained community; the influence of natural boundaries, such as mountain ranges or rivers; maintenance of “a close society or communication together” of a population “scattered over distant nations”, setting it apart from the host community; language and religion as an obstacle to the intermingling of “nations” inhabiting the same country; the retention of laws, language and custom amongst members of the same nation regardless of the context into which they are transplanted (a clear reference to the colonial experience); the erosions wrought by time (“The manners of a people change very considerably from one age to another, either by great alterations in their government, by the mixtures of new people, or by that inconsistency to which all human affairs are subject”) and the exchanges of trade (“Where several neighbouring nations have a very close communication together, either by policy, commerce, or travelling, they acquire a similitude of manners, proportioned to the communication”). Finally, he cites the Scottish example within Britain as evidence for “a wonderful mixture of manners and characters in the same [British] nation, speaking the same language and subject to the same government”.[26] Language and form of government, in other words, are not enough in themselves to promote or guarantee homogeneity.

The reluctance felt by Hume in making any concessions to the non-social realm becomes increasingly apparent:

“The only observation with regard to the difference of men in different climates, on which can rest any weight, is the vulgar one, that people, in the northern regions, have a greater inclination to strong liquors, and those in the southern to love and women. One can assign a very probable physical cause for this difference. Wine and distilled waters warm the frozen blood in the colder climates, and fortify men against the injuries of the weather; as the genial heat of the sun, in the countries exposed to his beams, inflames the blood, and exalts the passion between the sexes.

Perhaps, too, the matter may be accounted for by moral causes. All strong liquors are rarer in the north, and consequently are more coveted (…). On the other hand, the heat in the southern climates obliging men and women to go half naked, thereby renders their frequent commerce more dangerous, and inflames their mutual passion”.[27]

Such speculations aside, the philosopher does not indulge in effusions of patriotism vaunting the indwelling essence that forever separates the progeny of the unpolluted Highlands from their less divinely favoured Sassenach neighbours.[28] Although the very subject matter of the piece shows that Hume did not deny diversity he is quite relaxed about it, he does not wield it as a weapon in a territorial dispute or deploy it as part of an intricate argument in favour of the recognition of historic rights to be enshrined in self-government. He is not, in short, a nationalist in the sense of adhering to a doctrine, which propagates a certain definition of the nation flanked by a series of aspirations and demands arising from it.

In the words of Stuart Hall “identities are constructed through, not outside, difference. This entails the radically disturbing recognition that it is only through the relation to the Other, the relation to what it is not, to precisely what it lacks, to what has been called its constitutive outside that the “positive” meaning of any term – and thus its “identity” – can be constructed. Throughout their careers, identities can function as points of identification and attachment only because of their capacity to leave out, to render “outside”, abjected. Every identity has at its “margin”, an excess, something more”.[29] National identity, that most resilient and emotionally charged concept at the heart of self-understanding and collective solidarity, flaunts this principle: “we” are “Scottish” by virtue of not being “English”.

In stark contrast to the constructionist stance, for patriarchy and “organic varieties” of nationalism[30] identity is destiny. Certainty is the order of the day. The national essence is inherited (in a fashion analogous to female inferiority); it consists of a set of predispositions, characteristics transmitted from parents to children in unbroken succession. Both primordialism, the conviction that “the key to the nature, power, and incidence of nations and nationalism lies in the rootedness of the nation in kinship, ethnicity, and the genetic bases of human existence”[31] and perennialism, which maintains that nations have existed throughout recorded history[32] as set out by A. D. Smith share the propensity to project the nation back in time. I deem this to be nothing more than the logical corollary of the belief in essence: if the nation is synonymous with a unifying substance of sufficient importance as to take priority over all other attachments it cannot tolerate being debunked as a recent innovation of the human imagination, but must have existed since time immemorial, even if only embryonically.

