Article

Identity

Melanie Griffiths

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online June 2015 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0128
Identity

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  • Anthropology
  • Human Evolution
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Anthropologists have long been fascinated by how individuals and collectives understand and construct themselves and one another. However, the use of the specific term “identity” has a surprisingly recent emergence in public parlance, and is generally attributed to the psychologist Erik Erikson’s work on psychological development in the 1960s. Prior to this work, anthropologists used other words to describe what would now be called identity. Today, the term has widespread mainstream use and is employed to describe an expanding range of social and political concerns. As the term has gained popularity, so have its meanings shifted. Now, it is used in a multitude of (sometimes contradictory) ways across disciplines, topics, and contexts. The term is attributed to both individuals and groups, and can be used to refer to the religious, political, private, cultural, or ethnic realms. Identity is considered a source of both cohesion and violence, and can alternately represent sameness or difference, be an imposition or a choice, singular or fractured, and static or fluid. There is a particular tension between the idea of an innate, stable identity and the “postmodern” construction of identity as an amalgam of multiple incoherent and unstable selves. The diversity of ways in which the term is employed makes it difficult to define and has led to some calling for it to be abandoned as an etic term. Anthropologists have tended to focus primarily on collective identities, from the ethnic and cultural, to political, religious, or gendered. Increasingly, anthropologists have examined the “hybridity” of identities, in which the idea of rigid group boundaries has given way to the sense of movement between multiple identities. The notion of a stable, inner identity has largely been replaced with recognition that identities are beset with contradiction, fluidity, and contestation. These identity-based tensions are often conceptualized as being products of globalization, postcolonialism, transnationalism, and the formation of diaspora. Anthropologists also call attention to how identities are invented, challenged, and sustained for political and other purposes. This focus includes a wealth of work on identity-based violence, xenophobia, multiculturalism, and social movements known as “identity politics,” in which groups advocate legal recognition of their identities.

Article.  15418 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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