The persuasive power, what I would dub the alchemy of nationalism, derives from a combination of its exploitation of the natural metaphors of kinship and blood ties alluded to above and the self-evident quality of belonging to the doxa, the unnoticed mental furniture of assumptions. Michael Billig states the position succinctly:

“nationhood provides a continual background for their (the reference is to states that have confidence in the own continuity) political discourses, for cultural products, and even for the structuring of newspapers. In so many little ways, the citizenry are reminded of their national place in a world of nations. However, this reminding is so familiar, so continual, that it is not consciously registered as reminding. The metonymic image of banal nationalism is not a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building”.[33]

There are certain elements of personal identity that are more resistant to change than others, they are so firm as to appear as good as incontestable, sanctioned by the force of cultural convention and everyday practice to such an extent that even the constructionist challenges have been unable to overturn them completely. Their plausibility, especially when they are employed within a wider system of classification (as is the case with national identity), emanates from their correspondence to natural phenomena as endorsed and propagated by our institutions. I group these together under the term material identity. It is characterised by its solidity, its ineluctability, an impression corroborated by our socialisation and comprises fundamental and immediately visible markers such as gender and skin colour, which are saturated with social meanings as well as cultural identity, equally salient and owned, whereby the literally material components (artefacts) and the non-material (habitus, language) are reciprocally potentiating. We shall examine the other identities, the functional, affective and circumstantial on another occasion.

Material identities do not occupy a prominent place in our thoughts because they are vested with a quality of self-evidence. Similarly they do not habitually make demands on our solidarity. We are too busy with other, more pressing concerns, such as assimilating new experiences into our narratives, to dedicate energies to them. They lurk in the background, informing our actions implicitly, the solidarity they are capable of stirring up likewise condemned to the shades, dormant, but never absent.

Under nationalism, the principle of classification founded on nationhood is applied in such a way that national identity (the outward expression of cultural difference, frequently associated with territorially bounded administrative units in the form of states, though this is not a prerequisite) is invested with a material quality, in other words that national identity represents a material difference between members of the nation and outsiders (cultural difference conflated with material "essence"). As regards their function principles of classification are always identical in that they draw boundaries between "us" and "them", here separating those who belong to the nation and those who do not. The permeability of these boundaries is not inscribed in the principle of classification itself, however, but is strictly context-determined according to the values of each society and the relative importance attached to kindred concepts such as nationality, ethnicity and race. Nationhood is the principle of classification expressed through nationalism, which both creates national identity and attributes pre-eminence to it, ranking it alongside other material identities as betokening absolute difference.

Against this backdrop, musings on national character, far from being the quaint and whimsical preoccupations of a bygone age, form an integral part of an uninterrupted and ongoing process of preserving and updating (adapting to the ceaseless flow of circumstances) of an established identity.

Ritual is as crucial to the maintenance of a collective identity as memory is to the individual, compensating for the lack of direct, physical continuity of the embodied self. Our collective identities and loyalties must be periodically renewed and replenished in acts of commemoration or remembrance as Durkheim recognised:

“Let the idea of society be extinguished in individual minds, let the beliefs, traditions, and aspirations of the collectivity be felt and shared by individuals no longer, and the society will die. Thus we can repeat about society what was previously said about the deity: It has reality only to the extent that it has a place in human consciousness, and that place is made for society by us”.[34]

And, more explicitly:

“There can be no society that does not experience the need at regular intervals to maintain and strengthen the collective feelings and ideas that provide its coherence and its distinct individuality. This moral remaking can be achieved only through meetings, assemblies, and congregations in which the individuals, pressing close to one another, reaffirm in common their common sentiments”.[35]

Public ritual supplies both a patterned setting and motivation for these gatherings, permeating every aspect of collective life. Military parades, the special honours accorded to visiting heads of state, the laying of wreaths at war memorials to those who sacrificed their lives for the benefit of the collectivity, all are calculated to remind us of who we are. The strength of rituals lies partly in their use of symbols as a kind of cultural shorthand with an incredible compression of meaning, and partly in their highly formalised nature that lays down strict rules for participation, removing them from the hustle and bustle of the ordinary and everyday. The very fact that they are intended for repetition and remain unaltered imbues them with solemnity, forging a link between ourselves and our ancestors who performed them long before we were born, simulating the continuity taken for granted by the embodied self.

Once the immediacy of the lived moment has faded, historical writing becomes the repository of public memory. History, particularly those prestigious works that make up the accepted canon, is therefore inextricably entangled with the dominant principle of classification and deeply implicated in upholding the prevailing value-system and can therefore be included under the category of representations, an issue we shall tackle elsewhere.

To summarise my position so far, with the constructionists I agree that the cultural meanings accruing to identities, including material identities, vary over time, but as a general rule this is a gradual process. In the world of information technology ideas and inventions become obsolete every six months as computing power doubles. If we take this as a standard for the real time of our restless age, then the rate of change as regards material identities takes on the appearance of geological time. The material identities in their function as core cultural discourses provide the framework within which life narratives are situated. They may be fiercely contested, but the vehemence of the struggle merely indicates the sway they continue to hold. Amidst the chronic insecurities of impermanence, of which routine company relocation leaving mass redundancy in its wake is emblematic, we are witnessing a sustained assault on traditional sources of self-respect and the functional identity offered to us by career development. As Pierre Bourdieu dryly comments:

“Corporate discourse has never spoken so much about trust, cooperation, loyalty and corporate culture as now when the worker’s unremitting commitment is obtained by sweeping away all temporal guarantees (three-quarters of new hirings are on short-term contracts, the proportion of insecure jobs rises steadily, restrictions on individual redundancies are being removed). This commitment is, moreover, necessarily uncertain and ambiguous, since casualisation, fear of redundancy, downsizing can, like unemployment, generate anxiety, demoralisation or conformism (faults which the managerial literature identifies and deplores). In this world without inertia, without an immanent principle of continuity, those at the bottom are like the creatures in a Cartesian universe: they hang on the arbitrary decision of a power responsible for the “continued creation” of their existence – as is shown and confirmed by the threat of plant closure, disinvestment and relocation”.[36]

Thus precariousness has replaced predictability. In our increasingly isolated state, forced to accept responsibility for our shortcomings where we fail to conform to the ideal of good health, physical attractiveness, wealth and mobility, we are encouraged to select narratives from a vast repertoire, the celebrities paraded before us reassuring in their very ordinariness, their drabness. Even a Princess Diana, whose fame and fortune surpassed the wildest dreams of aspiration, suffered from the same type of preoccupation (and her most vaunted title, the “People’s Princess” attested to the popularity she gained, representing her reward for tolerating unending scrutiny and public martyrdom) as torture us. She was bulimic, had undergone a messy divorce and was searching for a new love when cut down in her prime. Her narrative was one of overcoming adversity and having it all, the price she paid reassuringly high for those of us who are forced to balance and compromise. Compare this with the photographs of a despondent David Beckham on a bout of retail therapy having temporarily lost his form on the pitch. These demigods of the imagination lapse into standard responses, they do as we do, they are subject to the same conditioning, they are, by extension, every bit as frail and vulnerable as we are in spite of being elevated so far above us. They affirm us in our longings and our solutions and we reciprocate with the endless fascination they demand as tribute.

Where the constructionists have gone wrong is in being too eager to dismiss the discourses whose validity they dispute, to jettison materiality in favour of liquidity. We do indeed construct narratives that enable us to make sense of what happens to us, of what surrounds us, to locate ourselves within a social context, we interpret and reinterpret the past as encapsulated in our memories. In going about this often frenzied activity we are not aware of the influence of the structuring frameworks channelling and colouring our perception and ordering of the stream of events. Of these nationalism and patriarchy enjoy pre-eminence. The prophets of globalisation have sounded their death knell too soon.

We have indeed strayed far from Roy Batty and his companions in adversity and I wish to return to them as I draw towards my conclusion. In spite of their brutality and emotional stuntedness we can empathise with them because our predicament is the same. Ineluctably confronted with the agony of our mortality we seek answers to the vital questions of who we are, why we are alive. By means of a subterfuge, Batty is able to gain entry to Dr. Tyrell’s private apartments in hope of appropriating the knowledge necessary to extending his lifespan. Having convinced him that there is no remedy for his plight, Tyrell attempts to fob him off with a platitude about his superiority, that the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, that he should glory in the time left to him. Unable to elicit more than a certain smugness at his own achievements from Tyrell even by flirting with a confession, Batty reverts to the type inscribed in his original programming, paying his creator the apparent homage of a kiss before proceeding to crush his skull. Man’s revenge on a sadistic God deaf to his imprecations in an act of tragic self-assertion is here paralleled. Eternal life is not ours for the taking, but we can rage against our fate, resigned acquiescence may be more dignified, but it is the fruit of conformity, the triumph of the social over more selfish impulses.

In one of the most poignant scenes of the film, Batty, having lost everything he cherished most (embodied by Pris, his lover shot by Deckard) and having tormented his adversary, hunting him down, takes pity on the Blade Runner as his broken bandaged fingers release their grip on the girder, hauling him up from what would have been a fatal plunge to the rain-sodden streets far below. Rescued from the brink of oblivion Deckard listens to the Replicant’s dying words. In his final act of rescuing his enemy Batty transcends his own limitations, recognising the inherent value and fragility of all life and attaining humanity through compassion. Both his death and his redemption are symbolised in the heavenward ascent of an unsullied white dove released by him at the moment of his passing.

Upon death our accumulated memories are extinguished with our individual subjectivity and our consciousness. The residue of impressions and recollections we leave behind in the minds of those who knew us is similarly destined for the shores of forgetting and we are thrown entirely upon the mercy of strangers in retaining even that most marginal identity of the deceased, our faces, voices and passions erased. Here the narrative ends, with or without having reached a conclusion or the drama being resolved.


[1] Batty’s cries as he struggles against his fate, plunging a nail through the palm of his hand – a gesture bestowing a Christ-like quality upon him – can be attributed to the supreme effort of will rather than loss of imperviousness to pain.


[2] Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1969 pp308-310. Emphasis in the original.


[3] In Cultural Theory, Westview Press, Boulder, 1990, Thompson, Ellis and Wildavsky list four so-called engaged ways of life, those of fatalism, egalitarianism, hierarchy and individualism and one disengaged way of life, that of the hermit.


[4] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, p72.


[5] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2000, pp39-40.


[6] Ibid, pp67-68.


[7] Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1991.


[8] Berger and Luckmann, pp35-36.


[9] Ibid, pp36-37.


[10] Ibid, p55.


[11] Ibid, p56.


[12] Ibid, p68.


[13] Ibid, p152. As the authors remark, at the earliest stage of our lives we are assigned a name, a signifier of identity by our parents. The crucial (reality-fixing) role of affirmation played by key members of our immediate networks does not, however, become redundant following our formative years:

“But significant others occupy a central position in the economy of reality-maintenance. They are particularly important for the ongoing confirmation of that crucial element of reality we call identity. To retain confidence that he is indeed who he thinks he is, the individual requires not only the implicit confirmation of this identity that even casual everyday contacts will supply, but the explicit and emotionally charged confirmation that his significant others bestow on him” Ibid, p170.


[14] Ibid, p194.


[15] Heiner Keupp et al, Identitätskonstruktionen. Das Patchwork der Identitäten in der Spätmoderne, Rowohlts Enzyklopädie, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999, p28. Translations by the author.


[16] Ibid, p28.


[17] Ibid, p30.


[18] Ibid, pp46-53.


[19] Ibid, pp57-59.


[20] Ibid, p60.


[21] See pp198-205 on these types of capital and pp180-181 and pp186-188 on networks.


[22] From an article in the New York Times Magazine, July 7, 1996, p40 as quoted in Keupp et al, pp88-89.


[23] David Hume, Of National Characters, in Selected Essays, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993, pp115-116.


[24] Ibid, p113.


[25] Ibid, pp113-114.


[26] For the passage as a whole, ibid, pp116-119.


[27] Ibid, pp123-124, emphasis in the original.


[28] The irony of this phrase having been coined as a designation for the Lowlanders of Scotland is not lost on the author.


[29] Hall, Who Needs Identity? In: Questions of Cultural Identity, edited by Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, Sage, London, 1996, pp4-5. Emphasis in the original.


[30] A. D. Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p3.


[31] Ibid, p4.


[32] Ibid, p5.


[33] Billig, Banal Nationalism, Sage, London, 1995, p8.


[34] Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, The Free Press, New York, 1995, p351.


[35] Ibid, p429.


[36] Neo-liberalism, Utopia of Unlimited Exploitation. In: Acts of Resistance, Against the New Myths of Our Time, Polity Press, Oxford, 1998, pp98-99. See also Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Polity Press, Oxford, 2000, especially the chapter entitled Work, pp130-167; his chapter on Identity in the globalising world in The Individualised Society, Polity Press, Oxford, 2001, pp140-152 and his brilliant Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Open University Press, Buckingham, 1998.

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